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Man in the Vault

Man in the Vault (1956)

December. 12,1956
| Drama Thriller Crime

A locksmith is pressured into crime when the mob makes him perform an elaborate bank robbery.


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William Campbell, in my youth, appeared on a TV show called Cannonball that had a very catchy theme song. So catchy that we made up new lyrics to it that were about our school principle.He has several other distinctions, some as an actor, and he earned his place in the JFK saga by being married to one of JFK's girlfriends, Judith Campbell Exner.Campbell plays a locksmith, Tommy Dancer. He often hangs out at a bowling alley. One night he meets a man, Willis Trent (Berry Kroeger) who invites him to a party. After we hear the song "Let the Chips Fall Where They May" sung by Viviane Lloyd, Dancer meets Betty Turner (Karen Sharpe). They begin dating.Tommy is offered a job for $5000 if he will rent a safe deposit box, and while in the vault, make impressions for two keys to box 315. He doesn't know it at the time, but the box has $200,000 in it that Trent wants stolen. He refuses to do it until Mike Mazurki beats him up and then Betty is threatened. In a suspenseful scene, he makes impressions of the keys.Then he finds out about the money from a man named Herbie (Paul Fix) tips him off about the money and suggests that they split it.Familiar faces here, including Fix, Kroeger, Mazurki, and of course Campbell. Karen Sharpe, who played Betty, married Stanley Kramer and became a producer as well as an actress. Anita Ekberg, looking gorgeous, is on hand as Earl Farraday's (Robert Keys) girlfriend - it's Farraday who owns the safe deposit box.Despite the film being low budget, there are several interesting things about it. First, being low budget, it's filmed on the streets of Los Angeles. The sections they were in were familiar to me and made it so much fun, seeing a large Rexall Drugs, Dutch Paint, the whole ambiance of old Hollywood.The other thing is one starts to notice keys everywhere. Dancer works in a key-making establishment. He's called on by Trent to open a trunk, so he makes an impression of the lock; he makes keys for the safe deposit box, later he uses the keys to get into it - he is constantly using keys. Finally you're noticing them every time he pulls one out.Lastly, parts of the film are very Hitchcockian - one is the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances; the other is danger in landmarks or familiar places not known for danger, as Dancer first escapes being hit by a bowling ball and then attempts escape by traversing pin-setting machines. Really terrific. Unfortunately, today we're all too familiar with danger in familiar places.Not bad for a low budget film.


A tough choice for nice-guy assistant locksmith Tommy Dancer: to continue plodding on with his $80/week, go-nowhere job, OR to give in to the demands of petty hood Willis Trent, and get paid $5,000 for using his skills to break into the safety-deposit box of top-dog criminal De Camp and steal $200,000. This ethical conundrum becomes a no-brainer, however, when Trent turns the screws by kidnapping and threatening Tommy's newest girlfriend, Betty Turner. Anyway, that's the setup for Andrew V. McLaglen's "Man in the Vault," a compact little film noir from 1956 that, despite its "B movie" status--and despite the "Maltin Film Guide"'s assertion that it is "drab" and only deserving of one of its lowest ratings--still offers much. Though surely made on the cheap, the film looks just fine, and features at least two highly suspenseful sequences: the heist that Tommy carries out inside a crowded bank, and a nighttime game of cat and mouse between Tommy and one of Trent's thugs inside a deserted bowling alley. Plus, with a running time of only 73 minutes, the picture is lean and fast moving, with little in the way of flab (excepting, perhaps, that three-minute song "Let the Chips Fall Where They May," warbled by a chantootsie early on at Trent's house party).And then there is the film's single best element: a surprisingly excellent performance by William Campbell as Tommy Dancer, who does indeed get to "dance" all over L.A. while embroiled in this film's shenanigans. Campbell, who is perhaps best known for his appearances in three "Star Trek" episodes (as Trelane in "The Squire of Gothos" and the wimpiest Klingon ever, Koloth, in "The Trouble With Tribbles," both from the original series, and then toughening up Koloth considerably, many years later, in "Deep Space 9"'s "Blood Oath"), is immensely likable and sympathetic here. The late actor (he passed away on 4/28/11, at the age of 84) easily carries this film. Karen Sharpe (not to be confused with Karen Steele, as I did going in) is cute and appealing as Betty, Berry Kroeger is memorable as the smarmy Trent, and former heavyweight wrestler Mike Mazurki adds his always welcome, menacing presence. Oh...how could I forget the main reason for my rental of this film in the first place: Anita Ekberg, Miss Sweden 1951, playing the part of De Camp's moll, Flo Brant? Sadly, Anita is only given perhaps 10 minutes of screen time in all to make an impression, but looks so stunning that, yes, an impression is most certainly made. Anita would have to wait another four years before really making the world sit up and take notice, in 1960's "La Dolce Vita," but is still fairly riveting here, despite her small part. Throw in some nice location photography of 1950s Los Angeles (including the Hollywood Bowl and Hollywood Blvd., replete with a Rexall Drugstore!), some well-done, naturalistic dialogue, efficient direction from McLaglen and a highly satisfactory denouement and you've got a little film that's a lot more than merely "drab"!

