By Robert D. Weinbach
Copyright: 2007 Cyclone Productions, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved
During mid 1950s in St. Louis, Mo., jitterbug dancing evolved into specialized style known as "alleycat jitterbug". Some outstanding dancers were lower-middle class individuals involved on periphery of petty hoodlum and criminal activity. One of the few ways to achieve social mobility was to be best dancer in the neighborhood or toughest guy or both. Our story follows attempt of two of these men to "break out".
Tommy Bandini works in a St. Louis brewery and hustles football cards on the side. His best friend, Buster Miller is a used car salesman and ex-convict recently released from a stretch in Missouri State Pen. Both are terrific jitterbug dancers, two of the best in the city. Their favorite dance spot is a nightclub owned by Vinnie Consiglia, a suave hoodlum, also Tommy's boss in a football parlay card operation.
One night at Vinnie's club after Tommy and Buster and their dance partners/ girlfriends, Gem and Sally have danced up a storm, Vinnie asks Tommy up to his office for a private confab. Vinnie gives Tommy a tip on a fixed horse race as an enticement to get him to work for him full time, which Tommy is adverse to doing.
Later, Tommy discusses the impending race with Buster and they decide to bet everything they can to win. Tommy "borrows" the week's take from the football bets and Buster "borrows" some down payments from car agency deals. They bet all the money plus their paychecks on the "boat race" which they attend with Gem and Sally. The horse wins and they are elated. Just as they are congratulating themselves on their good fortune, a sudden shower washes the winning horse clean of black dye with which it had been painted, exposing the animal as a "ringer". The horse is disqualified and the men become instant losers with the added problem of having to replace the $1,000 they've "borrowed"
Both are found out, however. Buster is fired and threatened by his employer that his parole will be revoked unless the money is returned within a week. Tommy is threatened even more ominously by Vinnie who allows him to repay the money on a weekly basis, but at exorbitant loan shark interest.
During the interim, Buster's new gig is managing a couple of midget wrestlers, Jack and Gus Reach. Jack is also an ex-con and former cell-mate of Buster's at the state pen. The midgets invite Buster and Tommy and their girlfriends to a night out on a floating, illegal gambling casino, "The Riverboat", which cruises the Mississippi River and is owned by a notorious East St. Louis gangster, Jake Stoller. Coincidentally, Stoller was responsible for bringing in the "ringer" in the aborted "boat race".
During the evening, our two couples, who have vague ideas of becoming professional dancers and dreams of stardom on TV and in Las Vegas, put on a terrific exhibition of jitterbug dancing.
Subsequently, they are invited by Jake Stoller to produce a jitterbug contest on "The Riverboat" under the supervision of Billie LaRue, a stripper who works for Stoller headlining the floor show on the boat. Later, Buster discovers from Billie (also Stoller's mistress) that Stoller keeps thousands of dollars in his safe on board the steamer.
Buster and Tommy, desperate to get out of their "jam", concoct a fantastic plan to knock over "The Riverboat". They recruit Jack and Gus who readily agree to help Buster and Tommy map out and execute their ingenious plan to steal the safe off "The Riverboat" on the night of the final jitterbug contest. Buster also enlists the aid of another pal from the slammer, Teddy Benson, to create an additional diversion during the robbery by starting a fight in the casino.
The night of the contest, Jack Reach is smuggled on board in a beer barrel, then, hidden in the ventilating system while Gus waits on a bridge overthe river with a pick-up truck camouflaged as a city work vehicle equipped with a hoist and winch. The robbery goes off like clockwork. Tommy and Gem win the contest, driving the overflow crowd to a frenzy while Jack and Gus snatch the safe off Stoller's deck as "The Riverboat" glides under the bridge ten stories above.
Later, Tommy and Buster drop the girls off and head for Tommy's garage where they meet up with the midgets peeling the safe. Finally, after several hours, they crack it open and discover to their amazement that it contains over half a million dollars.
The men, beside themselves with joy, hug each other, douse themselves with beer, whoop and yell. Suddenly, in the midst of their celebration Vinnie and his gunsel, Oscar break in with shotguns and pistols with a badly beaten Teddy Benson, in tow. They order the men up against a wall and force Tommy to stuff the money into plastic garbage bags. Then, they sap the five men with their pistols, knocking them unconscious and split with the money.
The next day as Tommy and Buster are drowning their sorrows in beer in a neighborhood tavern and planning revenge, the bartender switches on the TV. The news broadcaster is in mid story informing the viewers that Vinnie and Oscar had been arrested that afternoon on charges of possession of counterfeit money and concealed weapons after being stopped for a minor traffic violation. A special bulletin is handed to the broadcaster informing him and the audience that after posting bail and their subsequent release, Vinnie and Oscar have been killed by shotgun blasts, murdered by persons unknown.
Shocked and shaken, Tommy and Buster realize that Stoller is probably piecing the story together. They decide to skip town before his men come looking for them. On their way to Tommy's house, their worst fears are realized. They are picked up by a pair of Stoller's goons
and taken back to "The Riverboat" to face him when Stoller offers them a job in Las Vegas at the behest of a crony who has a casino there and who had seen them in the contest.
The final sequence depicts Tommy, Buster Gem and Sally headlining an all star revue in Vegas and dancing in an elaborate grand finale complete with costumes, chorus and full orchestra accompaniment.