St. Benny the Dip
Cast & Crew
Edgar G. Ulmer
After swindling a wealthy gentleman in a card game, three con men, Matthew, Monk and Benny, escape the police by ducking into a cathedral for cover. Shortly after, the police arrive and question the sage Reverend Miles in his chambers about the men, but Miles answers in euphemisms, distracting the police from noticing the three cons as they sneak out the cathedral dressed as clergy. Now on the run, the con men muse about why they have chosen this life. Young and dapper Benny is in it for "kicks" while thuggish Monk is trying to forget the girl he left behind. Suddenly a police whistle is heard and the men run into an abandoned building, previously the Clover Street Mission. Though the police are searching for two young boys suspected in a robbery, they instead find the three con men in ministers' clothing in a room full of sleeping derelicts. The con men convince the police that they are there to do good deeds and, in an effort to prove their sincerity, Benny escorts one of derelicts, Mr. Kovacs, home. At the house Benny meets the man's daughter Linda, who teases the flirtateous Benny that he must be a newly ordained minister. Meanwhile Miles and his naïve pupil, Reverend Wilbur, spend the night looking for the three con men. The police arrive at the mission early the following morning and offer money collected at the station house and bring volunteers to help with the renovation of the mission. After the police leave, Monk and Benny try to convince Matthew, the oldest of the three, to take the money and run, but Matthew appreciates the new respect and they decide to stay temporarily. Outside Linda passes by and Benny jumps to meet her. When she asks him why he is rehabilitating the mission, he replies, "God is everywhere you find him." The night after the mission is reopened, the con men confide in each other that they feel trapped by the obligation to the mission and the generosity of the community. Later Monk hears noise in the rafters and discovers the two young thieves the police were chasing the previous night. He returns to the mission visibly upset and explains to Benny that he is sentimental about children because he worries about the two sons he has left behind. Outside in the rain Wilbur incessantly asks Miles how they will find the con men among the millions of people in the city, but Miles has faith they will succeed. The next day Linda passes by again and Benny asks her out, but, when he arrives at Linda's that evening and finds her boyfriend at the door as well, he secretly steals his wallet. The boyfriend heads for home after finding his wallet missing and Linda finally comes to the door. Linda reveals that she saw Benny stealing, but the two dismiss it and go out for drinks. After a night of drinking together Linda expresses her wish to be a housewife, while Benny admits that he is a drifter, which causes Linda to cry. Benny responds by demanding to know what they should do now and Linda suggests marriage, but Benny refuses and leaves abruptly. Meanwhile Miles and Wilbur have discovered the con men's location and, without revealing the con men's ruse, ask the police to donate a Bible to them anonymously. Days later at the mission Matthew reads the new Bible aloud to the reformed clean-shaven derelicts. Benny then bursts into a solo, captivating everyone. Despite the mission's success, the con men decide it is time to move on. Monk visits his old girl friend, Mary Williams, and their children, and though she is wary, Monk asks to be a part of their lives again. At the mission an older derelict entrusts his savings to Matthew, who accepts the money. The next morning, just as Matthew packs up his belongings to leave the mission, having purposely left the money under the pillow, Miles and the police arrive. Though Matthew is guilty of many crimes, Miles believes he has atoned for his sins through his honesty and by running the mission. At Linda's office, meanwhile, Benny argues that he is not good enough for her and Linda orders him to marry her, then locks Benny in the room. They fight for the key and Linda begins to cry. Unable to endure her crying he promises to do anything to stop the tears. Linda grabs him for a kiss, giving him the key, but Benny throws it away and they continue their embrace.
Edgar G. Ulmer
William A. Lee
St. Benny the Dip
"Yes, it delouses a guy."
This exchange lies at the heart of St. Benny the Dip, a 1951 crime-and-disguise forerunner to such films as We're No Angels (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959). On the run from the law, three con men - young and sweet-natured Benny (Dick Haymes) and his older, wiser cohorts, Matthew (Roland Young) and Williams (Lionel Stander) - disguise themselves as men of the cloth to evade capture. However, the local policeman on the beat enlists their aid in reopening a mission for the needy, resulting in an unwilling change of career. The criminals' gruff personalities begin to change as their impersonations result in more charitable behavior, and Benny even makes amorous advances to beautiful parishioner Linda (Nina Foch) - only to find himself running scared when she raises the possibility of marriage.
