Sometimes, all you want is a classic noir flick. The tone, look and perhaps most importantly the age of these films means that they have “feel good/wind down” written all over them, regardless of how serious or even dark the themes may be. The Two Dollar Bettor (1951), directed by Edward L. Cahn and starring John Litel and Marie Windsor, is one of the lesser known unpolished gems of the genre. A traditional morality tale, the movie was released complete with taglines such as “I Bet! I Stole! I Killed!” The story is simple, the acting is better than awful but far from brilliant, and the arch is pretty much a downward slope, with a slight twist at the end.
Among the most beautiful aspects of the movie is the idealized, American 50s lifestyle. We meet the cigar smoking, well meaning tycoons, the upper middle class daughters dating innocently and the smoothly run bank. Since the protagonist, bank comptroller John Hewitt, is not yet married, we only see glimpses of family life, but are compensated by the introduction of early 50s manipulative criminal types as they were envisioned by early 50s Hollywood types.
The story is, once again, simple enough. Mr. Hewitt works happily at his bank, with a bright future ahead of him. After trying his hand at playing the horses, he wins big, and is pretty much instantly addicted. He gambles his money away, and starts embezzling from his employer to cover his ever increasing debt. There is no reason to spoil any plot points here, and we’ll just say that things do not go overly well for the protagonist, even if the movie offers some token redemption for its fallen anti-hero. It’s not a “feel good” movie per se we’ve got here, but a pretty amusing piece of pulpy cinema.
On the critical side, apart from the more general observation that most aspects of the movie are at least somewhat flawed, there are some scenes of extended, badly executed and not very interesting dialogue. When it gets going, it gets going, though, and for that tipsy one man movie night, you can’t go wrong with this one