Weekend Film Recommendation: Timetable

Mark Stevens’ 1956 film noir Timetable gives the heist film a special twist

20072011131916editedMany movies start out creative and intriguing but then at some point lapse into formulaic filmmaking, thereby disappointing the viewer. This week’s film recommendation is a fine example of the reverse phenomenon, a movie that starts out in familiar territory but ends up somewhere far more engaging: Mark Stevens’ 1956 film noir Timetable.

The film opens with an ingeniously plotted robbery on a train, pulled off by an icily calm physician (Wesley Addy, a durable TV actor who is very good here in a rare big screen appearance). The case is investigated by a seasoned by-the book police detective (played Joe Friday-style by King Calder) and an eminently respectable insurance investigator named Charlie Norman (Mark Hopkins). For the first 20 minutes, Timetable is a solid but unremarkable police procedural as the two heroes track down the robbers. But then comes a superb twist that drives the story into deep film noir territory, allowing Aben Kandel’s script to dig into themes of lust, middle-class alienation and deceit. The next hour of the film is thus unexpectedly suspenseful and powerful, raising the movie into RBC recommendation-worthy territory.

I admire the control Mark Stevens took over his career in the 1950s. He was stuck in a “road company leading man” spot with the big studios, so much so that even when he anchored a good film he got fourth billing! (The Dark Corner, mentioned at RBC before in a discussion of Lucille Ball and Lured). So he struck out on his own by directing, producing and starring in his own movies, including Timetable, where he does good work in all three capacities.

A few other notes about the film. Jack Klugman, as a luckless criminal named Frankie Page, made his big screen debut here. This is also Felicia Farr’s first film, but she was underutilized I think. Finally, on a silly note, this movie inspired an RBC post on how little money weighs in the movies.

My belief is that Timetable is in the public domain, so I am going to post it right here for you to enjoy. It’s 80 minutes well-spent.

p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? See the full list of RBC recommendations here.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

3 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: Timetable”

  1. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that.

    This isn’t quite on point, but I can’t get over how much I liked “African Queen,” once I forced myself to sit through the boring first part. I never would have guessed how good it would turn out to be. I vaguely recall that “Advise and Consent” was a little similar that way, though I didn’t like it nearly so much overall.

  2. Just watched it — good pick! You were right on target about the plot twist and script. Don’t know why Timetable doesn’t have more of a reputation (I had never heard of it), the plot and dialogue are better than many other, better-known, B films. Maybe a short run time helps prevent a movie from getting too full of itself.

    If you haven’t seen it, Classe tous risques (Claude Sautet’s first film, with gangsters!) might be up your alley. Watched it last night, enjoyed.

    1. Thank you for the suggestion karl, I will put that on my watch list. I am glad you liked Timetable; not sure why it has disappeared from collective memory…it could be the absence of big stars and could have to do with whatever deal’s Stevens’ studio did or did not have regarding TV rebroadcasts as that medium was expanding.

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