Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 6, 2021)
For people of my generation, Step By Step refers to either the 1990 New Kids on the Block song or the 1991 Patrick Duffy/Suzanne Somers sitcom. In 1946, however, that became the title of a noir thriller.
Evelyn Smith (Anne Jeffreys) serves as an aide to Senator Remmy (Harry Harvey). They work on a national security case out of the Senatorís Malibu beach house.
Matters take a dark turn when German spies come to the abode and perpetrate terror on Evelyn, Senator Remmy and the Senatorís colleague James Blackton (Addison Richards). When former Marine Johnny Christopher (Lawrence Tierney) rescues Anne, he becomes involved with her and complications ensue.
In 1945, Tierney and Jeffreys co-starred in Dillinger, a gangster flick based on the notorious criminal. At a mere 70 minutes, it went for slam-bang punch and lacked room for subtlety or character/narrative nuance.
Dillinger worked pretty well nonetheless, and that gave me hope Step would entertain, too. This one clocks in at an even shorter 62 minutes, so it sounds like a flick with all meat and no fluff.
Alas, Step seems like mostly fluff, as even with its abbreviated running time, it lacks much narrative heft. The film offers more of a plot concept than a real story.
We get the rudiments of a thriller, but Step doesnít fill out the plot in a meaningful way. Instead, it tends to amble from one scene of menace to another without a lot of purpose.
It doesnít help that Step lacks a real sense of tension. While we know that Johnny and Evelyn deal with constant threats, none of them feel especially impactful.
While Tierney and Jeffreys do fine as our leads, they donít connect in a meaningful manner, and we never really bond with them. We find two perfunctory roles stuck in perfunctory situations.
We do get occasional charming moments, most of which revolve around Johnnyís dog Bazooka. The pooch creates easily the most engaging character found in the film and he steals the show.
The movieís sporadic stabs at comedy work surprisingly well, too. In particular, Evelynís reaction to the need to share a motel room with Johnny amuses.
As a helpful inn owner, George Cleveland also adds life to the proceedings. His role exists to do little more than motivate some plot points, but Cleveland gives the part enough wit and likability to bring zing to the proceedings.
Unfortunately, too much of Step seems semi-aimless. Despite a promising plot and a few lively moments, the movie seems slow and dull.