Party Girl (1958): Nicholas Ray’s Crime Melodrama, Starring Robert Taylor in One of Best Roles and Cyd Charisse

One of Nicholas Ray’s Lesser known features, Party Girl is an underestimated crime feature about the relationship between two severely flawed individuals, played by Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse.

Among other merits, the film proves that Robert Taylor, always labeled as a pretty face, can really act, when given the right role, and so does Charisse (better known as a dancer in MGM musicals).

Taylor was 47 years old at the time of this film, his last for MGM after serving the studio for 24 years, but the age difference between him and Charisse works well in this kind of story.

On the surface, the narrative feels like a crime-gangster, but it’s really a melancholy romantic melodrama.

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, the tale introduces Vicki Gaye (Charisse) a cynical nightclub dancer. When she is invited to a party hosted by mob kingpin Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb), she meets Angelo’s head torpedo Louis Canetto (John Ireland) and Angelo’s attorney, Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor).

Farrell, whose leg has been crippled and walks with a cane, had pursued criminal practice.  It’s an affliction he had used to good advantage when addressing juries, pleading the cases of Cobb’s lethal underlings, getting Canetto off a murder rap.

However, after getting to know Vicki, Farrell begins questioning his methods, and also starts surgical procedures to cure his leg.

Angelo wants Farrell to fight an old friend, prosecutor Jeffrey Stewart (Kent Smith), who is trying to indict Angelo’s associate Cooky La Motte (Corey Allen). But Farrell resists, until Angelo threatens to harm Vicki, reduce her lovely face to pulp with acid.

Caught between the mob and the law, Vicki urging him to be once and for all his own man and do the right thing.

Farrell smacks Angelo, and the acid splashes onto him, sending Angelo reeling backward in screaming agony toward the window. Police outside spray the gangster, and he falls dead with bullets in his body.

Farrell and Vicki, finally free of the mob, embrace and a new bond is created. 

Ray draws powerful performances from Taylor, who’s playing a role loosely based on Dixie Davis, lawyer for mob boss Dutch Schultz of New York, who later turned informant and married a beautiful showgirl.

Cobb overacts, endlessly yelling, screaming, and threatening, making his role much less sympathetic that it must have been in the script.

 

Running time: 99 Minutes.

Released: January 1, 1958.

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