This has to be about the worst movie I’ve reviewed, that is, after Mars Needs Women. This is Ransom Money from 1970, starring Broderick Crawford as FBI Inspector Joseph Medford. It’s available to view on Amazon Prime Video, but Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for it. Details are from IMDb.
For once it’s not only the plot that sinks this picture. It’s the rock bottom production quality, starting with the cinematography. To illustrate, the first minute or so, while they rolled the titles (by Pacific Title, no less), I thought I was watching an 8mm home movie. Somebody is driving along country roads in a large piece of Detroit iron while a kid looks out the car window, gaping at the wonders of the American West. All along a dumb song is playing over the sound track. Things plod along from there.
The driver is Joanne Patrick (Rachel Romen), and she’s driving her son Ronny (Randy Whipple) to see Grand Canyon. From the title we figure this is going to be about a kidnapping caper, so we have the kid, and it’s beginning to look as though we have the venue. We become intrigued as to how the snatch is going to be pulled off. That’s settled quickly when Ronny’s mom allows him to remain behind gawking at the scenery while she goes inside the lodge to register. Also we have seen a VW van following the Patrick car since the outset, so it’s no surprise when a man snatches the kid and takes off with him in the van.
The woman comes out. The kid’s missing. She gets frantic. She runs all over the place. She goes back to the car. There’s a note from the kidnapper stuck in the door. She reads it. She is supposed to go to Phoenix and check into a certain hotel. She’s out of her mind. She harasses a park ranger and tries to show him the note. The paper is blank. The ink has disappeared.
In the car, down to Phoenix, to the hotel, where a room has already been reserved for her. Her phone rings in the room. It’s the kidnapper. He says it’s OK to contact the police. They are not going to be able to help. He wants a million dollars. And that’s what the movie is about.
In comes Agent Medford from Los Angeles. He did not even stop to pack a bag. That turns out to be significant.
Skipping a bunch of melodrama, Malcolm Stewart (Sebastian Stuart), Joanne Patrick’s investment counselor, enters the picture. He barges into the case, constantly making a nuisance of himself. The deal is, a few years back Joanne Patrick’s millionaire husband vanished in a private flight that went down in the Gulf of Mexico. So she’s a widow with a lot of money. Keeping it short, Inspector Medford goes back to Los Angeles and returns with the money, a suitcase filled with unmarked 50s and 100s. He opens the suitcase and examines the money. This is also significant.
Yes, this is an actual scene from the movie. Medford, Patrick, and two other lawmen post themselves out in a dry lake bed, looking for the return of the kid. The kidnapper advises there will be a bomb attached to the kid, and it will go off if the money is not delivered. Medford has previously deposited the suitcase full of cash out in a rocky area for the kidnapper to pick up.
They see something. Maybe a kid standing out on the dry lake bed. They approach. The apparition vanishes in a blinding explosion. It’s a dummy. The kid has not been killed, but he has still not been returned, because the suitcase was full of blank paper.
The fuzz figure out that pesky Malcolm Stewart has gone out to the drop site and switched suitcases. They nab him at a bar, where he allows he did make the switch. So the lawmen need to follow the kidnapper’s further advice to airdrop the money (recovered from Malcolm) thirty minutes west of the city. Medford makes arrangements to carry out the plan.
Now the story takes a twist. Medford dies in a traffic accident on his way to purchase a new dress shirt. Remember, he left Los Angeles without a change of clothing. But the accident was no accident. The kidnapper sabotaged his car with a bomb that caused the crash.
So now the kidnapper has the money, and they rescue the kid, and they find Malcolm murdered. Before he dies Malcolm identifies the kidnapper as an electronics expert, thought to have perished in the same ill-fated flight with Joanne Patrick’s husband. The learn he was deeply in debt due to gambling addiction. They figure he has headed for Las Vegas.
Sure enough, the kidnapper shows up at a high-stakes casino with a suitcase full of large bills. He takes a bundle and heads for the tables. At the cashier’s window he plunks down two bills and purchases a pile of chips. But the bills turn blank after he leaves the window. Security is notified immediately, and he is apprehended. The deceased Medford has pulled the same trick the kidnapper previously employed. He has had printed a suitcase full of money with disappearing ink. And that solves the case.
Besides the amateur photography, this one suffers from deadpan acting. After starting in the movies in 1937, Broderick Crawford pulled down an Academy Award for best actor in All the King’s Men in 1949. By 1955 he was more famous as Officer Dan Matthews in Highway Patrol gaining recognition in modern lexicon through the phrase, “Go get ’em Broderick.” He fairly much walks his way through his part as Agent Medford. As for the remainder of the crew, this appears to be another case where the director instructed someone on the set to go out and grab some people off the sidewalk.
Continuity is also lacking. Joanne Patrick leaves Grand Canyon, heading for Phoenix. We see her driving through the night, arriving the following day. People, that’s about a 3½-hour drive. I doubt it took much longer even in 1970.
The plot has additional lapses in logic:
The kidnapper is going to snatch the kid. The kid conveniently insists on staying outside while his mother goes inside to register. What was the kidnapper’s backup plan if the kid decided to stick with his mother?
The kidnapper pens his note to Joanne using ink that vanishes when exposed to light. Then he posts it on her car door and drives away. Suppose the mother had been late getting to the car, and the note was blank when she got there. That wasn’t such a hot idea.
Malcolm turns out to have been in on the plot, and he continues to interfere with the case. How come he doesn’t get chained up in a cell and out of the way, even after the lawmen find out he switched suitcases?
We see the lawmen and the sharp-looking widow stationed for hours on end out on a dry lake bed in Arizona. No shade, no shelter, no water, to say nothing of no bathrooms. Who runs a sloppy operation like this.
Medford stashes the suitcase with the funny money out in the desert. And then drives away. Nobody hiding out to see who comes to pick up the loot? Malcolm comes and departs without being detected. Besides, these places are one way in and one way out. All that was needed was for a cop, posing as a prospector or a broken down motorist, to monitor the in and out traffic.
Same way with the money dropped by parachute from an airplane. Nobody is watching to see who drives out into the desert to pick up the package?
No way. And that’s not the half of what’s wrong. You will have to watch for yourselves.
Music credit goes to Hank Levine. Thanks, Hank, for that jaunty jazz number that plays along while life and death drama is supposed to be playing out.