• No Down Payment

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Release date: April 17, 2018
    Directed by: Martin Ritt
    Cast: Joanne Woodward, Sheree North, Tony Randall, Jeffrey Hunter, Cameron Mitchell, Patricia Owens, Barbara Rush, Pat Hingle, Aki Aleong, Charles Herbert
    Year: 1957
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    David and Jean Martin (Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens) are a young, childless, college-educated couple who buy a home at Sunrise Hills Estates, a housing subdivision in southern California. Their new neighbors include used-car salesman Jerry Flagg (Tony Randall), his wife Isabelle (Sheree North), auto mechanic Troy Boone (Cameron Mitchell), Troy’s wife Leola (Joanne Woodward), appliance store manager Herman Kreitzer (Pat Hingle), and Herman’s wife Betty (Barbara Rush).

    Each family (some with kids, some without) is, once you scratch the surface, less than ideal. Take the young and attractive Martins; David is a skilled and successful engineer who’s done well enough that he and Jean can afford a nice new house. He wants to keep doing what he knows, but the unemployed Jean (all the wives here stay home; it’s 1957 Hollywood’s America, don’t forget) won’t stop pressuring him to go into the more lucrative area of sales.

    Jerry Flagg supports his family solely on commissions from his used-car sales. Business hasn’t been too good lately, and Jerry’s primary coping mechanism is to remain half-lit as much as possible. Isabelle wants him to dry out and get a job with a steady paycheck, but he’s a cockeyed optimist, convinced that his big break is just around the corner. Adding to the fun is his propensity to hit on everything in a skirt (neighbors’ wives in particular) whenever he’s got a snootful.

    Troy and Leola Boone are the neighborhood’s underachievers, with the southern drawls to prove it. They got their home loan from the VA as a reward for Troy’s military service. The two harbor an ugly secret from the period before they married, and as a result Leola wants a child. Troy, however, refuses to reproduce until he gets the local Chief of Police position he’s applied for. Herman Kreitzer is president of the city council and pushing hard for the town to hire Troy. Problem is, it’s not entirely up to him, and some on the council would prefer a top cop who’s finished high school.

    The Kreitzers are the most successful and stable couple in the bunch, but even they don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. Betty is an avid churchgoer who takes her children with her every Sunday morning, while Herman uses that time to stay home and wash the car RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE HOUSE WHERE EVERYONE CAN SEE HIM! Herman’s young son has anxiety issues over whether his father’s going to end up in Hell, and his capable and valuable Japanese employee, Iko (Aki Aleong), wants to move his own family into Sunrise Hills so that he won’t have to drive an hour to and from work each day. Iko repeatedly asks Herman for a reference, but, you know, what would the neighbors think?

    Based on John McPartland’s novel of the same name, No Down Payment is thin on actual plot and thick on high drama, depending almost entirely on the strength of its performances. Luckily, said performances are uniformly superb, with Tony Randall and Joanne Woodward in particular turning in some dazzling work.

    The film’s screenplay is credited to noted “script doctor” Philip Yordan, who was actually fronting for blacklisted writer Ben Maddow. Jeffrey Hunter and Barbara Rush had been married in 1950 and divorced in 1955, two years before working on this film. Charles Herbert appears in an inexplicably uncredited role as Michael, the Flaggs only child; he’s the Bill Mumy prototype you might know from The Colossus of New York (1958), The Fly (1958), 13 Ghosts (1960), and a whole bunch of TV shows dating from the mid-1950s through 1968 or so. After that, he lost work and eventually succumbed to drugs. He turned his life around many years later and, about a decade after that, died from a heart attack.

    No less a cultural observer than the late David Bowie called No Down Payment, “A great film, but rather depressing if it is a true reflection of the American way of life.” Like 1999’s American Beauty, it’s safe to assume that the movie’s observations err on the side of hyperbole. At the same time, people being what they are, this slice of Payton Place melodrama remains rooted enough in reality to provide a believable piece of juicy grownup entertainment with some uncomfortable moments.


    Twilight Time brings No Down Payment to Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in glorious 1080p high definition. Presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, the film has been placed on a single BD50 to better benefit from a higher bitrate, and there are absolutely no compression issues. There’s also no region coding, allowing the film to be played on players anywhere in the world. The image is superb; it’s doubtful the black and white cinematography has ever looked more crisp or detailed: from the wrinkles on Cameron Mitchell’s leathery face to the fine detail in the furnishings and adornments of each family’s home. Grain is pure and natural, and black and gray levels are nicely reproduced.

    Twilight Time offers the primary soundtrack in two ways: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Both are fine, though purists may prefer the original stereo track. Either way, this is a film wherein conversation, not emotionally manipulative musical bombast, is key to its success, and as such, dialogue is prominently and appropriately placed central in the mix. A third track, also presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, features the score in isolation. Subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are included as well, though there are no other extras (apart from the standard catalog of TT titles announcing which are still in print and which have gone out of print at the time of this BD’s release).

    Not to be downplayed are liner notes from esteemed film historian Julie Kirgo. Provided in an 8-age booklet featuring stills and promo art in support, the notes are as witty and entertaining as they are informative. One can only hope that someday Kirgo graces us with a book on the subject of cinema.

    No Down Payment is limited to 3,000 units.

    The Final Word:

    No Down Payment is a sometimes-poignant, sometimes-raunchy, sometimes-uncomfortable slice of lower-middle-class life in the post-war era, one that’s gorgeously shot and performed. Thankfully, Twilight Time gives it the perfect showcase in a visually stunning Blu-ray presentation.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2019.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!