Highway Dragnet 1955

Highway Dragnet 1955

Fast moving tale of a Korean War vet (Richard Conte) being pursued for murder outside Las Vegas for the death of a woman he briefly met at a bar. Did he kill her? Well, he had a violent argument with her after he accidentally implied the picture of her hanging on the wall of the bar shows that she was "beautiful then" but maybe not so much now: a former professional model and now a professional barfly, she really doesn't like that.

Come the next day, the police are moving her strangled body out of a hotel room and the Vet is brought in as suspect number one. Realizing the cops are convinced he's the murderer and not giving any notice to his protestations, he breaks free and steals a police car, rushing out into the desert but not before he blows out the tires of another police car using a 45 automatic that he kept from the war "as a souvenir."

Shortly afterward he ditches the stolen cop car and ingratiates himself into the company of a pair of women having automobile trouble out in the middle of the flat emptiness. Riding along with the two women, one a photographer and the other a model, they start sensing something is not right. Once they catch sight of local newspaper headlines about an escaped murderer in the desert, presumably hitchhiking, they're really unnerved about their enigmatic passenger.

Highway Dragnet has good surprises in the story and the ensemble of main characters played by Conte, Joan Bennett and Wanda Hendrix, help the tale move over a few storytelling speed bumps. The twisty script needed a little more polish in places because, suddenly, like a TV show episode, it speeds up character development like a video player on fast-forward, ultimately giving the movie an uneven quality. On the other hand, the location visuals are first class, especially the desperate effort of the three to get their damaged car over a mountain, and the final section of the film in an eerie sunken homestead washed out by a desert sea.

Most well-done low budget noirs know how to stay within their outline and keep the basic nugget of the story wrapped up in filmmaking efficiencies, not offering anything more than what it takes to pull off the tale and spring an unexpected twist or two on the audience. Highway Dragnet reaches out for more at times, doesn't always reach it, even generating unintended laughs, the bane of break-neck productions.

Bennett and Conte make a good sparring pair and Highway Dragnet stays interesting right to the end credit. With Joan Bennett, exemplifying pre-war cool elegance, combined together with Wanda Hendrix, post-war exuberance and pre-Rock and Roll youth culture, it's two kinds of American energies combined with Richard Conte's do-I-or-do-I-not have a terrible secret hurling down the asphalt highway of America.

A film like this made just a decade later could not have resisted exploiting all of the visual metaphors laying around, which, if the viewer is watching closely, are still there all the same.


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Original Page May 13, 2024