Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB .
USA, 1947. Universal International Pictures. Screenplay by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. Cinematography by Russell Metty. Produced by Joan Harrison. Music by Frank Skinner. Production Design by Robert F. Boyle, Bernard Herzbrun. Costume Design by Yvonne Wood. Film Editing by Ralph Dawson.
Robert Montgomery plays a World War II veteran who shows up in a New Mexico border town in search of a powerful, shady businessman (Fred Clark), a man whose success during the war basically amounted to war profiteering. Montgomery’s war buddy died because of Clark and he has a score to settle, telling the man that he is in possession of evidence that would get him into serious trouble and is only willing to hand it over for a very large payout. He has to watch his back, it’s a tough town and Clark has plenty of heavies in his employ, plus he’s being followed by a federal agent who has been trying to nail Clark down and won’t let this interloper ruin his plans. Montgomery settles into this town, getting to know a friendly carousel operator (Thomas Gomez, becoming the first Latino actor to receive an Oscar nomination) and a naive young girl (Wanda Hendrix in brownface) who operates as the object of purity in the cruel world that noir loves to rely on as a symbol. Rare for an American studio film of the time, Montgomery does double-duty as star and director and shows a steady hand at both, his Lucky Gagin disarms you with his boyish looks and rubbery smile but has a hint of menace to him that peeks from beneath the surface evenly throughout the film. Equally compelling and mysterious is the film’s narrative, which builds steadily without any cheap thrills or shocks, placing the focus more directly on the disillusionment of returning vets that film noir plots often obscure with twists and turns. It does, however, set up a number of tantalizing secrets that it slowly unveils until the dark and disturbing conclusion.
The Criterion Collection: #750
Academy Award Nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Gomez)