A crusading district attorney finally gets a chance to prosecute the organizer and boss of Murder Inc.A crusading district attorney finally gets a chance to prosecute the organizer and boss of Murder Inc.A crusading district attorney finally gets a chance to prosecute the organizer and boss of Murder Inc.
Here he returns to Walsh as his director, and leads a bunch of fellow character actors in a nice example of the thriller that is based on the error that undoes the evil criminal - an inverted detective story device that is best seen today in the television series of COLUMBO.
It is a first rate bunch of character players, led by a superb quartet of evil: Everett Sloan, Ted de Corsia, Jack Lambert, and Bob Steele. Sloan played villains before (he is that nasty customer, Arthur Bannister the great attorney, in Orson Welles's THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI), but his performance shows what he could achieve with so little. He only appears in two scenes in the film (one when he invents "Murder, Inc." before de Corsia's astounded eyes; the other when he is alternately arrogant and panic-stricken in the prison cell he resides in). A normal looking, even dapper little man, he is a human monster. De Corsia is wonderful as the "Abe Reles" character, whose fear of Sloan/"Mendoza" leads to his death (historically, Reles probably was thrown out of the window of his hotel by policemen who were bribed to do so, although they tied a set of sheets together to make it look like Reles was killed in a stupid attempt at escaping). Listen to the way he describes the unfortunate Tony Vetto, the cab driver who witnessed Mendoza's first murder, by describing his face - a combination of disgust and dismissal in the description as de Corsia reads the line. Lambert is a forgotten character actor, who played many hoods in his films (he could, like De Corsia and Steele, look threatening very easily). But he usually has above-average intelligence(watch him in THE KILLERS - he's the first of Albert Dekker's gang who figures out that the double cross may not be from Burt Lancaster). Here he tries to keep incarcerated as protection from Sloan and De Corsia, only to find he has to cooperate with Bogart to be safely imprisoned. Steele was a cowboy film star, but he appeared with Bogie twice as sadistic gunmen. Here he is Herman, one of the torpedoes of Mendoza's gang. But Herman could be a cousin of "Canino", the creep who works for Eddie Geiger in THE BIG SLEEP, and who poisons a (for once) poignantly tragic Elisha Cook Jr. Steele was a good actor, but most people who don't recall his heyday as a cowboy star remember him only as the garrulous Sergeant Duffy in television's "F-TROOP" ("There I was at the Alamo with Davy Crockett...").
The most interesting casting of all is Zero Mostel, as Babe, the hapless, fat thug who gets in over his head (but does survive, for all that). Mostel was in several good films in the early 1950s (PANIC IN THE CITY, with Richard Widmark, Jack Palance, and Paul Douglas is another example). He even was in two films with Bogart (this one and SIROCCO, where he played a slightly more evil character). But the black list ended his budding movie career, and forced him into nightclub work, and back to the legitimate theater - to ULYSSES IN NIGHTOWN, RHINOCEROS, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. He ended being one of the great stars of Broadway history, with two first rate performances captured on film: FUNNY THING HAPPENED.... (as Pseudolus), and THE PRODUCERS (as Max Bialystok). One can regret the unfairness of the blacklist, and the lost film performances, but then he might have remained a character actor in supporting parts, and not become a star. It is a point for all of us to think about.
- Aug 5, 2004