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Ruthless law breakers who dared to defy the government, the law, and the people!
hitchcockthelegend28 September 2012
Highway 301 is written and directed by Andrew L. Stone. It stars Steve Cochran, Virginia Grey, Gaby André and Edmond Ryan. Music is by William Lava and photography by Carl Guthrie. Story is based on a real gang of robbers known as The Tri-State Gang, who terrorised and thieved in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Plot chronicles their activities and the pursuit of them by the authorities.

It opens with a trio of state governors cringe worthily pumping up the hard sell, for what we know is going to be a "crime doesn't not pay" message movie. I half expected the Star Spangled Banner to come booming out the speakers and an FBI version of Uncle Sam to flash on the screen telling us to come join the Crime Stoppers! Thankfully, once the cringe stops the film kicks in with a ruthless bank robbery and never looks back from that moment.

Led by cold blooded George Legenza (Cochran), this gang don't wear masks, they are ruthless but not beyond error, and tagging along are molls who are either oblivious to the gang's activities - fully complicit - or ignorant. It's a pressure cooker dynamic and as we soon find out, women are not going to be treated well here at all, if they are in the way or a threat to safety, they will cop it. Highway 301 is a violent film with some cold characterisations, and there may even be a subtle homosexual relationship between two of the gang members.

Andrew Stone's direction is tight and in tune with the jagged edges of his characters, with barely a filler shot used in the whole running time, while his scene structure for dramatic impacts work very well. Refreshingly there are no cheat cut-aways either. His cast are on form, with Cochran looming large with an intense and thoroughly dislikable portrayal leading the way, while Guthrie photographs with shadows prominent and a couple of night time street scenes that are visually noirish. Unfortunately Stone's screenplay hasn't the time to put depth into the principal players, the gang are bad and greedy, the women scratching around for purpose or brains, but that's all we know. It's the one flaw in an otherwise great crime movie. 8/10
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Rip-roaring retro
melvelvit-117 January 2009
HIGHWAY 301 is a rip-roaring Warner Brothers return to their hard-hitting early 1930s gangster cycle complete with a "Crime Does Not Pay" prologue delivered by the governors of the three states the events take place in. Filmed in a semi-documentary style with sporadic voice-over narration, the tale is based on "cold, hard fact" and is surprisingly sadistic -which could be the reason why I never saw it on TV growing up. Like many good crime melodramas, H301 opens with a bank robbery and follows the gang and their molls as they live life on the run and I was reminded of 1967's BONNIE & CLYDE in its depiction of a "family" of outlaws contending with pressures from within as they're relentlessly pursued by the long arm of the law. The brutally handsome Steve Cochran dominates his surroundings as the flint-eyed, heartless, "take-no-prisoners" leader of the "Tri-State Gang" who can calmly kill at the drop of a fedora and Robert Webber and newcomer Gaby Andre (whatever happened to her?) are believable as a young con and his naive bride in over their heads. Familiar face Virginia Grey scores as a radio-addicted dame who knows the score and the reliable Eddie Norris and Richard Egan are also on hand in small roles. The director, Andrew Stone, wrote the never-a-dull-moment script and, in addition to the solid direction and "A" production values only a major studio can provide, the violence directed at women and the high body count made this fast-paced police procedural a slick "shocker" for its day and it still packs a punch. Warners also made WHITE HEAT, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE (both with James Cagney), and THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (again with bad boy Cochran) around the same time. Highly recommended for fans of this type of film -and you know who you are.

"Several good suspense sequences, some good comic observation, and many pleasing visual moments of the wet-streets-at-night category." -"Punch"
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Highway 301 (1950)
MartinTeller3 January 2012
The criminal exploits of a small group of gangsters working in the Maryland/Virginia/North Carolina area. The docudrama subgenre of noir tends to produce few masterpieces and a lot of mediocrities. This one is closer to mediocrity, but has a few worthwhile assets. The intro, with "crime does not pay" lectures by the governors of the three states, sets the self-righteous, judgemental tone for the film's narration and messages. The story follows a standard formula, with early successes by the gang followed by the net of the law gradually closing around them and forcing their hand. The characterizations are fun but one-note. Steve Cochran in the lead has an edgy brutality but not much else. However, the action sequences are well done, and there is one nail-biting, suspenseful scene as one of the gangster's gals tries to escape. The photography is quite nice as well, at least during the gloomy night scenes.
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a real humdinger of a cops and robber movie.
sharynordon-16 February 2007
I saw this very exciting and fast paced gangster movie over 50 years ago and remember it fondly to this very day. I even remember the theater I saw it in on a Saturday matinée. It kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end and the action never lets up. It's a classic Steve Cochran performance. A real bad apple with no redeeming qualities. Andrew L. Stone directed which is really no surprise because he specialized in action and suspense films which don't allow the viewer to take a deep breath such as the Last Voyage, Cry Terror and Blueprint for Murder. This is the kind of cops and robbers film that they don't make any more.
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"Don't dance with strangers or talk to anyone with a mustache."
utgard144 December 2014
A gang of well-dressed armed robbers, unimaginatively dubbed the Tri-State Outfit by police, go on a crime spree across three states. The opening bit with the real governors of Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina giving speeches about law & order will have you rolling your eyes. But stay with this one because it does get better. Steve Cochran is great as the cold-blooded leader of the gang. Robert Webber, Wally Cassell, and Richard Egan are among the other familiar faces in the cast. Lovely actresses Virginia Grey, Gaby André, and Aline Towne pretty things up as molls. Grey's character is a radio junkie, which leads to some funny moments. I liked the location scenery and the cars, fashions, and architecture of the period. It's a well-paced B crime picture with lots of grit and some atmosphere. Cheesy at times and never anything deep but it is solid entertainment. Were it not for the corny "crime does not pay" messages, this one would probably be more well-known and liked.
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Gang-on-the-run movie packs a dirty wallop
bmacv27 June 2001
The heart sinks when Highway 301 opens as the governors of three states bore us blind with pompous crime-does-not-pay speeches, one after the other. (It was 1950, and before we had a good time we had to be morally reassured.) Luckily, things pick up quickly in this modest but very well done look at life on the lam. A gang of bank-and-payroll robbers is terrorizing North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland; its leader (Steve Cochran) is especially vicious, and seems to take particular delight in bumping off women who cross him. One of them (Virginia Grey) gets bumped off much too early, as her sassy mouth is one of the best things in the movie. Another is the French-Canadian girlfriend (Gaby Andre) of another gangster, who only slowly comes to realize that she's fallen in with a den a theives ("duh?"). The tensest sequence in the movie occurs when Cochran is stalking her, by night, in the streets of Richmond, Virginia. The concluding scene, in a hospital, is almost as good. Again, by no means a vital installment in the noir canon, but quite professional and engaging.
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Good stuff in Steve Cochran's "White Heat"
jadedalex5 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I will always have fond memories of Steve Cochran's portrayal of the scheming but doomed "Big Ed" in Raoul Walsh's classic "White Heat".

Cochran gets to play the brutal lead gangster in "Highway 301". I wonder how much Cochran absorbed watching Cagney play the criminally insane "Cody Jarrett". Cochrane has a brutally handsome sinister face, but not much else. To be fair to Cochran, the script is hardly of the caliber of "White Heat". Steve is one mean son of a gun here -- he seems to get a real kick out of murdering women and bank guards. But whereas Cagney's performance in "White Heat" is a fleshed-out fully alive personality, Cochran's Legenza is a cardboard villain whose sadism is never explained.

There are some good moments. Director Stone crafts a scene that is worthy of Hitchcock (and no doubt inspired by the Master) when Gaby Andre's character uses a piece of paper and a hairpin to unwedge a key, drop it onto the paper and slide it over to her side of the door. It doesn't sound like much on paper -- but the editing is well done and the scene becomes that overused term "Hitchcockian".

Cochran's death is fairly hideous, a brutal affair involving a freight train, but the scene only reminds me of how great Cagney was on "top of the world'.

If you can get past the slow opening with three fine governors from the states bordering "Highway 301" (this film is supposedly based on a true story) pontificating about what a wonderful film you are about to see, you are in for a rough brutal ride.

Actually, thinking of Cochran, he was fairly effective as "Big Ed" in "White Heat". Even though we have seen his character in a love affair with Cody's wife Verna, there is still a curious admiration for this young gangster when he declares to Verna that he must take a stand against Cody Jarrett. As I said, had the script been better, Cochran could have done something more interesting on "Highway 301".
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Under-Seen Underworld Sleeper…Violent and Suspenseful
LeonLouisRicci6 December 2014
Here Come the 1950's and There Goes Film-Noir or at Least there is an "Evolution" of the Noir Sensibilities. Hollywood Now Seems to have been Pressured into Cleaning Up Their Act, or Pretending to be On Board with Pro-Post-War Conservatism.

The Government, Law Enforcement and J. Edgar Hoover were Infiltrating Every Aspect of American Life (sound familiar Today), Dictating Mores and Clean Living (for the Proletariat that is but not for that Hypocrite Hoover). The HUAC Hubris is On the Horizon.

So the Film Opens with Big Brother State Governors Reading Cue Cards about the Folly of Crime and it Doesn't Pay and All of That. Then Director Andrew Stone Seems to be Saying OK now that's Out of the Way, and Let's Loose with Some Gritty Up Close and Personal Violence. In Fact One Such Shooting of a Female Gang Moll is Point Blank and that is Dialoged About Afterwards and No One can Figure Out How She Survived.

The Movie Clips Along at a Rapid Pace and there is Much Suspense and Action with a Finale that has a Guns Blazing Car Chase that Ends with a Speeding Train that is Quite Startling. Steve Cochran Steals the Show as the Gang Leader and gets Good Support from Everyone Else.

Overall, an Above Average and Forgotten Crime Noir that is Stylish, Brutal, and Nasty. It is a LIttle Known Movie that is Highly Recommended.
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Milking the Premise
dougdoepke4 December 2014
A criminal gang gains a cross-state reputation for big-time robberies.

Looks like Warner Bros. was trying to repeat the success of White Heat (1949) from the year before. This movie's got plenty of action, plus snarling bad guy Cochran, and a capable cast even if stuck in one-dimensional roles. All in all, it's a decent slice of thick-ear, but a long way from a classic like Heat. Trouble here is that the staging goes from location style realism in the first half to studio bound noir in the second, a rather awkward adjustment. On one hand, I suspect the first half was to underline the prologue of the three state governors. On the other, noir is clearly artifice and calls attention to mood as well as story.

Then too, French import Andre's role grafts on like a studio effort at career promotion. She does okay, but the role is like an add-on. And dare I say it, but the climax is way overdrawn, as if they're intent on milking the situation dry. After all, impact doesn't have to depend on length. None of this is to deny the many moments of real suspense that dot the movie as a whole. I especially like the cat and mouse between cop Ryan and gang girl Grey. It's a peach of acting and scripting.

It's also probably worth noting that the epilogue is harshly law and order, at a time when Hollywood's social direction was largely reformist, e.g. Caged (1950), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1953). Anyway, if you don't mind your gunfire and melodramatics slathered on, this is a movie to catch.
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Caper thriller starts out well, but quickly sinks into B-gangster formula
BrianDanaCamp24 July 2010
I had high hopes for HIGHWAY 301 (1950). It's a Warner Bros. crime picture produced a year after WB's classic, WHITE HEAT, with two of the same cast (Steve Cochran and Wally Cassell), and it's based on the true story of the Tri-State Gang. It starts out well with semi-documentary sequences, including speeches by three Southern governors (from Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina) warning us that crime doesn't pay and hoping this film will reinforce that message. There are establishing shots of Winston-Salem, NC, before the film reverts to Southern California locations for the first caper in the film, a well-planned bank robbery by the five members of the gang. The next caper, still within the film's first half-hour, is the disastrous robbery of an armored truck, filmed on location in L.A. (but taking place in Virginia). Eventually the cops close in and the gang goes on the run, taking with them Lee Fontaine (Gaby Andre), the French-Canadian girlfriend of a now-dead gang member, and holding her captive after she's finally figured out that these guys aren't women's apparel salesmen after all. She comes off as astoundingly naive, so it's hard to feel sympathy for her.

