When you go to the dictionary and look for the term, ‘film noir’, you’ll find pictures of The Maltese Falcon, T-Men, and this particular gem of darkness, directed by Jacques Tourneur, who is more than an expert in the dark side of humanity, directing such psychological horror films as The Black Cat, I Walk With A Zombie and Curse Of The Demon. The story deals with a former mobster named Jeff (Robert Mitchum), who is hiding from a criminal syndicate led by Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), all because of a hot dame named Kathie (Jane Greer). The return of these scumbags into his life interrupts his possible future dreams of living with his new love, country girl Meta. Now he must choose between the life of crime and the life of love, and both are equally seductive.
Of all the film noirs I have seen, this has to be one of the most psychologically complex and dark I have seen, hell I’m shocked it was actually produced by a major studio. The lighting accentuates this, of course. Jacques Tourneur and director of photography Nicholas Musucara had worked together in Cat People, and it shows as both films are lit for creating horror and suspense, even in a dramatic setting. Still, one thing that separates this from other film noirs, more than any other, are it’s settings. For starters, we get to see the dark, grimy streets of the city, and we see everything about them, from the crime to the trash to call girls and gambling and drinking, showing a dark underworld where nothing and nobody is safe. However, these images contrast with the beautiful small city and country home, brightly lit and with a more cheerful demeanor, reflecting the main character’s moral choice between past crime life and beautiful love life he could have.
The acting is flawless. To me, this was the film that put Robert Mitchum on the map as one of the best tough guys in Hollywood. His character is morally ambiguous, having a seedy and evil past but at the same time having a soul and an internal moral conflict. He also kicks a lot of ass, and has mayor balls considering he’s dealing with some pretty dangerous people. Kirk Douglas always played bad guys in his earlier movies, and personally I think this was his best period, with the exception of the movies he made for Vincente Minelli. Jane Greer, as Kathie, is quite the hot babe, with blacker-than-black hair and an icy look. I’d fall in love with her, too. To sum things up, this is a very impressive film filled with suspense, action, and a lot of psychological torment in it’s underbelly, and comes highly recommended by yours truly.