“I know a sure cure for a nosebleed: a cold knife in the middle of the back.”
An ex-con (John Payne) becomes the unwitting patsy in a heist engineered by a masked man (Preston Foster), and carried out by three criminals (Jack Elam, Neville Brand, and Lee Van Cleef) who don’t know each others’ identities.
This compact, gritty thriller by director Phil Karlson (The Phenix City Story, Five Against the House) takes viewers on a fast-paced journey from Kansas City to Mexico, as its protagonist (John Payne) doggedly tracks and pursues the cons who’ve framed him. Payne — a down-on-his-luck veteran who can’t seem to catch a break — actually doesn’t emerge as the film’s central character until after the initial heist sequence has taken place; from this point on, events unfold in a series of tense, often violent encounters, as both Payne and the criminals express bitter determination to secure their fair share of the loot. An added layer of complexity emerges once we learn the true identity of Foster’s “Masked Man”, and begin to understand the motivations behind his organization of the secretive heist. Unfortunately, lovely Coleen Gray is wasted in a supporting role as Foster’s beautiful daughter (who falls for Payne, thus complicating matters even further) — but the male performances throughout are uniformly excellent, and the punchy script offers them plenty of memorable exchanges (“You been givin’ me the fisheye all night…”).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Payne as Joe Rolfe
- Preston Foster as The Boss
- Jack Elam as cockeyed Pete Harris
- Neville Brand and Lee Van Cleef as Boyd Kane and Tony Romano
- A taut, exciting tale of corruption and revenge
Yes, as a highly enjoyable noir caper flick.