Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Discovers THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961)
Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter
Discovers THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel
Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.
Atomic blasts are prominently featured in many films of the 1950s and 1960s. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in most people’s minds. That fear and paranoia is evident in the cinema of the time, particularly under the threat of the Soviet Union’s perceived nuclear arsenal.
The MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE (1961) is just this sort of film, but it brings a little something extra to the table. It’s a mobster tale for the Atomic Age.
The film opens to some tough, well-dressed men discussing Eddie Candell (Ron Randell), who has escaped on his way to death row at San Quentin. Candell led this criminal syndicate before being falsely convicted of murder, convicted in no small part through the testimony of his former underworld pals. Andy Damon (Anthony Caruso) has taken over Eddie’s role as mob leader, and he’s also stolen away his girl, Linda (Debra Paget).
Everyone is scared that Candell is coming for them, but Linda is particularly afraid. She not only testified against her man, but she’s also sleeping with his replacement. Linda is the type of insufferable bird-brain that makes viewers root for her horrible demise, but more on that later.
We then see Eddie Candell stumbling through the desert, hands still cuffed, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie. Who knew that San Quentin inmates were transported dressed to the nines? He has wandered onto an atomic testing site, and the scientists notice him too late. He is blown away by the atomic bomb, which is apparently strong enough to knock off his suit jacket but not strong enough to touch his tie! It does rip his shirt sufficiently to give us a glimpse of his strong, impenetrable chest. The researchers discover that he has survived from a recording of the blast.
Dr. Meeker (Tudor Owen), an egghead scientist, demonstrates to a couple of police officers, Capt. Davis (Morris Ankrum) and Lt. Fisher (Gregg Palmer), that the atomic blast didn’t kill Candell but made him indestructible. He does this by demonstrating on produce! He shows them a watermelon that was hit by the same atomic blast. I have no idea why a watermelon was on the testing site, but it serves as a convenient example. The half of the watermelon facing the ground seems normal. It can be cut away with ease. The other half, however, bends the knife. The bomb was comprised of something called Cobalt Element X, which is not quite as deadly as Uranium 235, according to our scientist. Candell’s insides have been fused with steel. Using egghead logic, Meeker tells the officers that Candell could be the most dangerous man alive unless he is apprehended and studied immediately.
Candell steals a dynamite truck and, of course, heads to the home of his former crony Andy Damon. He catches Linda on her way out the door. She’s a blithering nincompoop who pleads with Candell to spare her. She only testified against him, she says, because Damon forced her to. She’ll do anything he wants! She’ll run away with him! She’ll go straight to the district attorney and tell the truth! A group of Damon’s henchmen catch him in the act of roughing up Linda, and they start shooting at him. Candell and the bad guys discover that his body simply absorbs the bullets.
Candell runs away with Linda, hoping to get her to go to the district attorney and help him proclaim his innocence. He also hopes to use Linda as a pawn to get Damon to confess that he lied on the witness stand. Candell’s motivation remains true throughout the film. He never wavers in his desire to have his name cleared.
He drives to the home of his protégé and love interest Carla Angelo (Elaine Stewart). Linda is left in the dynamite van while Candell visits Carla. Carla is clearly smitten with Candell. She sees his horrible condition and wants to selflessly save him. It seems interesting that Carla’s character is the polar opposite of the opportunistic Linda.
The police come to the door while Candell is at Carla’s home, urging her to come with them to a secure location. She agrees to come along, but not before telling Candell to slip out the back. It’s all a setup, however, and the police surround the dynamite van once Candell gets in with Linda. The van will blow and take down innocent people, Candell shouts to the coppers, like the poor man’s James Cagney. Clearly the police in this film were not trained in hostage negotiations. Candell takes off with Linda, and no one bothers to give chase.
Meanwhile, Damon has found himself another dame in record time, and he starts thinking of alternative methods of annihilating his nemesis since mere bullets won’t do. They devise a plan to throw him out the window of their high-rise apartment. It’s brilliant! An atomic bomb won’t kill him, but a 20-story plunge to the sidewalk just might do the trick!
The plot is quickly ruined when Candell comes to the apartment and knocks two of the henchmen out the window instead. Talk about instant karma!
Damon gets to Carla and, in an extremely racy scene for the era, attempts to rape her. The plot is foiled by a passing police officer, and Carla makes off with the gangster’s car.
Carla goes right away to Dr. Meeker. She’s obsessed with saving her lover. Candell’s health is deteriorating. She and the doctor make a trip to her apartment, where they find Candell. He is afraid of what’s happening to his body. He doesn’t want to deal with the doctor. He wants to deal with Damon on his own terms. Perhaps he realizes his time is limited.
In a showdown at the same atomic testing range that sealed his fate, Candell gets his vengeance against Damon and goes down in a blaze of glory. Thankfully, Linda gets her comeuppance as well. For her support and love, Carla is spared.
This was the final film for 1920s director Allan Dwan, the man responsible for such classics as ROBIN HOOD (1922) and THE IRON MASK (1929). THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE certainly not without its flaws, but it’s an action-packed, engaging spin on the classic mobster tale.
© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel