Film noir is a genre characterized by sinister themes, high drama bordering on melodrama, severa camera angles, high contrast, action at the expense of dialogue (and when there is dialogue, it's often loaded with terse 40's-50's slang and sexual double-entendre), an insistent score, and logs of sleaze, but often with a semi-redemptive figure.
The variation is in the quality of the production and the fame and ability of the cast, cinematographer, screenwriter, and director. "Classic" film noir examples (such as "Maltese Falcon," "The Big Sleep," "Double Indemnity," "The Killing") display excellence in all or most of these areas, and are deservedly famous.
However, there is another type of film noir, the B (or B grade) film, obviously made on a budget, and typically hugely deficient in one or more of the above areas. There may be name actors and actresses (although sometimes they're here because of contractual obligations or a flagging career), but they don't have uniformly high quality, and there's often a dirtier, sleazier feeling that a cheaper, less sanitized film can get away with. "The Hoodlum" is one of these B films noirs, and within its often implausible plot and sometimes ridiculous characters, it delivers a raw power that today would be described as "edgy."
Lawrence Tierney embodies the power of the best B noirs, as just-released convict Vincent Lubeck, he's an unpretty, unsentimental, snarling, brutal man with no redemptive features (save for his very last-minute remorse during the tense but predictable ending). He's riveting as the single-minded psychopath, and the lousy feeling of the sets and clothes make him even more credible. (Even the current promotion of the DVD--perhaps taken from original promotional material--is sleaze, the scene depicted on the cover never takes place.)
The B noir is also very forgiving, given the right expectations, one can laugh at the production quality, the less convincing aspects of the plot, and the maudlin or otherwise unconvincing acting. This plot's a doozy, the brooding Lubeck and fellow ex-cons rob a bank across the street from where Vince works at his brother's gas station. Even though parole agents visit him there, they fail to make a connection, nor take notice of Lubeck's outings with a bank employee. I enjoyed, however, the sorry gang that Lubeck gathers, the immigrant mother who believes in Vincent (she successfully falls upon the mercy of the parole board, who do an about-face after her tearful plea... 'He's a good boy!'), the brother's beautiful and idealistic fiancee, and the ambitious bank employee whose lust is the only explanation for her attraction to Lubeck.
Tierney's compelling and completely natural "hoodlum" seems years ahead of its time, and he's the reason this is a tawdry, rough-cut gem. If you can accept the movie's sometimes cliched, low aspirations, and especially if you're either a film or noir afficionado, you'll enjoy it.