Shane, a self-styled gumshoe, expresses himself sparingly and yearns for the beautiful and calculating Lorain. She induced him to invest in her husband Charley's illicit club, 71, and wants him to stop Del, her mercurial lover, from assaulting Charley. When Charley is brutally murdered, the police have a suspect - then Del is murdered. Now everyone is a possible killer. The story unravels to reveal the killer and answer the question, How far could one go to posses what he will never have? (taken from the Arizona International Film Festival website)
I must immediately confess that I found Red 71 to be a classy whodunit, masterfully realized by director Patrick Roddy in slow-burn film noir fashion. The budget he's working with may be micro, but Red 71 never once seems held back by it in any respect. In fact, the production design is thoroughly retro from Loraine's stylish checkered dress to the deliciously art deco infused halls of the underground Red 71 club. More terrific than the production design, however, is the vintage story Roddy is working with, which was adapted by Ken Henderson from Paul Cain's 1932 Black Mask Magazine original short. Cain's story had me on the edge during my initial viewing of the film as I attempted to make sense of its central murder plot. It was only upon my second viewing that I was able to fully appreciate how all the puzzle pieces come together. If nothing else, this a clever mystery that holds up well upon further inspection.
Even more terrific than the story, however, are the performances Roddy pulls out of his superlative cast, most of whom are unknowns. Nathan Ginn leads with a commanding, less-is-more performance as Shane. His onscreen lady is the lovely Michelle Belegrin, who evokes Eva Gardner in her sultry turn as Lorain. Ted Parks is a delight as both the sleazy club-owner Charlie and his brother, the more reserved Mr. Regis. The supporting cast, all of whom do nicely, includes Brian Mulligan as a shady Red 71 waiter and Gregory Sweet as a Sheriff seemingly as puzzled as the audience.
And what of Angus Scrimm? As is too often the case, he's here sparingly but on spot with another solid performance as the town's coroner in a send-up of his Tall Man image. Decked out in a white coat and army boots, he's less than reverent about his work as he momentarily misplaces a severed human foot in a police station. I say come to Red 71 because you know that Scrimm is here, but stick around for the movie itself, which has a lot to offer. If you're at all curious about what happens after the film's ending or you're hungry for more Scrimm, be sure to stay around after the credits for a enjoyable albeit brief coda involving his character and the fate of another.
Red 71 is especially fortunate to be held together by the glue that is a fine, ambient jazz-rock score provided by a band called Friends of Dean Martinez. The score, like the film itself, never rushes to get anywhere, be it to the next scene or musical cue. Like the driving sequences that bookend the film, both Red 71 and its music want to take you on a ride. Don't ask questions. Just get in.
I won't pretend that what Roddy and company have cranked out is your standard mystery or even your run-of-the-mill film noir. Red 71 feels like it's on the edge of experimental in a unique class all its own. I applaud its director, writer, producers and cast for having the fortitude to make a film of this kind. If you're daring enough to be in the mood for entertainment off the beat and path, I would really recommend you check out Red 71.