September 8, 2021

A LIFE AT STAKE: Lurid Lansbury

A LIFE AT STAKE (Blu-ray Review)
1955 / 78 min


Review by Mr. Paws😼

I remember the first time I saw the original Manchurian Candidate. This was when I mostly knew Angela Lansbury from such fluffy fare as Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Beauty and the Beast and the role she’s most-often associated with, author-turned-sleuth Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. So her dark turn as a vindictive, conniving monster was a revelation, like learning your grandma used to moonlight as an assassin. 

Of course, nobody forges a seven-decade career by playing nothing but kindly old ladies...I’d simply never seen anything where she wasn’t one. 

Similarly, she’s a femme fatale in the little-seen, low-budget film noir, A Life at Stake. Angela Lansbury as a scheming sexpot? Hell, that’s like learning your grandma once posed for Playboy. Seeing someone typically associated with musicals and cozy mysteries playing a young seductress might be initially off-putting, but she’s easily the best part of the film, acting circles around her beefy-but-bland co-star, Keith Andes. 

Bourbon, She Drank.
The plot has down-on-his-luck architect Edward Shaw taking a lucrative construction job financed by Gus Hillman (Douglass Dumbrille), building houses which would be sold by Hillman’s wife, Doris (Lansbury). Edward initially doesn’t approve of the stipulation requiring him to take out a hefty insurance policy on himself, but since he’s already begun an affair with Doris and needs the money, he reluctantly agrees to Gus' terms. However, he soon begins to suspect the couple is plotting to kill him to collect the insurance payout, exacerbated by information from Doris’ well-meaning younger sister that doesn’t jibe with what he was told. Is Doris really in love with him, or just using him? 

Running a scant 78 minutes, the movie briskly moves from point A-to-B with little muss or fuss. Lansbury notwithstanding, the performances are perfunctory and there aren’t any earth-shattering narrative surprises. Still, the story is interesting and the mountain cabin climax is fairly exciting. A Life at Stake may only be a mere footnote in the history of film noir, but it’s well made on a limited budget.  At the very least, the sight of one of England’s most beloved senior citizens sexing-it-up (convincingly) is certainly something to behold.


“HOLLYWOOD HITCH-HIKERS: INSIDE THE FILMMAKERS” - The Filmmakers was an indie production company co-founded by Ida Lupino. Not very long, but it's interesting.

SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Includes an essay about Angela Lansbury and low budget film noir.




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