Monday, March 14, 2016

Bobby Ware is Missing (1955) from Warner Archive

NOTE: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!  I'M TALKING THE ACTUAL FINAL SHOT OF THE MOVIE! But you ain't missing much with the spoilers because, for reasons I will make clear, there is very little narrative tension in this movie.

Allied Artists' 1955 thriller "Bobby Ware Is Missing" is an odd one. It runs only 66 minutes, it puts children in jeopardy, but then it derives much of its narrative tension from what we know is a red herring. It depicts two young boys trapped on a high mountainside, but it doesn't really attempt to establish the height with gimmicky "looking down" camera shots. Well, as someone who is a little spooked by children in jeopardy and by heights, I didn't mind so much, but it makes for an offbeat picture.

We open with a construction site, where blasting, digging, excavating, and all the other various types of constructing are occurring. Bobby and his friend Mickey Goodwin are biking around and going places they shouldn't be, like all kids used to do. Ah, the good, old days, when you left your house in the morning and did God knows what until it got dark, maybe stopping back home for a sandwich around lunchtime.

And remember when there used to be giant dirt piles all over the place and tools and all kinds of questionable stuff lying around? Bobby and Mickey skip right past the rusty nails, broken glass bottles, and "men's magazines" surely scattered about and go right into the unsecured heavy machinery! These days there would be chain link fence, maybe a MOAT, around this type of site, or at least a video camera or two. The unfortunate youth of today have to get their danger and thrills from their game consoles...or in some places by drinking from the tap. Suffice to say I was appalled at what Bobby and Mickey were able to do at the beginning of this movie...and a little envious.

My jealousy evaporated when the two climbed up a little mountain (maybe it's more a hill, but that doesn't sound as exciting) and suddenly slipped down, landing on a small ridge. They can't climb up, and there's no way to get down. These two are TRAPPED! At first it's not so bad, but when night falls, it's cold and kind of spooky:

Note: Left unexplored in the entire 66 minutes is how the kids go to the bathroom on this ridge. Perhaps director Thomas Carr thought it best not to delve into that. I don't know much about Thomas Carr, but this strikes me as a reasonable judgment on his part.

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Ware (Arthur Franz and Jean Gilles) are worried sick about their missing boy, and they start to get a little panicky. We soon meet Mickey's father Max (Walter), a single father who has had some issues raising his boy. Someone tossed a brick through the Wares' window, and the attached note claims the kids are being held for ransom. Business picks up as we get going with the star of the show, Neville Brand.

Brand is a world-class geologist the Wares and Max hire to analyze the brick to find clues to the kids' location. At this point, director Carr, through Brand's charismatic but geeky scientist, takes the viewer on an engrossing thrill ride through the high-stakes world of forensic mineralogy.

I'm kidding, of course, but, yes, some sick part of me really wishes that were true.

In fact, this point of the movie is where "Ware" (oh, I'm a wordsmith) squanders an opportunity. I think the most compelling aspect of the thin story is the internal disagreements among the 3 parents over how to handle this. Do they follow the lead and hand over the money? Do they fully cooperate with the authorities (Brand is in charge of the investigation)? There is some interesting debate, and I think if the film had another 10-15 minutes to explore these questions, plus Max's guilt over being an inattentive parent, we might really have something.

Instead, "Ware" shifts focus to a pursuit of the fake kidnapper. The problem is we know immediately the rock thrower has nothing to do with the boys' disappearance. Actually his identity isn't even much of a mystery; anyone paying attention to the credits and keeping track of how often people have been featured in the story to that point could make a pretty good guess. So the movie generates its thrills with a long car chase of a suspect the audience knows is a red herring. Again, I am not a huge fan of heights, not of kids in jeopardy, but I think this film could have benefited from a stronger attempt to leverage those factors.

Long story short (and this IS only 66 minutes, remember), Neville Brand and his men eventually track down the boys, but their rescue plan involves a precarious harness contraption someone tosses out of a hovering helicopter. Hopefully this comes across in the screencaps, but this rescue is brief but looks dangerous as hell, and it made me more uneasy than anything else in the flick:

However, Bobby and Mickey do survive to enjoy embraces with their fathers, and just as a reminder of who the real star of this is, we get a somewhat incongruous closing shot of Neville Brand looking...happy, I guess:

"Snakes...Why did it have to be snakes surrounding those kids?"

It's an odd, almost anticlimactic end to a fun but inconsequential thriller. "Bobby Ware Is Missing" is worth a rental or a watch on, say, TCM, but at 66 minutes and with no extras, this seems a bit of a steep purchase at Warner Archive's standard prices. I would have liked to have seen this as part of a double feature instead of a regular standalone. That said, more power to WA for cranking out even these smaller pictures on DVD.

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