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The Hoodlum

Lawrence Tierney and Gene Roth in The Hoodlum

From the sublime to the infinitely depressing, here’s a piece I wrote for Noir of the Week on a film by Max Nosseck, The Hoodlum (1951), starring legendary tough guy Lawrence Tierney.

As I note in my essay, “Tierney got his first real leading role in an “A” film in Robert Wise’s memorably vicious Born to Kill (1947), where Tierney’s character, the appropriately named San Wild, is a homicidal maniac who kills on a whim, and tries to scheme his way into a wealthy marriage. With Wise’s sharp direction, and excellent support from Claire Trevor, Elisha Cook Jr. and Walter Slezak, to name just a few of the many superb cast members, was a critical but not commercial hit; the film was simply too bleak for mainstream audiences, and Tierney’s character was so violent and brutal that it was impossible to feel any empathy for him.

Born to Kill is a masterpiece, but it would be Tierney’s last uncompromised vision of hell; from here it was back to B territory with Richard Fleischer’s Bodyguard (1948), which was dumped as a second feature. Convinced that Tierney would never become a major star, even in a sympathetic role (as he was as private eye Mike Carter in Bodyguard), RKO cut Tierney loose, and he began to bounce around from studio to studio; the big chance had eluded him. And then he made The Hoodlum.”

You can read my entire essay on The Hoodlum here.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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