Review: Shack Out on 101

Shack Out on 101 (1955) may be the strangest mainstream movie to come out of 1950s Hollywood.  It must have been a labor of love for anti-Communists because, like John Wayne’s Red-baiting 1952 movie Big Jim McLain, it was budgeted small and contained other hallmarks of the “B” or low-budget, movie:  skimpy sets  (in this case the “Shack,” an eatery for truck drivers and other passersby, and the Pacific beach below it) and sublime lines.  But it did have “names,” in particular Frank Lovejoy (who’d already battled Reds up close as a Marine in 1953’s Retreat, Hell!) as an nuclear scientist who relaxes by fingering his sea shell collection to the consternation of Terry Moore’s Kottie, the Shack’s hash slinger who dreams of working in a “great big government building.”  Responding to Kottie’s frustration, he says, “Now you listen to me.  When I get through at the end of the day my head feels like it’s been in a vise.  These shells that you despise are my therapy.  They relax me.  If you were really concerned you wouldn’t resent this inoffensive hobby.”  It is also full of such great character actors as Keenan Wynn, Len Lesser (Jerry’s uncle on Seinfeld who has a wild fistfight with Marvin as they clutch a rolled towel in their teeth), Frank DeKova , Whit Bissell (seemingly a weakling but a D-Day veteran and the fellow who uses a speargun to finish off the bad guy), and in another of his many 50s lowlife roles, Lee Marvin as “Slob,” the short-order cook about  whom Terry warns, “Don’t make any deals with that garbage pail!”  The story, such as it is, concerns Commie plans to steal atomic secrets via microfilm and ship them out of the country via slow fishing boat into Mexican waters.  Americans are considered mere money grubbers by the traitors.  Admittedly, the masses of the Communist side are apes, but they can be guided by superior types.  Despite the politics, writer and teacher Robert Castle has discerned the subtext that makes Shack Out on 101 equally about Terry Moore’s effect on all men who come in contact with her:  the egghead scientist who tells Slob he’s working on a new element and can phone the President at any time for a personal conversation, the shack’s smitten owner, the nerd, two Acme Poultry truck drivers (government agents in disguise), and Slob.  Who can blame them?  Terry is an ultimate cutie who said she secretly married airman, movie producer, and billionaire Howard Hughes.   Such was her contention and she settled out of court with the Hughes estate.    

~Kim Holston 

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