I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner….and I don’t know who’s hitting me.
Those words are uttered by desperate private eye Brad Galt (Mark Stevens). He’s talking about the one lead that he’d hoped would get him out of a frame-up for murder; the one lead that’s just turned out to be another dead end. But those same words also go a long way towards defining the essence of Film Noir.
Contrary to popular belief, there weren’t all that many Noirs of the classic period that featured a private detective as the hero, however, Henry Hathaway’s 1946 movie does. Galt is a New York P.I. who was double-crossed by his ex-partner. When the partner turns up in town and the police call around to warn Galt not to cause any trouble, you can be sure just what’s coming. Or can you?
The slightly convoluted plot introduces us to a cast of characters who are rarely what they first appear to be. Clifton Webb is a wealthy gallery owner, reminiscent of his earlier Waldo Lydecker in Laura. Cathy Downs is his trophy wife. William Bendix (one of the screen’s most memorable heavies) is…a heavy. Kurt Kreuger is Galt’s ex-partner and Lucille Ball is his ever faithful secretary. By the end of the movie we get to see all these characters for what they really are, and the ride there is never a displeasing one. Hathaway directs tightly on location and keeps everything moving along like an old pro. The interiors are all well shot by Joe MacDonald – lots of inky black shadows, silhouettes, figures framed in windows and so on.
So, have I any criticisms to make? Well, there’s Lucy! I have to confess that I have never been a fan of Miss Ball. Even as a youngster her TV shows irritated the hell out of me, now that I’m all grown up I find her even less appealing. While I watched this film, I found myself thinking that almost any other actress would have preferable in the role of the resourceful girl friday.
Nevertheless, I consider this to be a highly entertaining entry in the Fox Noir line. The R1 transfer is very good (it’s also available in R2 and I assume the image should be the same) and well worth picking up if you’re a fan of vintage noir/crime/mystery movies.