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Brisk and workmanlike police procedural notable chiefly for noirish edge
A police-procedural mystery that's about halfway to film noir but comes up short, Behind Green Lights takes place entirely during a single night in a midwestern city (stockyards are mentioned; Kansas City? Chicago?). A car rolls up to the green globes of a police station, holding the murdered body of a private investigator who dabbled in blackmail. Asked in for questioning is Carole Landis, daughter of a mayoral candidate, who had been in the extortionist's apartment earlier that evening. Though other suspects emerge, the ink-stained wretches on the police beat smell a scoop: If Landis is convicted in the press, it will swing the election that's just a few days off.
Its view of the press as partisan, corrupt and unprincipled is the most unusual aspect of Behind Green Lights. It assumes (in this case rightly) that the newspapers have mercenary minions stowed throughout the city government. The medical officer (Don Beddoe) clearly takes his orders not from night-shift boss William Gargan but from a sleazy tabloid's editor-in-chief (Roy Roberts). On his instructions, he substitutes victim's body for a John Doe's after he discovers that the murder weapon was poisoned Bourbon, not the gunshot that would implicate Landis. (This switching around of corpses introduces an antic element of slapstick from which the movie never quite recovers.)
But the pervasive corruption of big-town politics remains oddly matter-of-fact, never developed into an indictment or accepted as a grim given of mid-twentieth-century American life; it's just a plot point. (The movie also has to work around the central presence of the charisma-free Gargan, while John Ireland is wasted as his assistant.) It wraps up neatly, leaving little atmosphere behind (Mabel Paige as a flower vendor stays the most memorable character). Still, it has a brisk pace and professional look
both indoor and outdoor scenes have a dark, noirish shine, thanks to
director of photography Joe MacDonald, who would go on to light many worthy noirs - and leaves one wishing that it had been just a little bit longer and a little bit better.
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