Coffins on Wheels opens with Roy Gordon directly addressing the camera, explaining used car salesman–despite most being all right (check your Better Business Bureau)–can be dangerous. There’s a scrupleless “lunatic fringe.”
Then the narrative starts with trusting Walter Baldwin buying a used car from a genial salesman, John Gallaudet. Once Baldwin’s left the lot, however, Gallaudet goes in to tell boss Cy Kendall about the sale… and it’s clear they’re scumbags.
Coffins runs seventeen minutes, which lets it get away without a lot of depth to the characters. Kendall’s got more than enough time to come across pure evil though. He’s crazy effective.
Baldwin’s bum used car isn’t the focus. Instead, it’s teenager Tommy Baker’s car. He begs his dad to get it–with younger brother Darryl Hickman pleading as well–and the father relents. Allan Lane’s the police detective who gets involved, mostly with Baldwin and then in the extremely manipulative finale.
Decent acting from Lane, kind of grating acting from Hickman and Baker–fellow teen Larry Nunn’s much better.
Newman’s direction is solid. There’s an investigation of the bum cars in the police garage, showing off their defects, which Newman and editor Adrienne Fazan handle quite well. The short does better with the minutuae than the drama.
Coffin on Wheels is effective. It’s manipulative and kind of craven, but it’s definitely effective. Lane being able to sell the concerned copper is essential.
Directed by Joseph M. Newman; written by Howard Dimsdale; director of photography, Jackson Rose; edited by Adrienne Fazan; produced by Jack Chertok; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring Tommy Baker (Tommy Phillips), Darryl Hickman (Billy Phillips), Allan Lane (Police Lieutenant), Cy Kendall (Nick the Used Car Dealer), John Gallaudet (Williams the Salesman), Walter Baldwin (Mr. Martin), Larry Nunn (Bob), Wade Boteler (Mr. Phillips), Helen Brown (Mrs. Phillips), and Roy Gordon (Commissioner Blake).