This is one of those movies that took me maybe five minutes in (tops!) to figure out that it was going to be awesome. Right from the get-go, the story rather explodes out of the gate in terms of its multitude of double-crosses.
Our (anti)hero is Philip Raven, an assassin, who executes takes care of business with a chemist (and part-time blackmailer), thus getting hold of a chemical formula for his client. Too bad the client pays him with marked bills. AND turns around and reports that same money to the police as being stolen from his employer, the Nitro Chemical Corp. (A not-at-all-suggestive corporate identity.) Needless to say, when word of all this gets to Raven, he ain’t exactly a happy camper.
And if that isn’t enough, Nitro Chemical is represented by middleman Willard Gates, a real big-shot (in his mind, at least) from LA (aka, Nitro Chemical Central). And the hit takes place in San Francisco. And, wouldn’t you know, Detective Michael Crane of LA’s Finest happens to be on vacation in the City by the Bay. So he gets assigned to capture the (thoroughly set up) assassin.
I will try not to spoil any more this movie for you (much). But here’s the thing. Detective Crane happens to have a girlfriend, who sings and performs magic (simultaneously!) at a nightclub. Her name is Ellen Graham, but she’s played by Veronica Lake. And Raven, the assassin, is played by Alan Ladd.
How shall I put this? Oh, my fucking Gawd! I mean, is that a match made in heaven or what?
They’re almost like Bogie and Bacall. Just with a bit more brass. Whereas Bacall has a smoldering seductiveness, Lake has (by comparison) an almost devil-may-care insouciance. And where Bogie excels at displaying either a no-nonsense demeanor or a ferociously angry one, Ladd’s mein is that of a marble statue. Stoic and then some.
One interesting tidbit: the movie was based on a novel by Graham Greene. Apparently, in the book, Raven’s face was disfigured (by his mother, I think-now that’s messed up!). But for the film, they moved Raven’s deformity to his left wrist, no doubt in the interest of not completely pissing off female members of the audience by ruining Alan Ladd’s leading man looks. Oh, and it’s just a little bit easier for him to hide the problem, huh?
Part of the suspense in this film is created by the “race against the clock” under which Raven seeks a confession from the even-more-horrible-than-an-assassin guy client — the ultimate power in charge of the chemical company. There’s political subtext throughout the narrative. That chemical compound Raven stole? Well, it wasn’t to cure cancer. And there is, um, a certain war going on … ahem!
I can see how, despite receiving only fourth billing, Alan Ladd succeeded in launching to stardom with this one. But I think Veronica Lake helped just a little. 😉
I’d give it six stars, if I could. 🙂
PS: Here’s the Lux Radio Theater version!
Originally published at http://debbimacktoo.wordpress.com on January 16, 2020.