Film Noir on the Santa Monica Pier

Sunny southern California has always been the centre of the car universe. From dry-lakes racing to lowriders, many, many car trends start in SoCal. Even the Main Street of America, historic Route 66 that passes through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, ends when it arrives in the promised land; California.

With some of the coolest cars seen on the silver screen, the 1956 film noir Hot Cars just had to be set in California. This B-movie tells the story of a car salesman, an honest car salesman, who gets caught up in a stolen car scheme.

The movie’s anti-hero, Nick, gets fired from his job at Big John’s used car lot when he talks a customer out of buying a poorly repaired MG roadster. Arriving home, his loving wife gives Nick the bad news about how expensive medical care for their sick infant son will be. Like every 50’s morality tale, Nick tries to do good, even when the walls are closing in around him.

Nick catches a break, landing a job the next day. He’s offered good money and opportunity for advancement, but soon realizes that the cars at ‘Johnny O’Toole’s Lucky Used Cars‘ are all stolen! But with a sick kid at home, Nick has no choice but to provide for his family however he can.

As the money rolls in, Nick gets in deeper with the well-dressed gangsters running the stolen car operation.

The cars are the stars of this film. The used car lot is filled with mint condition Plymouths, Chryslers and other classic American cars. A brief scene in the ‘chop shop’ shows how the criminals disassemble the stolen cars, file off serial numbers, repaint and reupholster the vehicles to camouflage their identity.

The femme fatale from the movie poster is Joi Lansing, the Marylin Monroe of B-movies. She helps lure the happily married Nick into this life of crime, then tries to frame Nick for the murder of a policeman investigating the crime syndicate!

The climax of the movie takes place at the Pacific Park. In an attempt to prove his innocence, Nick chases the murderous gangster ‘Smiley’ down the boardwalk of the Santa Monica Pier. The final scenes are an insane fist fight on a moving roller coaster with bullets whizzing by terrified riders.

At one hour long, this movie was designed for drive-in theatres of the 50’s. With stock characters like the conflicted anti-hero, the blonde temptress, the slick gangsters, plus the sick child and forgiving wife the plot isn’t groundbreaking. It’s a solid B-movie worth the price of popcorn. But seeing all that classic American iron on screen, all shiny and new, is just amazing. At the time of filming, those cars were just a backdrop for the actors. Today, everyone of those machines is a classic that would command six-figures at auction.

A cool, film-noir car flick with all the elements for great entertainment even 67 years after it came out.

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