After all the location footage in the first half-hour, the rest of the film is shot entirely on Warner Bros. soundstages and the studio's generic urban backlot. This part is supposed to take place in Richmond, Virginia, but there isn't a single element of southern flavor nor a southern accent to be heard anywhere. (Nor do we ever see Highway 301.) There are no more robberies as the film becomes a standard gangster picture as Fontaine tries to escape the gang at various points. In one scene she's stalked by Cochran at night through deserted streets, parks, and back alleys which create a nice noir-ish effect that would have meant something if the film had managed to generate any suspense. It all culminates in a hospital stand-off and a no-budget car chase staged entirely via rear screen projection. This was during a year when location-filmed car chases were attracting attention in films like Gordon Douglas's BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN and Anthony Mann's SIDE STREET, so it's hard to excuse the shoddy work in this film.

Two members of the gang, played by Richard Egan and Edward Norris, disappear for long stretches of the film even though they're all supposed to be on the run. Robert Webber, in his film debut, plays the boyfriend of Fontaine and the one who told her they were a team of salesmen. (The oldest film of Webber's I'd seen previously was TWELVE ANGRY MEN, 1957.) As many of these movies as I've seen, and as many books about real-life crime gangs as I've read, I don't recall coming across any major instance where the gang lets a woman into their inner circle who doesn't already know—and accept—what they do. Fontaine's presence, as well as that of Cochran's ill-fated girlfriend seen earlier in the film (played by the pretty Aline Towne), violate a key precept of the genre and the tacit allowance of it by Cochran's hardened gang leader made it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief. Virginia Grey plays Cassell's girl, the only remotely believable female character in the film, although her addiction to soap operas heard on the portable radio she carries around seems like a screenwriter's construction designed to give her a "quirk." Her attempt to impersonate a reporter at the hospital is pretty funny, though.

Cochran (Big Ed in WHITE HEAT) snarled with the best of them and does it throughout this film in a portrayal he could have pulled off in his sleep. He's quite menacing to the women in the film, who spend a lot of time sneaking down stairways to avoid and escape him. (In real life it was quite the reverse, or so I've heard.) Cochran was an excellent actor, but he suffered from typecasting, especially in a film like this, where he's given no characterization at all. Wally Cassell (Cotton Valetti in WHITE HEAT and also seen in THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA) plays Cochran's closest sidekick and it's the biggest part I've seen him in. He's very good, but it's strictly a standard-issue role.

Edmon Ryan co-stars as Sergeant Truscott, a mild-mannered Washington DC police officer who leads the investigation and also narrates the film. One of his final lines to the audience is quite memorable: "You can't be kind to congenital criminals like these."
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Probably the best thing Steve Cochran ever did...
AlsExGal7 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
... and he didn't even need much dialogue! This film is about the tri-state gang that robbed banks in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. The title comes from the actual Highway 301, which was a byway for the gang which actually operated in the 1930's not the 40's when this film was made.

The beginning is basically like a "Crime Does Not Pay" short from MGM, in which leading officials of the three states involved talk about the gang. The voice over continues through parts of the film.

Cochran plays the head of the gang, George Legenza, and seems to enjoy just BEING a criminal as much as or more than the money it brings him. He shoots his common law wife dead after she gets boozed up and starts mouthing off. He does so without breaking a sweat, without a change of expression, and just walks away, not even interested in the elevator operator who sees the whole thing, just assuming that given what he has just seen he will keep his trap shut. He does.

One gang member, Bill Philips, brings a wife back home from Canada (Gaby Andre as Lee) after he has had a short vacation, and she is basically innocent of the entire enterprise. She thought her husband and his associates were salesmen, but soon learns the truth but is basically trapped into going along with them. Bill promises nothing will happen to her while he is around, but then he is NOT around after a robbery goes wrong and he is killed.

Lee tries to make her escape but Legenza tracks her down on the dark streets and shoots her in a prolonged and tension filled scene. She lives, though, and now Legenza has to come up with a way to finish the job in a hospital filled with policemen guarding her. How will this all work out? Watch and find out.

