There's a beach where a young woman lies as the tide grows ever closer to her, but there's a man in the distance listening to the sound of a seashell who catches sight of her and runs over, not saying a word. Crouching over her, he moves closer then plants his mouth over hers, resulting not in a passionate embrace but a heated struggle as she wallops him for getting so fresh with her. Suitably chased away, the man runs up the nearby stairs to the diner which is next to the beach and grabs her petticoat which is hanging on the line, then pushes it into the sand, irritating her even more. Oh, they do know one another: they both work at the diner...
One of the most notorious of the Hollywood anti-Communist movies of the fifties, or at least one of the highest profile considering it was a B-movie, Shack Out on 101 teamed at least two cult stars in a yarn which only revealed its true concerns gradually. Many have found much to laugh at here thanks to its overheated atmosphere and priceless, slangy dialogue, and it was true the trashier these ultra-patriotic flicks became, the more enjoyable they were. Nobody was going to mistake director Edward Dein's efforts here for a masterpiece, and it probably arrived a little too early for the rock 'n' roll soundtrack which might have suited it to a tee, but the jazzy strains of Paul Dunlap's score were more than adequate.
Mostly this was recalled for a meeting of minds between fifties starlet Terry Moore - she was the woman we saw at the beginning - and professional actor of violence Lee Marvin, which sends some aficionados of cult performers into rhapsodies of delight. Moore, who may or may not have been married to Howard Hughes but definitely caught the eye of Mighty Joe Young, was as wholesome as she ever played in this instance, but she was a popular tabloid fixture of the era which is likely why that disparity between her image on and off screen won her so many fans. Marvin, well, you would know who he was if you had watched much of the output of Hollywood between the fifties and the early eighties where a strapping man of action was necessary.
A man of violent action, that was, for there were few actors more capable at conveying a sense of physical threat than Marvin in his day, which was why he was cast as Slob, the brutish greasy spoon cook who hides a secret from his colleagues. Moore's Kotty is the girlfriend of hassled college professor Sam Bastion (Frank Lovejoy), and aspiring to better herself with a college degree, but in the meantime she is waitressing at the diner, though quite why anyone would visit the place when it's so off the beaten track is a mystery Dein and his wife, who co-wrote the screenplay, never solved. In fact, the only customers we see are those who are wrapped up with the main espionage plot.
Which is odd enough in itself because the all-American setting was about as far from the usual Cold War movie locations that it was possible to get. The warning was the old Reds under the bed one, telling the public that no matter where you went in your native land there was always a possibility the most ordinary looking folks could be harbouring Communist leanings, and may even be spies - no wonder the world was so paranoid at the time, not that it's any the less paranoid now. Yet since there's not a lot of budget to spare, much of Shack Out on 101 took the form of intense conversations between the characters, whether they be the diner owner Keenan Wynn and his shellshocked from World War II pal Whit Bissell, or Kotty fending off Slob's obnoxious advances. There's even weird bits of business such as Marvin and Wynn working out but hiding from Moore when they think she will see them topless, or the testing out of scuba equipment, all in the diner. This does build to a threatening denouement thanks to Marvin's capacity for beatings, but was mostly an oddball relic, which was its charm.