A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
In flashback, New York nightclub pianist Al Roberts hitchhikes to Hollywood to join his girl Sue. On a rainy night, the sleazy gambler he's riding with mysteriously dies; afraid of the police, Roberts takes the man's identity. But thanks to a blackmailing dame, Roberts' every move plunges him deeper into trouble...Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Either the protagonist is the most unlucky man alive ...
or he is lying. The entire film is told in flashback as Al Roberts (Tom Neal) sits in a dingy diner. At the beginning of his story, Al is a piano player in a low rent club in New York and his best girl is the singer. But then she grows tired of their professional stagnation and decides to go out west and try to get into pictures. Al gets lonely, calls her, and says he is coming out there too. She enthusiastically embraces the idea. He has no car and so he hitchhikes. He gets all of the way to Arizona before his bad luck hits. By the film's end Al has implicated himself in two murders that were accidents in both cases, but would be impossible to prove they were not murder, and is held prisoner by a dragon lady who wants to get him involved in a preposterous fraud scheme that he rightly decries as being impossible to pull off.
The acting and much of the dialogue is very melodramatic, bordering upon soapy, but it fits the story as so much of it involves conveying the emotion and doing so from the point of view of Al. Bogart and Mitchum wouldn't have been right for this lead role. Either one of them would have come across as either too cool or too tough to put up with such a domineering femme fatale as Ann Savage's Vera and seem so depressed and pathetic. Instead, Tom Neal is perfect as a guy who sees himself bound by fate and doomed.
But maybe the entirety of the story is made up. Al's voice over could just be him sitting in the cafe creating an alibi story. Ann Savage's performance as Vera was over the top maybe because it's Al telling the story, and he wants to make himself look good. I don't buy half of what he tells us; I think he was much more complicit in all of the deaths than he wants the audience to believe. Vera is a caricature of the noir femme fatale because he's trying to convince us that everything was her idea or an accident or fate based on his act of true love - trying to get to his girl in California - and he's completely innocent.
On the technical side, this one showed a great use of light, shadows, and music, and fine direction by Ulmer to keep the mood. It's too bad nobody has restored this one as it resides in the public domain. This is one noir that will stay with you.
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