One of the most hardboiled of major-studio B-pictures, André De Toth's Crime Wave (1954) was an important precursor to (if not a direct influence on) Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). In addition to De Toth's superb handling of the action sequences and dialogue, the picture has at its core a brace of superb performances, led by Gene Nelson as a totally victimized innocent, and Phyllis Kirk in a very restrained performance as his wife; and Ted de Corsia, Charles Buchinksy (aka Bronson), and Timothy Carey as three of the most quietly scary sociopaths ever to grace a major studio crime movie up to that time. (It's no accident that two of them, de Corsia and Carey, ended up in Kubrick's movie.) The script by Bernard Gordon -- who was blacklisted soon after Crime Wave went into production -- is also brilliant, filled with subtle shades of gray in the characterizations, as well as a forward momentum that, as handled by De Toth, never lags or wavers. The characters are also fully and richly developed, even down to the supporting figures such as the ex-con veterinarian (played by Jay Novello), and they are given complexities that surprise the audience. But the most interesting of all the roles is the one played by Sterling Hayden. As a character working on the right side of the law, he's nearly as scary as he is portraying a hood; his Detective Sgt. Sims is a bundle of screen energy, a frustrated chain smoker forced to chew toothpicks who has multiple axes to grind with the criminal element and doesn't even respect his fellow enforcement officials, such as Steve Lacey's parole officer (James Bell). Gordon's script and Hayden's portrayal make Sims nearly as menacing as the men he pursues, and he ended up as the lead in Kubrick's movie; but Gordon's script also knows exactly where to draw the line and De Toth to allow Hayden to reveal -- at just the right moment and totally convincingly -- Sims' one streak of humanity. The result is a 74-minute movie with more to say -- and more excitement to generate saying it -- than a lot of two-hour-plus epics, and it's just a shame that Gordon never had a chance to follow up what he could do in this genre at the time.
by Bruce Eder review