Death in Small Doses (DVD Review)4 Feb, 2013 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Peter Graves, Mala Powers, Chuck Connors.
There were, of course, movies about moonshiners tearing up rural routes while evading the Feds — and, in fact, that genre’s definitive granddaddy (Thunder Road) would hit theaters in ’58. But mainstream screens had only been liberated enough to deal with drug use — any kind of drug use — for a couple years, so a movie about “bennies” (aka “co-pilots,” as they’re termed here) wasn’t exactly a cottage industry even with quasi-major distributors, which is about what Doses’ Allied Artists was. Inspired by one of those Saturday Evening Post exposés that captured my imagination as a kid (Dave Beck and the Teamsters getting laid out also comes to mind), this obscure-to-me undercover sleuth melodrama opens with a Fed investigator (Peter Graves during his TV “Fury” days) flopping in a trucker’s rooming house to ascertain just who supplied amphetamines to the driver we’ve seen drive his rig off the road amidst a seeing-double frenzy in the movie’s opening scene,
The hottie who runs the place is played by Mala Powers, who was good-looking enough in those days to have played Roxanne in the same screen version of Cyrano de Bergerac that won Jose Ferrer the 1950 Oscar for best actor. For a widowed landlady, her house-garb is not unrevealing, to which seasoned moviegoers perhaps ought to be saying, “Go easy, Pete.” There’s also a truck stop waitress who lives out back, kind of like Kim Novak in Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid. Played by one of my favored ‘B’-actresses of the day (Merry Anders), she knows something of what’s going on but not enough (for a while) to give Graves much help, despite the insistence of his questioning not just with her but also with all of his work colleagues. The oddest of these latter balls is a be-bop-ster played by Chuck Connors just a year before TV’s “The Rifleman.” I can’t tell if his is just an overbaked performance or a daring effort to show how strung out one can get popping these babies like M&M’s when all that tread is under your command. In any event, it’s amusing to watch Connors’ large jock-ish frame leaping into his character’s white convertible — or, in one of the truck-stoop interludes, doing what has to be one of the most awkward jitter-buggings I’ve ever seen on screen. That’s OK: Connors may have played only one game for the Brooklyn Dodgers (albeit a few more for the Cubs) in his MLB career — but he got further in acting than Experiment in Terror’s Don Drysdale, whose own brief acting career included an appearance on … “The Rifleman.” This is an incestuous week, isn’t it?