Classic: ‘Private Hell 36’

Ida Lupino gets top billing in Private Hell 36 (Olive), and for good reason. In addition to starring in this low-budget film noir as a nightclub singer drafted into the police search for a counterfeiter, she so-wrote the script and co-produced through her company The Filmmakers, with partner Collier Young. The story revolves around the loyalties and temptations in a police partnership between the impulsive, younger cop Steve Cochran and family man Howard Duff, stretched thin on his salary. Temptation comes when Cochran pockets a portion of the recovered counterfeit stash after the crook is killed in a high-speed car chase and Duff’s conscience eats away as he keeps quiet and accepts his share (to come when they sell the phony bills in Mexico). The title refers to the address of their stash house.

Lupino had directed her share of films as well, many of them exploring similar moral quandaries, but she passed directorial reigns over to Don Siegel, who at the time was making his name with a series of tight, stylish little low-budget pictures. This is more about tension than action, with plenty of surveillance and scenes of police procedural detail, but he opens with a quiet street scene of a realist crime drama with an ominous sense of anticipation that explodes in a crime scene shoot-out and bookends it with a gut-punch of an ambush that ricochets with some dynamic twists. In between, greed and guilt divide the once devoted partners. Dean Jagger and Dorothy Malone co-star.

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Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website ( I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View ( I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly,, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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