A cinematic jack-of-all-trades, director Edgar G. Ulmer remains a significant cult figure primarily on the basis of two films, 1934's The Black Cat (arguably the strangest entry in Universal's classic horror cycle) and 1945's Detour, the most highly regarded poverty row film noir. However, he also dabbled successfully in many other genres including science fiction (1951's The Man from Planet X), swashbucklers (1949's The Pirates of Capri), Westerns (1934's Thunder over Texas), nudist camp films (1958's The Naked Venus), and even an eccentric modern update of Hamlet, 1945's Strange Illusion. A critical pariah for much of his life, Ulmer's name has only ascended during the last two decades or so as critics have embraced significant directors who toiled in the more 'disreputable' genres; if nothing else, the versatility of his resume deserves more than passing attention.
The struggle of the human will in its environment is a common concern in Ulmer's films; as Jean-Pierre Coursodon notes in American Directors Volume I, "Ulmer's films reveal that the director does believe in intangible forces, whether it be externally imposed fate - or internally generated, uncontrollable passions - which circumscribe the free will of his characters. They exercise little or no control over their destinies." Detour is of course the ultimate example, with a dead man's identity usurped by another with disastrous results.
Fortunately the characters in St. Benny the Dip fare better as craven criminal tendencies are dissipated by the influence of the church. A student of architecture in Vienna and an experienced set designer, Ulmer often uses artifice to contrast and reflect the emotions of his characters; the skid row setting overwhelms but does not defeat the residents living in it. Clothing is also important in Ulmer; witness The Black Cat, for example, in which Boris Karloff's elegant black attire becomes more gaudy and flamboyant as the extent of his evil is revealed. However, this comedy caper works in reverse as the presence of the church - and more directly, the vestments it requires - literally alter the men from the outside in.
Funded by a short-lived independent outfit, the Danziger Brothers, the film was picked up by United Artists and given a modest release in 1951. The Danziger-Ulmer collaboration continued with one more film the following year, Babes in Bagdad with Paulette Goddard and Gypsy Rose Lee, retaining St. Benny the Dip's screenwriter, John Roeburt. Though devoid of strong marquee value names, the cast roster includes a number of fine character actors including Roland Young (best remembered as the titular character in the popular Topper series) and gravel-voiced Lionel Stander, who was forced into a decade-plus hiatus after this film due to the McCarthy-era blacklist but made a comeback with 1965's The Loved One and eventually became a pop culture icon as loyal Max on the television series Hart to Hart. This also marked the final film for Irish-born former child actor Freddie Bartholomew (who portrays Reverend Wilbur), known for a slew of high-profile literary adaptations including David Copperfield (1935) and Captains Courageous (1937).
Benny himself, Dick Haymes, was already a well-known singer and actor whose career was soon to go down in flames due to his publicized affair and controversial marriage to Rita Hayworth two years later. A regular performer with such big band favorites as Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, he found work as a lead crooner in such screen musicals like State Fair (1945) and the popular One Touch of Venus (1948) with Ava Gardner. Oddly, St. Benny the Dip resembles a vehicle in the footsteps of Bing Crosby - except the leading man's crooning abilities remain in check. His leading lady, Nina Foch, remains active in the film industry today and had already parlayed her striking, European-style looks into memorable leading roles in such chillers as Cry of the Werewolf, The Return of the Vampire (both 1944), and her most memorable performance, the title character in the exceptional 1945 mystery, My Name Is Julia Ross. 1951 also saw her on-screen in another, more widely-seen performance opposite Gene Kelly in the Academy Award-winning An American in Paris - another story of motley characters forever changed by the city around them.
Producer: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay: George Auerbach, John Roeburt
Cinematography: Don Malkames
Music: Robert W. Stringer
Cast: Dick Haymes (Benny), Nina Foch (Linda Kovacs), Roland Young (Matthew), Lionel Stander (Monk Williams), Freddie Bartholomew (Reverend Wilbur), Oscar Karlweis (Mr. Kovacs).
by Nathaniel Thompson
St. Benny the Dip
A 27 December 1948 Variety article states that Marlon Brando was originally considered for the lead in the film and David Raksin was to write the score. Mordecai Gorelik was announced as the film's art director in the same article, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a June 17, 1949 Hollywood Reporter article, the film's screenplay author, George Auerbach, attempted to produce the film but was unable to raise completion money and sold the screenplay to independent producers Edward J. and Harry Lee Danziger. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts add Alan Young and Beatrice Pearson to the cast, Young was not in the final film and Pearson's appearance has not been confirmed.