A police lt. is ordered to stop investigating deadly crime boss Mr. Brown, because he hasn't been able to get any hard evidence against him. He then goes after Brown's girlfriend who despises him, for information instead.
Because aging boxer Bill Thompson always lost his past fights, his corrupt manager, without telling Thompson, takes bribes from a betting gangster, to ensure Thompson's pre-arranged dive-loss in the next match.
Lawyer Joe Morse wants to consolidate all the small-time numbers racket operators into one big powerful operation. But his elder brother Leo is one of these small-time operators who wants to stay that way, preferring not to deal with the gangsters who dominate the big-time.Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
Joe correctly quotes the actual New York State legal code to Leo regarding the numbers or "policy" rackets, when they argue in Leo's office. See more »
When Joe reads the newspaper at the beginning of the film about the prosecutor cracking down on the numbers racket, the second paragraph of the story is about another topic entirely. See more »
[referring to Joe]
Don't have anything to do with him, Leo. You're a businessman.
Yes. I've been a businessman all my life. And honest - I don't know what a business is.
Well, you had a garage... you had a real estate business.
A lot you know. Real estate business... living from mortgage to mortgage... stealing credit like a thief. And the garage - that was a business! Three cents overcharge on every gallon of gas: two cents for the chauffeur and a penny for me. Penny for one thief, two cents for ...
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All existing copies of the film are of the version that was cut by 10 minutes in order to fit into a double bill. See more »
This is a change of pace from the norm of film noir. Film noir of course is a varied group of films and there is no one way to do it, certainly not a right one. It was tracing illusory and disorienting existence in the big city after all, itself fluid and malleable, and that's what we get here.
But a few differences help cast a light on what this is:
the protagonist is not a gumshoe unraveling a case or hapless schmuck crushed by the fates. He's a cocky narrator, as much in control of what happens as anyone else, and in on it from the start. He has the usual fast-talking bravado, he glides smoothly, sweeps the girl off her feet. And yet his real impetus is wanting to pay back a big brother who sacrificed to get him out of tenement life.
the girl is not some world-savvy dame but a sweet, innocent soul who instinctively backs out of the racket when it starts to feel wrong and is ready to fall for him only tentatively, guarding herself as she gives way.
All through this New York looks gritty rather than sultry, the narrative light is harsh and anxious. The contrast is between not entirely legal but not entirely immoral slum life, and the new cut-throat world of big business coming for the little guy. It's a bit of stretch to show the smalltime hustlers as the personable 'good guys' but that's the short-hand used. Its real progenitors are gangster films.
And third, there is a scheme underway that resolves all this, to turn a numbers racket run piecemeal from tenement backrooms into a respectable, lucrative business run from Wall Street.
There's a lot of talk throughout, in that rat-tat-tat fashion of Hollywood. The dialogue verges on histrionic, and the whole has a verbose feel, but one that feels like someone has studied this life and is trying to come back with an honest depiction. It has a thickness of world to it, although the mannerisms are obvious.
Here's the cinch and what probably earned the movie a reputation as left-wing and landed the filmmaker in the famous HUAC blacklist.
The scheme works, the older brother eventually goes along with it, who had earlier made a big moral stand against it. The girl is swept off her feet. Our guy stands to make a fortune, help his brother, and get the girl who is not a dame like his boss's wife.
Except, in unchecked capitalism no one is really in control. Police had been watching but it's the nerve-wracked bookkeeper who sets the scene for grievous consequences to follow. The moral resolution is that it works but at what price to the soul; the lesson remains that a life of scheming doesn't pay and I'm not bowled over in this case.
Even more pertinently however, were the smalltime hustlers a boon to their community? They were running much the same lottery, working peoples' money for the promise that maybe this week it'll be you. But it seems there were bonds of community which the merger frays and disturbs. You'll see that it's our hero's tie to a human story rooted in community that really foils the plan.
The evocative finale with the couple descending stairs with the Brooklyn Bridge hulking above them is a favorite. In fact my favorite bits here all revolve around these two and their unlikely bond, their playful interplay against the larger background.
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