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With: Terry Moore, Lee Marvin, Frank Lovejoy, Keenan Wynn, Whit Bissell, Jess Barker, Donald Murphy, Frank DeKova, Len Lesser
Written by: Edward Dein, Mildred Dein
Directed by: Edward Dein
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 80
Date: 12/04/1955

Shack Out on 101 (1955)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cooking Up Trouble

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Edward Dein's Shack Out on 101 is a truly bizarre little item. It's mostly an innocuous little drama taking place in a run-down diner, chronicling the minor power struggles between the denizens therein. But in the middle of it, it's a paranoid thriller, tuning into the McCarthy-fueled hysteria that anyone -- anyone at all -- could be selling secrets to the Commies for any reason.

Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street (1953) tackled this same issue, but with more energy and bravado. Even though it's entertaining, Shack Out on 101 will have you scratching your head. Lee Marvin stars as "Slob," the cook at the diner. The movie opens with him on the beach, sneaking up on a sunbathing Kotty (Terry Moore), a pretty waitress who also works at the diner. She slaps him away, clearly not interested in what he has to offer.

Their boss is George (Keenan Wynn), who often proclaims loudly what a dump this is. His best friend Eddie (Whit Bissell) occasionally drops by. They're both war veterans and now they're planning a big fishing trip. A professor, Sam Bastion (Frank Lovejoy) -- weirdly out of place -- is dating Kotty and also drops by. A few other regulars pop in and out from time to time.

Mostly everyone talks. At one point, Slob and George lift weights in front of the camera for a few minutes, talking about muscles. In another scene, George and Eddie practice their new fishing equipment. Slob and Kotty flirt a little and argue a lot. But then Slob sneaks up to his room, opens a chest and pulls out some kind of secret microfilm. He also kills someone who comes in late at night and "knows too much."

The challenge is to figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, even though everyone looks like decent, hardworking Americans. The movie isn't really very good at suspense, but it does keep up a true sense of the peculiar, as if something just didn't feel right. You can hardly take your eyes off whatever's going on... you're never sure just where anything's going to go.

Edward Dein co-wrote the movie with his wife, Mildred. They went on to make Calypso Joe (1957), Seven Guns to Mesa (1958) and Curse of the Undead (1959). Edward's last film was The Leech Woman (1960), before finishing out his career in television. He died in 1984. Mildred lived until 1997. Olive Films released Shack Out on 101 on DVD and Blu-ray, righting some kind of terrible wrong in the history of film.

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