Tommy Dancer (William Campell) is an ordinary man who works as a locksmith. He aspires to own a key shop of his very own eventually.
One day he’s approached at a bowling alley by a mobster named Willis Trent (Berry Kroeger) and a sneaky lady named Flo (Anita Ekberg), who want him to make a key for them. He accepts the job, not realizing how much trouble he’s getting himself into.
Willis visits him again and offers him $5,000 to make a key that will open a safe deposit box full of cash that’s stored in a local bank. Tommy turns them down… until they go after the apple of his eye, Betty (Karen Sharpe). He must take part in the heist in order to save her.
Andrew V. McLaglen (McLintock!, Gunsmoke) directs 1956’s Main in the Vault, which was produced by John Wayne’s Batjac Productions and distributed by RKO. The screenplay was written by Burt Kennedy (Support Your Local Sheriff!) from a novel by Frank Gruber (Rage at Dawn).
Great tension is built from the very opening from the film. It is bolstered by a fantastic score and beautiful, crisp black and white photography, which help to maintain the mood throughout the film’s entire 72 minute running time.
The plot is fairly standard, but Man in the Vault is still an engrossing watch. Boy meets girl, boy gets wrapped up in crime, girl is endangered, boy does whatever he can to save her. It’s a formulaic journey, but there’s quite a bit of suspense, especially in the scenes that take place at the bank and in the aftermath of the heist. Though there aren’t necessarily an abundance of unpredictable moments in the film, these elements of tension and suspense make it a great watch.
Very good performances are given by the entire cast. William Campbell, who I don’t believe I’ve ever seen in a film other than this, is more than capable of carrying the film in the lead role. Karen Sharpe, who plays Campbell’s lady, also gives a great performance.
The two actors have fantastic magnetism between them as well. Sharpe must pretend to hate Campbell in the beginning, but the chemistry between the actors clues the viewer into the fact that underneath all of the petty arguments that they have, Tommy and Betty really care for each other. [TIME FOR A LITTLE SPOILER] Usually I dislike a happy ending to a crime drama, but since Campbell and Sharpe work so well as a romantic pair, I didn’t mind it here. I was glad that everything turned out alright for them. [END OF A LITTLE SPOILER]
Man in the Vault can be added to the lengthy list of largely forgotten films that deserve more recognition. It’s a solid crime drama that, though quite typical of its genre, has no trouble keeping the viewer entertained.
The score: 4/5