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anonymous maq

12 Days of Smitheemas: Day 4: The Four Deuces

I really wish I had a jaunty intro to this movie, something to tie it in to the rest of the Twelve Days / Months of Smitheemas, but I don't. You see, I'm still in mourning for what this movie might have been.

Every so often with the Smithees, we run into a film which tries for greatness, leaping as if they are going to fly and falling just short of the mark. Those movies are met with a metaphorical pat on the back, a hearty handshake, and a heartfelt wish that the film makers will do better next time. Then there are films like this. These movies realize that they're going to fall short, so they set their sights downward, as if the challenge now is to make as big a crater as possible when they hit the ground.

First the plot: You've got a gangster named Vic (played by Jack Palance) who is the head of a gang called the Four Deuces. He's the Deuce of Spades, his three trusted lieutenants are the Deuces of Hearts, Clubs and Diamonds. Together they control a huge swath of underworld activity. They are successful and wealthy, cheerfully running crime in an unabashedly corrupt town. Vic's girlfriend is the lead act at his nightclub, but he's got his eye on a new, younger singer.

He's also involved in a minor gang war with an upstart mob. The violence has made the papers a couple of times, and he decides that he likes to see his name in print. He sends one of his guys out to collect Russ Timmons, the intrepid reporter, and offers him the inside scoop on the whole crime scene. Not wanting to antagonize the mobsters, Russ accepts, and gets to ride along on various smuggling and drive-by shooting runs. He does have a core of integrity though, and refuses to accept any gifts or bribes. Vic can respect that.

Now things start to fall apart for Vic. His girlfriend is jealous of the younger singer, and decides to hook up with Russ. Russ refuses her. The young singer is jealous of the girlfriend and leaves Vic for the rival mob. Vic has her killed. The rival has Vic's nightclub raided by the cops. Vic has the Deuce of Hearts burn down the rival's nightclub. Rival bribes the Deuce of Diamonds to lead Vic into an ambush. Vic kills the Deuce of Diamonds and barely survives thanks to Russ's timely help. Vic sets up a peace conference to divide up the city with his rival. Rival betrays him and blackmails the Deuce of Hearts into planting a bomb at Vic's birthday party. Russ warns Vic of the plot, and Vic makes sure the Deuce of Hearts is killed by his own bomb. Vic tells Russ he now owes him his life twice over.

Vic's girlfriend is scared of how violent things are getting and seeks shelter with Russ. Now Russ hooks up with her. Girlfriend is kidnapped by rival and rescued by Vic and Russ. Rival is killed, but girlfriend leaves with Russ. Vic sends Deuce of Clubs to go kill them both. Russ kills Deuce of Clubs instead. Russ confronts Vic and reminds him that Vic owes him two lives - he'll call it quits if Vic will let the two lovebirds leave town. Vic agrees. Movie ends with Vic standing alone in his empty nightclub - no lieutenants, no girlfriend, no singer, no rival...

And that could have been a really good mob movie. Unfortunately, when they realized that it wasn't going to be a really GREAT mob movie, they decided to play things for laughs. The opening credits are done up like a comic book, with Vic racing along in the rumble seat of a car, reading Dick Tracy comics and laughing with a tommy gun propped up next to him. Major scene changes and transitions are freeze-framed and given a comic book page-turn effect. And worst of all, the climactic scene of betrayal - the gunfight where the Deuce of Diamonds has led Vic into a trap - is played fast-forward with rinky-tink piano music accompaniment. Adding all of this doesn't turn a tragedy into a comedy. All it does is give a huge double-middle-finger salute to the audience. A salute that I'm more than happy to return.