Ernest Hemingway’s short story about a marked man who won’t run away from his fate supplied only enough material for the opening reel of this classic film noir. The rest is a nicey handled Hollywood embellishment as an insurance investigator tracks down the backstory (in a series of flashbacks) and then wraps everything up in a classic police sting operation. It sounds pretty standard, but the film was something of a game-changer in the post-WWII Hollywood landscape. Moving from house producer @ Warners to an indie deal @ Universal, gave Mark Hellinger the leeway to make something darker & grittier*, plus the casting freedom that created new stars out of Burt Lancaster (in a stunning debut) and Ava Gardner in her first legit role. Helmer Robert Siodmak took full advantage of the opportunity to lift himself out of the ranks of low-budget over-achievers, while the great Miklos Rozsa discovered a whole new genre to put his musical stamp on. And if the wraparound story involving Edmund O’Brien’s investigator, Sam Levene’s detective and Albert Dekker’s gang of crooks doesn’t hold up nearly as well as that succinct, eye-popping opening reel, it’s strong enough to maintain our rooting interest. Be sure to check out the student short Andrei Tarkovsky made of the Hemingway story included on the Criterion edition. The pace is very measured, but the talent is already obvious. Plus, Hemingway sounds great in Russian.
*And, like Hal Wallis now over @ Paramount, to get away from the loathsome Jack Warner.