Terry Morse | Smashing the Money Ring | Tear Gas Squad
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Some common subjects in the films of Terry Morse:
The way Steve Parker refuses to defend himself against the slugging charge in court, recalls the premise of Morse's previous On Trial.
The prison anticipates the modern film The Shawshank Redemption. Both have prison libraries, run by an older man. Both have spiffily uniformed squads of guards, with the guard captain as one of the film's characters.
The hero's undercover role also anticipates later semi-documentary crime films.
Smashing the Money Ring is fluid in depicting identity and uniforms. Many of the characters change their clothing and their apparent identities. Good guys go undercover as convicts. Guard uniforms are put on and off. Men move back and forth between tuxedos and suits. Such fluidity will return in Morse's Tear Gas Squad.
Smashing the Money Ring is full of spectacular men's clothes, by costume designer Milo Anderson. The prison guard uniforms are unusually spiffy and dressy. Hero Ronald Reagan looks great in the tee shirt he wears, while undercover as a convict. Donald Douglas wears a stylish tuxedo.
Tear Gas Squad is more or less in this Warner Brothers tradition. Much of the film is about the training and initial work of new police recruit Morgan. The training scenes are quite elaborate, and give a complete picture of the training of New York City policemen. They have less location footage than Wings of the Navy or The House on 92nd Street, however. The tone is largely comic, as well, unlike the usually grim semi-docs. The whole film reminds one of Code Two (1953), the LAPD training film directed by Fred Wilcox. For that matter, there are scenes here that anticipate Top Gun (1986), especially at the end when the hero reconciles with his rival after saving his life. The two men have similar personalities in both films: the hero is a smart aleck who has trouble obeying orders, while the rival is a stickler for procedure.
All three of the films Tear Gas Squad, Code Two, Top Gun make a huge deal out of the heroes' uniforms. Milo Anderson was the costume designer in Tear Gas Squad. He specialized in making Warner Brothers' male stars look classy. He did most of Errol Flynn's costume dramas, for example. He also worked with Dennis Morgan. He was responsible for Morgan's posh white tie and tails outfit in Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), for instance. Here he has gone absolutely to town on the police uniforms worn by Dennis Morgan and John Payne.
Tear Gas Squad shows a fairly conventional editing style. A long shot master set-up will establish a scene, showing all the participants and their spatial relationships. Then Morse will cut into a series of medium-to-close shots of the characters. These close-ups will forcefully convey the emotions of the people involved, as well as their physical appearance. Morse will alternate among the characters. He might show character A, then B then C, then back to B, then A, then C again, and so on. A typical scene might cut five or six times to each character. There is much rapid alternation among the shots; this cross cutting is Morse's main way of adding movement to a scene. There is a propulsive or dynamic quality to these many alternations among the characters. Once Morse has settled on a camera set-up for a character, he sticks to it throughout a scene. For example, all the shots of A above will be from precisely the same point of view and angle. Similarly, all of B's will be from another, fixed angle. Morse will often include two or more people in one of these medium shot series. For example, a series of shots might always show characters D and E.
Morse does not use this editing effect to convey conflict among his characters. Unlike many directors, he does not typically show fighting among everybody. Instead, the idea is to convey that each character is in a private world. One character might be full of romantic bliss, another of apprehension, another of skepticism. Each character's emotional state will be the subject of a series of close-ups of them.