Roadblock, 1951. 8/10

Very entertaining film noir. After the staged ‘murder’ at the beginning to introduce the protagonist, we get something of a romantic comedy interlude. Then Roadblock deftly switches tracks to a deadly crime drama, thanks to the quick-kindling relationship between Joan Dixon’s Diane and Charle’s McGraw’s Joe.

Joe’s determination to win Diane at any cost–ethically, morally, and legally, by proposing the heist to Webb–and her realization that she wants him just as he is, shows great plotting and pacing. And plenty of irony. Like other reviewers, I would have liked a bit of backstory on Joe and Diane; their simultaneous value reorientations involve too much suspension of disbelief.

It is fascinating to see “Honest Joe” skulking around after the heist, his dream of easy money quickly churning into a noir nightmare. His future narrows down to a hopeless attempt to flee, literally walled in by the river bed’s concrete embankments. His love for Diane, which propelled him into the underworld, becomes a crude gesture of raw survival, as he tosses her from his targeted car.

Webb’s an enigma, an interesting, rational, even perceptive character, who just happens to be a sociopathic criminal. It’s a measure of the film’s dramatic intensity that we can feel disappointed that Joe ends up being used by Webb, after Joe throws away his initial moral superiority.

It’s one thing to deal with Joe and Diane’s sudden transformations, but some of the plot’s logic is suspect as well. It should be obvious to Joe that he’s going to be under a spotlight after the railroad heist, as Webb couldn’t possibly have come up with the plan without insider help. It might’ve made more sense for Joe, instead of ignoring Diane’s plea to call it off, confesses before it takes place. Then he’s guilty of plotting a crime, but nothing happens as Webb and his guys are arrested.

Still, Roadblock delivers a slick crime story with strong performances from McGraw and Dixon. A cool, long car chase to finish things up; not to mention the earlier scene as Webb’s limo approaches the rendevous with Joe in one car, pulls up in another, and wrecks in a third. And that crash isn’t in the mountains where the scene starts, but in the desert. Well, the point is that Webb’s toast, in fine low-budget B movie style. 8/10.

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