• Candidate, The/Johnny Gunman

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: October 12th, 2013.
    Director: Robert Angus/Art Ford
    Cast: Ted Knight, Eric Mason, Mamie Van Doren/Martin Brooks, Ann Donaldson
    Year: 1964/1957
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movies:

    Vinegar Syndrome pairs up two obscure pictures that winds up making for an interesting, albeit unconventional, double bill of sorts. Here’s what you get:

    The Candidate:

    The first movie follows Buddy Barker (Eric Mason), a Washington power player and man behind the organization for the campaign to elect Frank Carlton (Ted Knight) to the Senate. To get things moving, they bring on Samantha Ashley (Mamie Van Doren) to help out as social secretary but soon enough, this gets everyone involved in Carlton’s political machine in some very hot water indeed.

    Samantha is called before the Senate accused of some pretty serious ethics violations and given that Barker’s past is less than squeaky clean, many assume he brought her on board with less than pure intentions. As the relationship that exists between she and Buddy is brought to light, things start to fray very quickly, particularly when it’s revealed that his promiscuity has resulted in an unwanted pregnancy for one Mona Archer (Rachel Roman). Though Buddy convinces her that an abortion is the right decision, it winds up having severely traumatic effects on the young woman. By the time Carlton’s covert relationship with a British prostitute named Angela Wallace (June Wilkinson) is exposed, it looks like he’s ready to throw in the towel though his feelings for June soon change his mind.

    This is an interesting satirical obscurity worth revisiting. Ted Knight plays… Ted Knight. He seems to have played the same sort of character throughout his career, that fairly straight laced guy who takes things pretty seriously. As such, he’s fine as a potential Senatorial candidate and he handles his role well. Mason is more interesting as the behind the scenes player who ultimately leaves his greasy finger prints all over Frank Carlton’s sincerity. Mamie Van Doren doesn’t have a whole lot of charisma here but she looks great, plenty curvy and not afraid to flaunt it, and as such she’s fine in her part too. June Wilkinson, not necessarily featured in her most interesting role here, is also on hand to add some welcome eye candy to the proceedings.

    The movie goes at a decent pace and features some pretty nice black and white cinematography that manages to give a few scenes some interesting atmosphere. The framing device used in the picture, that being a Senate investigation committee, is something different and it actually does a pretty good job of allowing the movie to bop back and forth between plot lines while still managing to be cohesive. There’s a reveal towards the end that attempts to provide some shock value but it’s fairly tame. What makes this interesting is the fact that it’s a sixties era attempt to skewer the politics of the day featuring a weird mix of exploitation starlets and would be sitcom stars. This makes it watchable and genuinely odd. The movie tries, and sometimes succeeds, in making some statements about those who are corrupt and those who are not and how they can and do coexist in government and by way of featuring its two lovely leading ladies it does offer some mild exploitative thrills. This was amusing enough and worth seeing mainly for the cast but it is fairly well made. It’s not quite the exploitation picture you might expect from Vinegar Syndrome (it’s far heavier on drama than on sleaze), but they continue to be a label that specializes in the unexpected.

    Johnny Gunman:

    The second feature, the only film directed by Art Ford, follows some New York City cops as they try to keep tabs on what’s happening with a gang operating out of Greenwich Village. The main man on their want list is Johnny G. (Martin Brooks), but he’s got no record and they can’t really find any dirt on the guy, they’ve no files to refer to – that’s going to make finding him and nabbing him a tough job. The cop in charge of the case calls in a favor to an investigative reporter in hopes that he can shed some light on things, when Johnny realizes what’s going on he hides out in a coffee shop where he hopes the diners will keep mum about his identity. Here he meets the woman (Ann Donaldson) who won’t tell him her name and he learns she’s splitting the city soon.

    Before she goes, he manages to convince her to go out for a few hours. They live it up and he spills the beans about his plans to take over the gang from a guy named Lou Caddy who looks to be on his way to jail soon. Lou wants everything split between Johnny and his tough guy childhood friend but Johnny’s ambitious… but maybe not as ambitious as his competition.

    This is a solid and well-paced crime story that features some great footage shot on location in the lower Manhattan of the day. This gives the movie some authenticity where otherwise it would be lacking in that department, and Ford manages to keep the pace quick enough and the inner city locations varied enough that the film works quite well. We not only get exteriors and street shots but some great scenes that take place inside some smoky old night clubs, the aforementioned coffee shop and a few other places now long gone as well. The black and white cinematography suits the mood of the film rather well, giving us some high contrast images and some nice use of atmospheric shadows contrasting with different light sources. It doesn’t have the visual panache of something like The Big Heat or The Maltese Falcon but it’s a moody little low budget film to be sure.

    The best aspects of the picture, however, are the two leads. Martin Brooks makes delivers a great performance as the central character, his conflict seems real as does his interest in the beautiful woman he meets. Ann Donaldson, as that beautiful woman, has got enough spark to make her character interesting and just so happens to be drop dead gorgeous on top of that. These two make for a pretty interesting pair and are quite fun to watch. By the time it’s all said and done, it works on the same sort of level as some of John Cassavetes’ more experimental black and white films. It’s got a loose, improvised feel to it that really works in the context of the story and the characters that populate it.


    Both of these black and white pictures are scanned from 35mm elements that look to have been kept in very nice shape, with The Candidate framed at 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen and Johnny Gunman at 1.33.1 fullframe. Both movies are in great shape, with only the occasional speck and scratch to note. Contrast generally looks very nice and detail is impressive. Black levels are solid, whites are nice and clean without ever blooming or looking too hot. No compression artifacts to note, solid transfers through and through.

    The same traits apply to the English language Dolby Digital Mono tracks that accompany each film – they’re quite good for what they are. Despite the fact that range is limited in both pictures, dialogue stays clear and the levels are well balanced. For older single channel tracks, these sound just fine.

    There are no extra features on the disc outside of menus and chapter selection, but you get some keen reversible cover art that allows you to display Johnny Gunman more prominently if you like.

    The Final Word:

    Vinegar Syndrome offers up another double feature of cinematic obscurities with its pairing of The Candidate and Johnny Gunman. While the second film was more interesting and more entertaining than the first, both pictures feature solid casts and decent writing to go along with some good camerawork. The presentation here is strong and while there aren’t any extras, the fact that both of these oddball films receive what appears to be their home video debut with this disc is reason enough to take notice.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Excellent review as always Ian.

      June Wilkinson, not necessarily featured in her most interesting role here, is also on hand to add some welcome eye candy to the proceedings.
      What would you say is June Wilkinson's most interesting role?