THE TRUE STORY OF LYNN STUART (1958).
Loosely based on sensationalist articles by Los Angeles newsman Pat Michaels, this black-and-white B-movie tells the allegedly true tale of a California suburban housewife who, driven by civic duty, risked her life to go undercover and infiltrate a narcotics ring. The final film of veteran Hollywood director Lewis Seiler (best known for early Bogart efforts like KING OF THE UNDERWORLD and THE BIG SHOT), it's never remotely believable and often unintentionally ludicrous, complete with a cheesy prologue by California Attorney General (and future Governor) "Pat" Brown about the evil of drugs... Over two decades before signing on as FRIDAY THE 13TH's murderous Mrs. Voorhees, Betsy Palmer stars as Santa Ana wife and mother Phyllis Carter, who's shocked to learn that drugs abound in her "decent community," after her hophead nephew dies during a police chase. Determined to put a stop to these smack peddlers, she impetuously volunteers her services to the Sheriff's Department. Of course, her offer is initially declined, not because she has no training or that it's a stupid idea, but because "it's no job for a woman." Eventually changing their tune, The Narcotics Division sets Phyllis up with a new identity as parolee Lynn Stuart, gets her a carhop job at a drive-in diner where a lot of pushers hang out, and also trains her in modern drug lingo ("Nose candy is cocaine... Grasshopper is a marijuana user"). But what about her husband and little boy? They'll be fine. Besides, what's the worst that can happen (if you ignore the police informant who got stabbed to death in the first reel)? Almost instantly, handsome pusher Willie Down (Jack Lord) makes the moves on "doll face" Lynn, and on their first date begins bragging about his foolproof system of moving drugs across the border and around the area. Gosh, that was easy! In fact, Phyllis/Lynn only wises up to the dangers inherent in this assignment after her cover is nearly blown, she's dragged off to Tijuana for a big score and Willie begins gunning down any witnesses... The film makes it seem like this 'Lynn Stuart' gig only took about a week or two, when the woman it was based on actually spent six years on the job. Plus its script is peppered with convoluted melodrama, as Phyllis' studio-backlot home-life suffers due to her absence -- hubbie gets jealous that she's dressing sexy and hanging out with "crumb bums," while her depressed kid ends up critically ill and hospitalized. Inexperienced Palmer puts lots of energy into her role, and though she's downright terrible in the early, crusading-suburban-housewife portion, loosens up appreciably after taking on this swingin' Lynn Stuart persona. Meanwhile, Lord is surprisingly believable as a greasy lowlife, while displaying a natural roughness that had been sanded down by the time he starred on HAWAII FIVE-O. Also look for John Anderson as a shifty used car salesman connected to Willie and, in one of his earliest film roles, THE LOVE BOAT's Gavin MacLeod is one of Down's flunkies. Oscar-winning cinematographer Burnett Guffey (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY) gives it all a smidgen of grittiness, but not nearly enough to save this unconvincing but entertainingly hokey hogwash.
© 2019 by Steven Puchalski.