I remember this film when I was in fifth grade, home sick from school, and didn't even know its name until it showed up on Turner Classic Movies decades later. I did remember Lee walking down the dark streets after she learns her husband is dead with the voice over saying "Bill said you were safe while he was around, but now he is not around anymore. What will happen to you now?". I always thought this was hitting the poor girl over the head for basically being a victim of circumstance.

Legenza may have been the leader, but some of the other gang members, given their actual names here, did things that were pretty brazen too. For example, Wally Castle is sixth billed here as Robert Mais. Mais actually was in jail in Richmond, sentenced to death, and in spite of the fact he was a known long time habitual criminal with habitual criminals as friends, was allowed to receive those criminal friends as visitors! One of them slipped him a pistol, and he and Legenza escaped after a shootout that left one guard dead. Later a deputy committed suicide over his feelings of guilt in allowing the convicted murderers to escape. You won't see any of THAT in THIS film, because it is the production code era and makes law enforcement look a wee bit incompetent.

Still it is a tense and action packed B noir. Recommended.
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Several Beautifully Shot Noir Scenes In Tri-State Gang Thriller
lchadbou-326-2659224 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The HD copy of Highway 301 currently available through Warner Archive is a special treat for those who appreciate noir cinematography. The picture starts off with location footage of Winston Salem, North Carolina, one of the three states in which our gang of robbers moves back and forth. (In the intro which precedes the opening bank heist, the real governors at the time of North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia attest to the ominousness of these fact-based exploits, one of them even describing them as "criminal terrorism.") But after another heist, this one of a railway express truck where the stolen money turns out to be cut - gang leader Steve Cochran later describes it as "shredded wheat"- the last part of the film turns into more of a studio bound, moodily photographed exercise in noir style. The first such scene shows Cochran trying to escape from cops, after his partner has been shot, through the dark, wet streets. The second, especially exciting scene shows the French-Canadian wife (Gaby Andre) of one of the other crooks (Robert Webber) fleeing through a park at night,to escape Cochran who she suspects will kill her because she knows too much- she lands up getting into a cab which turns out to be driven by Cochran! The film climaxes in a tense hospital episode where another of the gang women (especially well played by the underrated Virginia Grey) pretends to be a reporter, so she can scope out the setup where Andre, shot earlier by Cochran, is hidden and the gang can finish the victim off, she almost fools the police sergeant. Carl Guthrie's lensing of these three sequences along with Andrew Stone's writing and direction make of this seemingly ordinary crime picture something memorable.
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madmonkmcghee20 July 2011
This is a Public Service picture thinly disguised as a crime movie, and a very poor one too. You know you're in trouble when three, count 'em three governors get to pound the message home that Crime Does Not Pay. Except in politics, i guess.Man, those HUAC hearings must have really scared Jack Warner silly to produce such lame law and order tripe as this movie. It's clear from the get-go that these gangsters are basically two-bit crooks, cowards who hit women and on a one way trip to the death house. Movies like this are only of interest as a scary example of Fifties government propaganda. "Kids, these guys may look cool, but look how mean and stupid they are. I'm sure you'd all much rather be a stuffed shirt like the clever cops who are way smarter than those no-good goons. Now eat your greens and go do your homework!" I'm sure J. Edgar "What's the Mafia?" Hoover gave this his Seal of Approval. Forgettable and frightening Fifties fare.
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Andrew Stone Turns to Crime
richardchatten24 September 2017
After ten years directing musicals and comedies, Andrew Stone with 'Highway 301' turned to making the thrillers for which he remains most fondly remembered. The distinctive 'documentary' style of his later films like 'The Steel Trap' (1952) and 'The Last Voyage' (1960) - using natural sound and authentic locations - is hinted at in the opening robbery sequence, but much that follows resembles a conventional studio-shot gangster film.

In their enormous, immaculate suits Steve Cochran and the rest of his gang at all times look as if they're about to go to a wedding in those big black cars they're driving. Described by Bosley Crowther at the time as "a straight exercise in low sadism", its a far more brutal film than Stone's later thrillers, which tend to take a more benign view of humanity and have more upbeat endings.
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