Barry Gifford on “Finger Man”

A while back I said I was going to post this, and now I’m finally getting around to it. This is from Barry Gifford’s great book Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir.

FINGER MAN

1955. Directed by Harold Schuster. Starring Frank Lovejoy, Forrest Tucker, Peggie Castle, and Timothy Carey.

I must have first seen Timothy Carey in one of those low-budget 1950s movies, playing a heavy as he does in Finger Man. The first two films I can actually remember him in, however, are One-Eyed Jacks (1961) with Marlon Brando, where he played a stupid, womanpawing thug, his only lines snarls; and one of the idiotic Beach Blanket epics of the early ’60s, with Carey as a drooling, leering goon named South Dakota Slim. Later, of course, John Cassavetes used him in Minnie and Moskowitz and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, both small roles; but the opening scene in Minnie, the only one shot in New York [Marisa’s note: Actually it was shot in downtown Los Angeles], where Carey monologizes in a diner, is worth seeing the film for. Even in Finger Man he’s nothing more than a snarling brute, but an effective one. And that’s the point: at what he does, Timothy Carey is non-pareil. He’s a bizarre screen presence, a Neanderthal-like hulk in modern dress; frightening.

Carey makes Finger Man interesting. The shots of him stalking Frank Lovejoy, threatening Lovejoy in a restaurant, growling, snarling [Carey is unequaled at The Unbridled Snarl], grabbing women’s arms, attempting to grin, are priceless. He plays a thug, naturally, who works for a crime boss played by Forrest Tucker. Lovejoy is a three-time loser who goes over and cooperates as an undercover man for the Treasury Department in order to avoid going up for life. Lovejoy infiltrates Tucker’s mob of liquor hijackers and nightclub lowlifes, takes up with a former B-girl of Tucker’s and takes The Big Step to turn his life around. He’s also got a psycho-alcoholic sister with a little girl that he tries to save, another refugee from Tucker’s tentacles. Frank Lovejoy was always a flat actor, pretty much dead in the water. It’s not even amusing, really, to watch him interact with Forrest Tucker, another woodenhead, in this one. The women rave and rant and snicker and spark a little, but these guys, along with the Treasury cops, are lifeless…

What transpires according to the script doesn’t mean a thing and is barely worth following. It’s Timothy Carey who takes the cake. He’s spooky, menacing, ugly; a deranged gorilla in a coat and hat. He slobbers, and can’t control his hands or his hair, which keeps falling in his face. Some of the photography here is interesting: low angle approach shots and the odd tilted street keep it visually intriguing. The men in this movie are crude, mean, stupid; the women exploited, stunted, abused. Nothing pretty here except for the stagey ending meant to be scoffed at. Timothy Carey justifies the French intellectual’s image of the typical American male.

The Unbridled Snarl