This is a taut little crime thriller and film noir, described by Spencer Selby in Dark City: The Film Noir as “About as close as noir ever came to resurrecting the 1930s gangster film.”
It’s also a film that gains a lot by virtue of the screenwriter’s lyrical way with hardboiled dialogue.
The movie starts with a (literal) bang. Our protagonist is police detective Johnny Damico (played by Broderick Crawford, in one of his few—possibly his only?—romantic leading man roles). On his way home one rainy night, he sees a man shoot someone. The shooter claims he’s a cop and even displays a real police badge. He turns out to be
full of shit a liar.
Now, for some reason, the Big Brass and other high political muckety-mucks decide Damico should be punished for
his perfectly reasonable belief that a man displaying an actual police badge might actually be an officer not being able to read the fake officer’s mind, and thus determine that the man was trying to pull a fast one. However, they give him the chance to redeem himself by going undercover to determine who had the victim knocked off.
This victim was supposed to appear as a witness before a grand jury investigating waterfront crime. So Damico takes the false name of Tim Flynn (which, frankly, has no ring to it), and “works his way up” to his own jurisdiction from down in New Orleans, where apparently one is required to drink white wine with beer. Who knew?
Damico as Flynn (as played by Broderick Crawford) comes up against a bunch of toughs when he arrives … on the waterfront. And thus comparisons to that movie are
inevitable often made. “
Part of what makes this movie good is watching Crawford play such a sympathetic guy. But there’s also a sheer physicality to his presence on-screen. The fight scenes are well-staged and well-shot, with an intensity that comes from their quickness and sudden heightening of the violence.
It’s also interesting to watch Crawford as his character struggles his way “up the chain” to reach the man in charge, while trying to keep his wife out of things entirely. As you can imagine things go sideways at different points and the plot takes twists that keep you guessing. And even though the reveal was not a complete surprise to this viewer, the ending is incredibly suspenseful.
Crawford must contend with numerous thugs while operating undercover, including a character played by Ernest Borgnine, who played the occasional heavy, but eventually won an Oscar for playing a nice guy and went on to portray the captain of a PT boat in an old TV sitcom. The rest are actors who
were never fated to be matinee idols were noticeably plainer than Crawford.
I enjoyed this movie and definitely recommend it for fans of the genre.
Directed by Robert Parrish
Produced by Jerry Bresler
Screenplay by William Bowers