Life at Stake (1954)

June 13, 2020

poster life at stake


Starring Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes, and Douglas Dumbrille. Produced by Charles Maxwell. Directed by Paul Guilfoyle. Music by Les Baxter.

What begins as a business proposition of buying land to build houses turns into an affair involving both sisters as well as a plot to kill the leading man! House building expert Edward Shaw (Keith Anders)  is down on his luck with a couple of deals that have gone bad and taken his money down to the last 1000 dollars, a bill he has framed. Enter  Doris Hillman (Angela Lansbury), her sister Madge Neilan (Claudia Barrett), a jealous husband Douglas Hillman (Douglas Dumbrille), and a police detective Lt. Hoff (Charles Maxwell)  who won’t believe that Shaw is trying to be killed for the insurance money and you have the ingredients for a drama that unfolds before your eyes and ears.

Too many holes in the hard to believe story which is all hinged on a crumpled piece of paper that ends up in many hands throughout the film. It is a letter written by Shaw to the insurance company stating he believes that the Hillman’s are trying to kill him. It goes from the typewriter to the trashcan back to Shaw and into his coat sleeve where first Madge and then Doris sees this crumpled piece of paper which the entire story hinges on. Shaw is drugged by Hillman and nearly dies running off the road and then is confronted yet again with the Hillmans, shot left to be saved by Madge as both Hillman’s are killed in a terrible accident. Of course, Madge and Edward don’t lose a beat as they go off to the hospital.

The three main characters in the film have had long and very successful careers in Hollywood with Lansbury having an award-winning “Murder She Wrote” series for many years. She began her career in 1944 in ” Gaslight” and is still semi-active 70 years later.

Both Anders and Dumbrille have had long character actor careers in movies and then television. When Dumbrille’s first wife passed away he married again at 70 to a 28-year-old Patricia Mowbray daughter of good friend Alan Mowbray, staying with her until he passed away in 1974. He was involved in Hollywood for over 50 years. Anders was very active in the ’50s and ’60s and known for Guy Madison/Jeffrey Hunter’s type physique roles, see the beginning of the film.

Claudia Barrett had a short run of sci-fi movies in the ’50s and television in the ’60s. Jane Darwell appeared in over 200 films as a motherly type winning an Oscar for “Grapes of Wrath” in 1941. Charles Maxwell, who also produced the film, was another character actor who acted in the ’50s-’70s in many television programs lots of westerns like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. His hand at producing was short-lived.

Les Baxter is known for his lounge and arranging music for Capitol Records in the ’50s. The percussion was the key to his success along with incorporating Ravel and Debussy impressionistic styles to his music. His 1956 recording of “Poor People of Paris” hit #1 on the charts. In addition, he did over 100 scores for films mostly ‘B’ films. The main theme is quite good although not recorded to my knowledge.


This was a film I could have skipped but watched it, Angela Lansbury catching my attention and it did keep my interest in the 1+ hours just to see what happens to the film noir lady and her double-cross. (**)