A Life at Stake (1954) is a well-enough acted but mediocre tale of a young businessman, Edward Shaw (Keith Andes), who believes someone may be out to kill him.
His business partner Doris Hillman (Angela Lansbury) is married, but has eyes for our hero. Her husband Gus (Douglass Dumbrille) has financed their real estate business's start-up & insisted on a hefty life insurance policy on our hero, so that investor assets will not be at risk.
Everything frightens him: a man who seems to be following him; a car that came close to running him down. Life is full of close calls & all of them increase the level of his paranoia.
Driving home down a mountain road after being drugged, he survives a crash & finally realizes that he's not just suffering from paranoia, though he can prove nothing.
The final confrontation is shot with excellent film noir shadow, plenty of violence, but also pure silliness requiring the villains to be just plain clumsy.
I'm a little surprised I watched this film a couple years later, without remembering I'd not only seen it before, but reviewed it before. I guess that means it's not that memorable. I wrote up the following review from a differing perspective:
An honest man, architect Edward Shaw (Keith Andes), has lost everything due to the gambling addiction of a business partner. He refuses to take bankruptcy, but wants to get back on his feet so he can pay back investors who'd believed in him.
An attorney (Gavin Gordon) introduces him to wealthy Mrs. Doris Hillman (Angela Lansbury) who is looking to go into business. Her eagerness for a deal too good to be true puts him into business with a woman who is strictly a femme fatale.
The script could easily have resulted in a tough-talking smart-aleck hero, but Keith Andes, though a good enough actor, lacks the capacity for irony. Very, very often there are veritable comedy quatrains like when the housekeeper says, "You better call out when you get to the guest house. Sometimes she swims in the nude," to which staid Edward gives the deadpan reply, "Don't worry about it. So do I."
A better director could probably have gotten more out of such dialogue, but seemingly only the screenwriter knew a sense of humor was involved.
Lansbury is at the peak of her physical beauty. Keith Andes makes a wishy-washy hero, but is convincingly paranoid so the viewer is supposed to wonder for some while to wonder if Doris is as dangerous as she seems to Edward.
A moderately effective film noirish thriller, if the male lead had been a sexy match for Lansbury's steamy performance, it might've been a good film. But instead of Bogartish charisma, we're supposed to view Shaw in the manner of a Hitchcockian hero unsure of his sanity & unable to find help from the law or anywhere else, reliant on his own wits to pull through.
Despite plot twists, for the viewer who has seen more than one of this type of b/w crime film (in which seductive women are invariably deadly) it's a forgone conclusion Doris is plotting against her new business partner.
So without real fireworks between the two leads there's no actual suspense to rely on. Still, it's well acted & emanently watchable, & not all of the more obscure B-cast thrillers of the early '50s can claim that much.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl