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Joseph H. Lewis
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I'm not sure why this film was entitled The Undercover Man since it did not involve any law enforcement infiltrating organized crime to bring a case against some criminals. Maybe it was the sardonic humor of producer Robert Rossen and director Joseph H. Lewis since it does involve Treasury agents Glenn Ford, James Whitmore, and David Wolfe operating out of a rather dingy apartment going over syndicate books to make an income tax case against, 'the Big Fellow'.
After the success they had with taking Al Capone down this way, going after the finances of criminal enterprises has been a tried and true way to go in these matters for law enforcement.
The agents are a good if colorless lot, the real spice in The Undercover Man are some of the various character roles cast by Rossen and Lewis. Barry Kelley is the syndicate lawyer, a very confident fellow right up to the end, he's one you'll remember. Also Anthony Caruso and his family, mother Esther Minciotti, wife Angela Clarke and daughter Joan Lazer. He keeps the tallies for one the syndicate's numbers parlors, but he's tasted the high life and now has a mistress as well in stripper Kay Medford, her first credited screen role. He's memorable too as the luckless Caruso is gunned down in the street.
Another syndicate bookkeeper is Leo Penn and his wife Patricia Barry who flees after Caruso is killed. You'll know Leo because of his famous two time Oscar winning son Sean. The family resemblance is unmistakable.
The good guys are kept colorless until almost the end. They patiently billed their case with numbers and handwriting experts who tell them where to look for clues and suspects. In the end however Glenn Ford does have to resort to the gun to get out of a tight spot.
Ford's allowed a little personal life and a bit of family crisis when he thinks he could be putting wife Nina Foch in harm's way. It's a bit of a diversion showing these guys are as human as some of the people they're dealing with.
But The Undercover Man is best when concentrating on the bad and the luckless. Pay particular attention to Caruso, Kelley, and Medford. It's a good if somewhat unknown noir classic.
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