B or B is one of the movies made as a response to the alleged glorification of mobsters portrayed in others such as Public Enemy, Little Caesar and Scarface. This may be categorized with such films as I Am the Law, Manhattan Melodrama and G Men, where law enforcement officers and public officials were shown as the ones to be idolized.
So it's preachy. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not advocating gangsterism. But it's not skillfully done here. The points are driven home thru semi-documentary style narration or plot-halting on-screen explanations, rather than subtly through incident and dialogue. The story starts slow, with the main events not beginning until we are nearly a third of the way in. The direction is only adequate. And it badly needed music to propel things forward.
The plot is hoary, but yet retains some interest. Robinson is fired from the force as part of the Commissioner's plan to get him in with the racketeers and break them from within, by tipping the police off as to their activities. But to really deal the rackets a blow Robinson must find out who the top guys are, men few ever see. And he must avoid the suspicions of the the trigger-happy Bogart and his allies.
I love movies from this era: there are cool cars, fedoras and pinstripes, tough talk (though not enough), and a couple of nifty studio sets to be seen here. But there are also some really dated things about it, including a couple of fistfights only Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson could be proud of. What's more, the internal dynamics of the gang are never too believable, so suspense surrounding Robinson's tenuous situation is slight. And not to make light of what was a serious problem (and may still be in some locales), but there is something less than fearsome about Bogey running the milk and produce rackets. I mean, slicing a tomato and putting it in someone's bed just doesn't have the same brutal panache. (Kidding, I'm Kidding!)
The ending is good but not to the degree it could've been: it's too small in scope and rather polite. Still, Robinson's performance after he is shot by Bogart elevates at least these closing scenes to near-great status.
Finally, the movie misses opportunities for comment on how the law to do its job must sometimes be much like the lawbreakers. The moral complexity of Robinson's machinations (which directly lead to the murder of the kingpin, a man he grudgingly respected) is shown only by him crumpling a newspaper in the back of a cab. The paradox of injustices done in the name of justice is much better examined in a movie like Anthony Mann's noir great T-Men.
Overall somewhat disappointing, but worth a Thursday night rental for fans of the genre or the cast.
See also: The movies aforementioned; The Roaring 20's.