Claudio Carvalho

The mobster Willis Trent (Berry Kroger) is informed by one of his gangsters that the locksmith Tommy Dancer (William Campbell) is efficient and fast in his work. Willis befriends Tommy in a bowling alley and invites him to open a trunk at his home. Tommy accepts the job and then he is invited by Willis to stay in a party at his house, where he meets the wealthy Betty Turner (Karen Sharpe). Later they go to his place and Betty forgets her stole when she goes home. On the next morning, Tommy returns the fur to Betty and they date at night. Then Willis offers five thousand dollars to Tommy to make the keys of the safe deposit box no. 315 in the Hollywood Bank that belongs to the rival criminal and head of gambling Paul De Camp (James Seay) and has two hundred thousand dollars of illegal money. Tommy turns down the offer, but Willis threatens to harm Betty's face to achieve his goal."Man in the Vault" is a good film-noir but unfortunately the moralist ending ruins the story. The romance between Tommy and Betty is dated, but acceptable for a movie of the 50's. But the conclusion with Tommy giving the stolen money to a police officer is ridiculous even in those years. My vote is seven.Title (Brazil): "Domínio dos Homens Sem Lei" ("Domain of the Men Without Law")


I had an old fuzzy copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy of a TV broadcast of this 1956 crime-noir B programmer, but now that there's a new letter-boxed DVD out, I threw the old tape away and can finally enjoy this film for what it is: a solid "b" crime film with good performances, good pacing, and great Los Angeles location photography. The under-rated William Campbell plays an average guy working as a locksmith, who is approached by a gangster who wants to break into a safe deposit box. Campbell, like most people probably, initially tries to be polite, but turns down the offer. Gangsters don't like being turned down, so one can imagine where the plot goes. There's a woman involved, a shady lawyer, another gangster who has gone legit, Mike Mazurki as an ex-boxer turned enforcer, and the comedy of Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (a regular in Batjac Productions of this era). The main female role is played (well) by Karen Sharpe, who hails from here in San Antonio! Anita Ekberg is in a small role as the girlfriend of James Seay's character, the owner of the safe deposit box. Ekberg is not really given much to do. The film, an early directorial credit of Andrew V. McLaglen. legendary director of many classic westerns and action films, is very well-paced and has amazing location photography of 1950's Los Angeles. A few key scenes take place in a bowling alley, actually Art Linkletter's La Cienega Lanes, which is of great documentary value in itself. Wait until you see the climax inside the bowling alley! This probably deserves a "7" rating, but I'll give it one star more for the nice widescreen transfer on the DVD and the great location photography. This plays a lot like an Allied Artists low-budget 50's crime film, and for me that is a high compliment. Check it out...