5 Against the House (1955)

From the best known film in the Columbia noir box to probably the least known (also the only one in the set without extra features apart from the trailer; at least the people in the film, including Kim Novak, are somewhat less obscure than the film itself), and at first sight the oddest; what is an apparent romantic comedy about college students doing in this company? Of course, it’s more than that; this is really a “perfect crime” story, in which our quartet of students (plus one girlfriend) conspire, with varying degrees of willingness, to rob a casino in Reno and carry out the impossible. The complication comes, however, from the two older men in the group, both Korean War vets and one of them carrying, shall we say, scars. Shades of William Bendix in The Blue Dahlia, but lending this film a darker heart; while the younger man who plots the heist approaches it almost as a prank just to prove it can be done, the older man gets so enthused by the idea he won’t let anything get in the way of him doing it. You have to swallow some implausibilities—not least of which is the hoax-like nature of the robbery and the way it involves actually returning the money as if that would somehow make it OK in the eyes of the law or something—and there is something of a jarring tonal shift from the generally lighter wisecracking air of the first half once the action gets underway, though once it does the film itself does jump several points in interest; and the good performances (show being stolen by Brian Keith’s damaged war vet) do help to paper over most of the cracks. Most other reviews I’ve read of this set indicate 5 Against the House is the minor card in the pack, though it’s still not too bad at that.

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