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The Bribe (1949): Too late the fireworks

The Bribe (1949)

“Price and Laughton make a formidable pair of heavies in this otherwise feeble thriller shot on a cheaply rigged-up corner of the MGM backlot. Taylor isn’t up to moral dilemma as a US government agent sent to crack illicit aircraft engine trading in the Caribbean, yet tempted by a lucrative cash offer and the irresistible charm of café chanteuse Gardner.”
– Time Out Film Guide

You would think a movie boasting the talent invested here by MGM just couldn’t miss. But it does. The Bribe which flopped at the box-office never gets off the ground until the end with some pyrotechnical wizardry.  We have an a-list production team in Director Robert Z. Leonard and DP Joseph Ruttenberg,  supplied with a ripping story, a good script, an exotic latin locale, and a score from Miklós Rózsa.  Robert Taylor is a jaded chain-smoking war vet turned undercover-cop, Ava Gardner the angelic wife  of a lush moonlights as a sultry cabaret singer, Charles Laughton is a scruffy low-life with bad feet, and Vincent Price is the suave villain.

It starts off noir with Taylor’s cop sweating out a tropical storm in his hotel-room with a dame on his mind – you know because there is his voice-over.  He can’t trust the woman but wants her bad.  To keep her he has to go over to the other side, and a bribe offered by Laughton as Price’s voluble emissary is an added incentive to go over.  We then segue into a long flashback to establish what he is doing in a hotel on an island off  the coast of South America.  Taylor is wooden and a drag on the story which moves too slowly and with little tension. Gardner is eminently watchable and convincing.  Her single cabaret outfit is sensuous and quite revealing, but she is no Gilda.  Laughton and Price give their roles a sardonic edge, with Laughton nicely hamming it up as a sloven conniver. When the flashback is over towards the end we hit noir territory again.

What saves the film from obscurity is the literally explosive climax, an imaginatively choreographed and technically daring shootout at night.  This tour-de-force noir denouement is a blast!

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9 Comments

  1. Hi! Tony,
    Your review of this film is on target…as usual. I must admit that I do enjoy watching this film. In Fact, I just recently, rewatched this film.
    (Now, that I seem to be winning” the battle with my illness and my interest in DVDs(television) watching is returning.

    I agree with you, the finale (dénouement) is spectacular and what a nice Spanish poster (I also like the Belgian poster too!)and trailer.

    By the way, I “think” while watching the trailer over there on youtube…the youtube commenters’ pointed out actor Robert Taylor’s own disdain for this film too.

    (But I have to go back over there and locate their comments in order to confirm this information.)

    Take care!
    DeeDee ;)

  2. Tony, Here it goes…
    <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug_OwcDe9nI“>The Bribe

    The man who posted the trailer stated actor
    Robert Taylor’s own disdain for this film.
    look at the top on the right side and then click on
    more information.

    DeeDee ;)

  3. Oop! I hope that this work:

    The Bribe

  4. I have to say that, before watching the film, i didn’t expect a big thing (reviews about it were not very encouraging). It’s clearly a B-movie… And yet I liked much more than I expected.

  5. Thanks DeeDee for the link! In her biography Ava Gardner said liked the movie and fell for Taylor. They had a love affair that lasted about four months…

  6. Thanks for your comment Gloria. Despite its failings I agree it is fun to watch.

  7. Laughton and Price on board is selling-point enough, but a score from the great Miklos Rosza (one of my absolute favorite film composers, and that high-octane “pyrotechnic” noir ending, really make your exumation here most intriguing. Of course I haven’t seen this B title, but I must say I’m sold, despite the initial hostility from the critics. Great trailer and contributions from Dee Dee.

  8. “Taylor is wooden and a drag on the story”

    I have always had this problem with Taylor. He always seemed too clean cut for noir, though I found him bearable in Rogue Cop.

  9. Mary

    The only interesting thing I found in “The Bribe” was the opening credits with the excellent music by Miklos Rosza. Even Charles Laughton and Vincent Price seem to me out of place here.If you want to see Robert Taylor playing a convincing tough guy in films noir watch “Johnny Eager” and “Rogue Cop” and don’t miss the underrated “western noir” “Devil’s Doorway” directed by Anthony Mann.

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