“You’re a good man with a good brain — but you’re no good to the department unless you learn to control yourself.”
A pugnacious detective (Dana Andrews) accidentally kills the estranged husband (Craig Stevens) of a woman (Gene Tierney) whose father (Tom Tully) becomes the prime suspect, then tries to pin the blame on an underworld crime boss (Gary Merrill).
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately labels this “one of Otto Preminger’s best melodramas”, noting that it’s a “stylish, atmospheric film” with “a solid script by Ben Hecht”, “marred only by a trite, overly simplistic ending and the fact that the cops so easily convince Tierney’s father that he’ll be judged guilty”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Andrews more convincing than he is here, playing a “brutal cop known for running roughshod over suspects” — an embittered man who, “influenced by sweet Tierney”, eventually “replaces [his] hostile feelings with a conscience”. The cast of supporting players is also notably fine, with even the tiniest of bit roles perfectly cast and executed (see stills below). Meanwhile, I would argue that Hecht’s script is even better than solid — it’s taut and gripping from beginning to finish, without any wasted scenes or dialogue, and based on a genuinely intriguing premise. From the opening scene — in which Andrews is confronted by his superiors, and warned that he’d better shape up or risk more than just demotion — to his accidental killing of Stevens and subsequent attempts to cover up his actions while wrongly fingering a reviled nemesis, we realize we’re witnessing refreshing shades of gray in what amounts to a suspenseful morality play.
The final statement in Peary’s review, however, simply defies all belief: “Romance between leads would be more effective if Tierney were as pretty as she’d been in 1944’s Laura.” ?????!!!!!!! What in the world is he talking about? While Tierney’s performance here isn’t particularly noteworthy (she’s the one exception to my claims above), she’s as beautiful as always — and since when did relative shades of attractiveness play any part in the effectiveness of an on-screen romance? Honestly.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Dana Andrews as Mark Dixon
- Fine supporting performances all around
- Joseph LaShelle’s cinematography
- Ben Hecht’s smart, taut script
Yes, as one of Preminger’s finest films, and an excellent noir all-around.