Undercover Man, The (1949)

“It’s never too late for a trade.”

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Synopsis:
A T-man (Glenn Ford) and his partner (James Whitmore) are tasked with hunting down a notorious gangster who owes $3 million in taxes, but quickly find that all witnesses are too scared to talk. Meanwhile, a big-time mob attorney (Barry Kelley) foils the T-men’s attempts to get accountants arrested, and when the safety of Ford’s wife (Nina Foch) is threatened, Ford reconsiders his career goals.

Genres:

Review:
This semi-documentary look at T-Men (federal Treasury agents) determined to collect on back-taxes from an Al Capone-like gangster is primarily notable for being directed by Joseph H. Lewis of Gun Crazy (1949) fame, who, assisted by DP Burnett Guffey, brings flashes of cinematic ingenuity to an otherwise unexceptional story. Too much emphasis is put on Ford’s “career crisis” (no doubt, messing with the Mafia is dangerous), and certain pivotal scenes — i.e., when a young girl (Joan Lazer) whose father (Anthony Caruso) has been murdered by The Big Fellow’s men translates her Italian grandmother’s (Esther Minciotti’s) pleas for Ford to continue his hunt — are milked too hard for emotion. With that said, Ford gives a surprisingly affecting performance; but Foch — leading lady in Lewis’s My Name is Julia Ross (1945) — is wasted in a pro-forma role as his concerned wife sent off to the country to wait for him, and Whitmore, a consummate supporting actor, is also surprisingly unmemorable. More time should have been spent following Ford’s nemesis, a hopelessly smug attorney (Barry Kelley) who plays a pivotal role in the denouement.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Glenn Ford as Frank Warren
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  • Barry Kelley as O’Rourke
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  • Burnett Guffey’s cinematography and Lewis’s direction
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Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing.

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One Response to “Undercover Man, The (1949)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see. However…

    Director Lewis had a very interesting career, overall. (Personally, I hope to see even more of his work.) Though a number of his better-known films are must-see, the fact that this one isn’t doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. For a film of its (behind-the-scenes of government) type, it’s efficient and well-told.

    As noted, it also benefits greatly from DP Guffey’s dependable know-how.

    I’m not as bothered by some of the ‘drawbacks’ noted in the assessment re: some of the performances or the film’s structure. For me, the film’s various aspects came together rather nicely and I was sufficiently engaged. As the story draws to its conclusion, it becomes particularly tense.

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