Film: Death in Small Doses

death-in-small-doses-movie-poster-1957-1020197288Even the B movies of the 1950s have a quiet, modest artistry to them, a compliment that certainly applies to Death in Small Doses (1957), an unspectacular but enjoyable mix of film noir and drug panic PSA. In an early leading role, Peter Graves stars as an Federal Drug Administration agent who goes undercover as a truck driver to bust an amphetamine ring on the west coast. Preliminary intelligence sends him to an LA boarding house run by Valerie Owens (Mala Powers), the first step in his quest to eradicate a “benny” epidemic plaguing the trucking industry. His subsequent long hauls up and down the coast put him into contact with the web of users and dealers that help him crack the case.

With its modest budget and simple plot, Death in Small Doses is far from dazzling, but its prosaic filmmaking techniques are effective enough to provide a certain charm. Weirdly, it’s based on a Saturday Evening Post article, adding a rather quaint and old-fashioned addiction alarmism to its potboiler trappings. Graves shows early signs of the leading man charisma that would serve him well through the early years of his career, while Powers makes for a compelling femme fatale. Also along for the ride is Chuck Connors, who turns in an animated performance as “Mink,” a sketchy trucker junkie. Fans of this sort of old-school noir will find it an inessential but pleasant diversion.

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