Prison break movies during the classic film noir cycle tended to pessimism and summary justice, futile battles with rough terrain and bloodhounds, gunshot wounds, and road-blocks, with few if any of the escapees left standing. Usually a motley crew of lifers with nothing left to lose, led by a brutally efficient con who has some serious loot hidden away. Crashout fits the bill with interesting twists. Directed with muscle by stringer Lewis R. Foster, who had a hand in the screenplay, and lensed by noir veteran Russell Metty, the scenario plays out in brutally violent chapters, as a man falls never to get up again, with only one left alive when the story ends during a blizzard atop a mountain.
Featuring an ensemble cast of players who give strong performances, the picture has a resonance beyond what you would expect from a programmer. The script has a lot to offer with deep characterisations from solid actors including William Bendix, Arthur Kennedy, and William Talman. Bendix dominates as the ruthless leader, but plenty of room is left for each of the other cons to break loose.
What makes the scenario interesting are two interludes featuring two of the six men, each involving a chance encounter with a woman, and offering bitter-sweet glimpses of what might have been if life had played out differently. These two men – unlike the others – are not murderers and so in conventional fashion are sympathetically drawn. One man is an embezzler and the other killed a man accidently. (Some may with justice see this as a sop to the remaining vestiges of influence of Breen & co.) The two woman are played by minor actresses who deliver mightily in the short time they are on the screen, and their loss is felt as profoundly as that of the men they encounter, after relentless reality smashes their illusions of another kind of escape.
The film ends with a rare ambiguity about the fate of the last man standing, giving the viewer a reason to at least ponder the chances of an unlikely redemption.