WW2 veteran Lucky Gagin arrives in a New Mexico border-town intent on revenging against mobster Frank Hugo but FBI agent Bill Retz, who also wants Hugo, tries to keep Gagin out of trouble.WW2 veteran Lucky Gagin arrives in a New Mexico border-town intent on revenging against mobster Frank Hugo but FBI agent Bill Retz, who also wants Hugo, tries to keep Gagin out of trouble.WW2 veteran Lucky Gagin arrives in a New Mexico border-town intent on revenging against mobster Frank Hugo but FBI agent Bill Retz, who also wants Hugo, tries to keep Gagin out of trouble.
He plays a typical film noir character, struggling to wrong a right in a world where he feels alienated and suspicious of everyone. But it's a little too much of a one note performance with a sneer behind every sarcastic comment and never letting us know what he is really all about. That becomes true of the other characters too. We are never told why Wanda Hendrix (as a blue-eyed Mexican girl) follows him around so worshipfully after he has some rude exchanges with her. We never fully know why Pablo takes to him so instantly, enough to bear a brutal beating to keep his whereabouts a secret. Nor do we know why Art Smith follows him around at a respectful distance and seems to serve as his conscience when some expository dialogue trys to shed light on their characters. But keeping these characters as an enigma is partly what makes the film so fascinating.
Even the femme fatale is kept at a shadowy distance and Andrea King makes her an interesting woman whom we know has an ulterior motive in wanting to help Montgomery. Some extra tension is derived from the scene where Pablo (Thomas Gomez with a heavy Spanish accent) is brutally beaten while children nearby ride a carousel but become aware of their dangerous surroundings in the midst of a joyful ride.
Robert Montgomery is only partly successful as the bluntly outspoken tough guy and therein lies one of the film's chief faults. Furthermore, the low-key lighting cannot disguise the fact that almost all of the film's settings have a stagebound look to them, even the haven that Pablo supplies and where the carousel rides are taken. Most of the exteriors have that soundstage look with a rather stylized seediness to replicate a small Mexican town. It's an artificiality that cannot be ignored when watching the film.
Thomas Gomez won a Supporting Role Oscar nomination for his colorful Pablo. His thick accent reminds me of Akim Tamiroff and the other cave dwellers in Hemingway's FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. Gomez gives Tamiroff a run for his money.
Summing up: a fascinating but ultimately unsatisfying film noir with an ending involving the Mexican girl that can only cause speculation. Was her true motive revealed? The answer remains obscure.
I can only repeat: what a role this would have been for Bogart!!
- Jan 10, 2004