By: Tom Doty Times Columnist
October 25, 2013
A newly minted private eye goes undercover at a private mental health facility to sniff out a fugitive judge in this tight thriller from veteran B-movie director “Budd” Boetticher.
A note on B-movies: Big studios made these cheapies as opening acts for their bigger features. They proved to be a vital part of the studio process, giving opportunities to new talent that were willing to throw everything they had into their work and, hopefully, be discovered for bigger projects. Budd was one such guy. He never really made it to A-features but was at his best when shooting seven-day wonders.
The tricks he learned making B-features served him well when he went on to become a television director. His trademarks included tight running times, expert tension and wonderful supporting actors who would go on to become some of Hollywood’s best heavies. Guys like Richard Boone and Henry Silva got their starts sneering in Budd’s flicks.
Boetticher made some of the best B-Westerns of all time. They were collected in a boxed set a few years back and featured his best effort, “The Tall T.” Here he tries his hand at making a Film Noir and proves he wasn’t just a wiz at making oaters.
The story starts with a recently licensed private eye, Ross Stewart, just opening his office . He is immediately propositioned by a fetching femme reporter, Kathy Lawrence. She is tracking a rogue judge who is on the run after being investigated for taking bribes from mob attorneys. She has trailed his mistress (wow, a corrupt and unfaithful city official … times sure have changed) to a private sanitarium where she goes several nights a week. She needs Stewart to pose as a manic depressive to find out if the Judge is hiding out in the facility.
Stewart doesn’t like the idea (smart boy) but goes against his better judgment when Lawrence makes goo-goo eyes at him. He finds out that this sanitarium is really run by the chief orderly, Larson. he is a sadistic snot who delights in torturing patients and turns out to be the real villain here.
When Stewart finally confirms the Judge is indeed hiding out in the asylum he also tips off Larson that e isn’t really depressed (just stupid). Larson drugs Stewart and locks him in a secure room with a demented boxer who goes into full fight mode whenever he hears a bell. Ding-ding.
This is awesome stuff and lean as a slice of London Broil . The film jumps right into the plot and offers plenty of tension as two people get in way over their heads when battling privatized health care whackos. Read into that what you will but the scares and jolts are the main focus here. The atmosphere of the facility is suitably grim thanks to stark photography and an all systems go performance by Douglas Fowley as the evil orderly. Richard Carlson(Creature From the Black Lagoon) anchors the film as the unseasoned detective. You feel for the guy . Especially when he is being thrashed by the ex-boxer ,who is played by the hulking Tor Johnson(Plan 9 From Outer Space).
All in all this shapes up as a tight thriller in, what was then, an unfamiliar setting . These days there are terrifying accounts of inhumane conditions at state run hospitals . I would recommend ‘Titticut Follies” to brave viewers wanting an undiluted tour of the hell that a poorly run facility can become.
“Accidents are quite likely to happen in a mental sanitarium, my friend.”
“I’ve told you a dozen times not to abuse the patients.”
“You have to decide what kind of mental case you want to be.”