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Det. Sgt. Mark Dixon always wanted to be something his old man wasn't: a guy on the right side of the law. But for a good guy, he's awfully vicious. After several complaints over his roughing people up, his boss, Insp. Nicholas Foley, demotes him. Foley tells him he's a good man, but needs to get his head on straight and be more like Det. Lt. Thomas, who has just gotten a promotion. Meanwhile, Tommy Scalise has an illegal dice game going and is looking to make a sucker out of the rich Ted Morrison, who was brought in by Ken Paine and his beautiful wife Morgan. She figures out too late her husband is using her as a decoy. Paine strikes her when she refuses to play along. The chivalrous Morrison intervenes but Paine knocks him out cold. That seems to be the worst of it, but later it turns out the guy is dead; and Paine looks guilty. Soon Dixon has fallen in love with Morgan - but not before losing his temper again and committing a terrible deed that he tries to cover up. Morgan's father... Written by
Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, and starring Dana Andrews, the king of the B-movies, this is a terrific 20th-Century Fox film noir, all heavy woollen topcoats, stylish wide-brimmed hats and skewed camera angles. It's a film with a superb 'dark' look and a Ben Hecht script which delivers the authentic cadences of noirspeak.
Mark Dixon is a tough cop. His father was a small-time hood, and Dixon feels he has something to prove. He uses street methods, roughing-up bad guys and bullying stoolpigeons. He is not liked by his superiors, and has remained a detective sergeant, whereas his contemporary Lewis (Karl Malden) has played it by the book and has risen to the rank of lieutenant. Lewis is now Dixon's boss, and there is considerable tension between the two men.
Enter Ken Paine (Craig Stevens), a two-bit crook and bagman for Scalise (Guy Merrill). Tall, dark and handsome, and a much-decorated war hero, Paine is a drinker and a punk who lurks around cheap crap games. He is dating a dame by the name of Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney), a looker with a whiff of glamour about her. Morgan is a fashion model in a Manhattan department store by day, and an 'escort' in Scalise's gambling club by night. Jiggs Taylor, her father (Tom Tulley), is a New York cabbie with a fondness for telling tall stories.
Dixon is on his last chance. The captain has made it clear - no more rough stuff. Then something dreadful happens, and Dixon panics and tries to cover it up. He sets in motion a train of events which he can't control, especially after he becomes emotionally involved with the beautiful Morgan. Dixon's tormented soul is the film's battleground, the instinct for self-preservation warring with a guilty conscience and a need to earn the girl's respect.
Though they do not spoil the movie, there are some things in the story which don't quite add up. A detective openly discusses a current investigation with a yellow cab driver, something which even the unorthodox Dixon would never do. Dishes are served to Dixon and Morgan in the restaurant, even though they didn't order anything specific. How is Morgan able to get to Paine's apartment in the couple of minutes which elapse after she hears the news? Why do the police interrogate Jiggs at the scene, in the presence of his daughter? Surely the detectives know better than to subject Jiggs to a confrontation ID without allowing him access to legal advice?
A 'noir' is nothing if not atmospheric, and this one is dripping with atmosphere. Brooklyn Bridge looms high over the mean streets, a skeletal silhouette which haunts the action like some urban angel of doom. New York City is the matrix in and through which these characters function, the context of their entire existence, and its presence is constantly felt. Whether by means of an el-train overhead, or a forest of skyscrapers swimming into focus through the locker-room window, the city surrounds and bears in upon these people, the malevolent nest through which they are obliged to scurry.
Dana Andrews is excellent as Dixon, the tough guy who retains our sympathy because he is capable of remorse. Watch out for Scalise's masseur, a very young Neville Brand.
It doesn't always help to be innocent, says Dixon, the hard man conscious of the harsh ways of the city, but the wretchedness of a guilty conscience is a terrible burden to bear. The camera conveys this beautifully, with a brooding Dixon large in the foreground as the investigation proceeds, and earlier, his horrified face twisted by a fish-eye lens as he realises the enormity of what he has done.
Verdict - A murky, grim film noir ... marvellous!
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