The film's plot keeps brisk pace with the visuals, focusing on the obsessive efforts of a tenacious detective (Cornel Wilde) to destroy a sadistic mobster (Richard Conte) whose vicious influence has nearly ruined the life of the woman (Jean Wallace) he keeps under his dark wing. Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman are nicely cast as the villain's toady henchmen, and Brian Donlevy's usual limitations serve him well as the humbled, frustrated kingpin who's been stifled by Conte's ambition. Director Joseph H. Lewis previously demonstrated his raw, stylistic vigor with the earlier cult favorite Gun Crazy, and here he's in peak form with a perfect match of subject and sensibility. The result is hard-boiled entertainment that still packs a punch. --Jeff Shannon
Film students take note:
There's obviously no money to spare here: the sets are all recycled from other B-pictures. What's impressive is how Lewis uses the same locations for multiple shots without and significant re-setting, he keeps his angles down and holds the long take. Alton helps with the right atmosphere and his wonderfully graphic compositions, and the cast get on board for the ride. You can almost see another "Gun Crazy" or "Raw Deal" emerging.
But the script is awful. In B-Movies, "Talk Is Cheap" - much cheaper than action, or scene changes. That's why Reservoir Dogs spends so much time in a warehouse (the similarities don't end there: in a scene of remarkable brutality Wilde is taped to a chair and tortured via a hearing air placed near his EAR!). But one of the problems with shooting few locations fast, is you need the dialog to fill the scenes.
It's just not here. The speeches (there isn't any conversation here, just hard-line pronouncements) are all tough-guy cliché: "he's the kind guy that blah blah blah, and blah blah, but blah blah, because mark my words, blah blah". They're not very good and they always go on for a few sentences -- or a page -- too long. Someone's always trying to stretch the analogy, or extend a metaphor, or get with the poetry of the streets. Nothing they say has anything to do with character. This the kind of juvenile dialog that turns up in parodies of old noire B-pics.Read more ›
Cornell Wilde is a tough, uncompromisingly honest cop who is belittle by his equally determined adversary, Richard Conte, for being so bright yet ending up with such a small paycheck at the end of the week. Wilde has two reasons for bringing down the cocky Conte, that earlier expressed of seeking to make the city a more decent place with the mobster's loss of influence. The other is that he holds a passionate love for the beautiful blonde controlled in such a tight vise by Conte that she attempts suicide. The blonde is Wilde's real life wife, Jean Wallace, and Wilde is determined to pull her away from the egomaniacally dominating Conte before she is destroyed.
For a large part of the film Conte laughs at Wilde, taunting him over his ineffectuality, telling him he is wasting his time attempting to put him away. This is largely a bluff, though, since he recognizes Wilde's zealousness and competence. At one point his henchmen kill a lovely young stripper going with the policeman, intending to terminate Wilde instead.
Wilde is able to crack the case when he learns about the existence of Conte's wife, thought to be dead, played by Helen Walker. When Wilde gets the goods on the mobster and is ready to arrest him Conte begs his adversary to kill him. Wilde will have none of it, telling Conte that he will instead be tried, convicted, and sent to prison, where he will be a man devoid of power. Wilde knows that this is a much sterner punishment to Conte than death by execution.