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In San Francisco, during the 1940s, US Treasury agents interrupt an illicit exchange between a sailor and a drug dealer. During the shootout, the sailor is killed but the drug dealer escapes. Later on,the agents pick up the trail of the fugitive drug dealer but arrive at his apartment too late. The dealer lays dead, permanently silenced by a hired hit-man. The only thing the agents have is an address book found on the dead drug dealer's body. Among the clues there is one that seems to be promising: the address of a shady Canadian trading company based in Vancouver. Treasury agent George Morton decides to visit a convict in Alcatraz and solicit his help in infiltrating the underworld. Morton knows that convincing the imprisoned criminal Johnny Evans to become a stool pigeon for the Feds won't be easy. But Evans is Morton's only hope to infiltrate the underworld and crack the case. Written by
A narcotics agent helped by an ex-con and a blonde floozie goes undercover to nab a criminal gang.
The routine story is boosted by a good cast and some nice production touches. That opening shootout grabs us right away, along with the moody location shots of San Francisco, and later, in and around Tucson. The film was made at a time when movies were hitting the streets instead of the sound stages, so it's a good chance to catch styles and relics, circa 1949.
Surprise, surprise, veteran bad guy Duryea actually gets a semi-sympathetic role and only has to snarl once. And catch the unforgettable Shelley Winters, just starting her whiny isn't-she- cheap act. Between them, they lend real color to the production, along with a sneakily jovial John McIntire as the dude ranch host.
Some film buffs may not be aware of director William Castle's career before becoming a notorious schlockmeister with gimmicky teenage films like 13 Ghosts (1960) or The Tingler (1960). But he had a very respectable career at RKO with the brilliantly offbeat The Whistler series of the late '40's before coming over to Universal for this crime drama.
There're a number of good touches here. Catch a young Tony Curtis as the mute hit-man, a role made all the more effective by his pretty-boy good looks. Also, what a great way to heighten suspense by handing off that life-or-death message to a possibly non-English speaker, or by filming the climactic scene at an actual border-crossing with its rows of backed-up cars.
No, a programmer like this won't win any awards, but it's another example of how energetic movie-making was during its studio period.
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