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Hit man Philip Raven, who's kind to children and cats, kills a blackmailer and is paid off by traitor Willard Gates in "hot" money. Meanwhile, pert entertainer Ellen Graham, girlfriend of police Lieut. Crane (who's after Raven) is enlisted by a Senate committee to help investigate Gates. Raven, seeking Gates for revenge, meets Ellen on the train; their relationship gradually evolves from that of killer and potential victim to an uneasy alliance against a common enemy. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Frank Tuttle is one of those directors (like William Seiter) who is not consistently good, but who could do a terrific job now and then that retains our admiration. Seiter directed Laurel & Hardy in their best feature film, THE SONS OF THE DESERT (and turned in an above average job with the Marx Brothers in ROOM SERVICE). Tuttle did this film noir classic, and did it well. Based on a novel (or, as the author called it, an "entertainment") by Graham Greene, Tuttle made a star of Alan Ladd, and created the first of a series of films co-starring Ladd and Veronica Lake (as his cool, opposite number). He was ably abetted by a good cast of character actors: Laird Cregar, Tully Marshall, Robert Preston (at the start of his career), Marc Lawrence.... It was a terrific little thriller.
Laird Cregar's Willard Gates is one of the funniest neurotics in film noir. An overweight lady's man, he seems to go in both directions: using his money and nightclub to pick up women, and yet being a trembling tub of lard who enjoys reading "Naughty Paris at Night" while eating a box of chocolates in his private bedroom on his train. Cregar's Gates is augmented by his chauffeur - bodyguard - factotum Tommy, who has a wicked sense of ghoulish humor, and is able to make his queasy boss go nuts with fear just by describing a possible method of getting rid of Lake's prospectively dead body tied with cat gut that would disintegrate in a month (allowing her body to rise in a river, and leave her death a mystery. "Cat gut, what a horrible word!", quivers Gates. Marvelous - just look at Lawrence's grin as he speaks. He knows what he's doing.
The novel is a peculiar problem, not too frequently mentioned in discussing the film. It was set in 1935 in the midlands of England. At the beginning Raven is shown going to the office of a man who turns out to be Europe's leading peace advocate. He comes in using a letter from an unknown person. The peace advocate is happy at the recognition given to him by the letter's author and sits down to read it. In a moment Raven kills the man and then his secretary (who is a witness). This is changed in the movie to the murder of Baker, a blackmailer, and his girlfriend by Raven. The letter is from an important industrialist and munition dealer - Sir Marcus. His associate is the middle man between Sir Marcus and Raven, as Gates is in the film. But it is not in southern California in 1942 (and not dealing with treason with Japan). Instead Greene's villain is planning to help cause a new European War, for his profit.
Who is Sir Marcus? How is he different from the industrialist played by Tully Marshall? Marshall is a traitor for profit working for the Japanese Empire. Sir Marcus was Jewish.
Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh were the two greatest English Catholic novelists of the twentieth century, but in different ways. Greene's novels dealt with the issues of good and evil in us all, usually told in stories of crime or spies. Waugh wrote of a fading Catholic English aristocracy, and had a masterful sense of comedy. They complement each other as writers. Both were deserving of Nobel Prize recognition, and both failed to achieve it. Other Englishmen did get the prize (Shaw, William Golding), but they never did - though repeatedly they were recommended for it. The possible reason was their open anti-Semitism. Waugh's novels are full of Jewish stereotypes, like Augustus Fagin in DECLINE AND FALL. Greene did the same, with Sir Marcus and Colleoni in BRIGHTON ROCK. The only difference is that Greene (in later years) edited out the anti-Jewish sentiments in the novels. But if you get the original novel you have Raven (a murderer-for-hire, mind you) telling off Sir Marcus about his ancestry before shooting him. The screenplay keeps to the storyline, with the American and non-religious changes. It was all to the good, but we all should be aware of Greene's religious bigotry.
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