Charlton Heston got top-billing right from his debut in this tasty little noir that finds William Dieterle recharging his UFA/German-Expressionist DNA in some dynamically claustrophobic compositions & lots of shadowy style. It’s a cautionary tale about three con men (Heston, Jack Webb & Ed Begley) who lose their bookie joint, but find an out-of-town sap with a fat company check in his wallet. A ‘friendly’ game of poker should put them back on their feet, but the ‘mark’ suicides which leaves the boys stuck with a countersigned check they can’t cash without pointing the finger . . . at themselves. Worse, Webb & Begley pulled a fast one on Heston and played a rigged game; worser, the dead man’s psychopathic brother has hit town, read the suicide note and is now hunting them down one-by-one. Toss in a bit of romance with a hard-luck chanteuse (Lizabeth Scott) & a flirtation with the dead man’s widow (Viveca Lindfors), plus a sweet turn from Henry Morgan as a slow-thinking pal, and you’ve got a story that will run courses. Almost. The romance gets fudged, but at least it keeps you guessing. We don’t get too far off the studio lot, but Dieterle’s background at the UFA funhouse, along with atmospheric lensing from the soon to retire Victor Milner, make the sets work better than the real thing. (Dig that cozy Las Vegas casino interior.) There’s even the luxury of a score from Franz Waxman written between SUNSET BOULEVARD/’50 and A PLACE IN THE SUN/’51. Where’s this one been hiding? (It's yet another orphaned pic from Paramount that's been picked up by those clever folks @ OLIVE DVD. Thanks guys!)
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Odd to spend four full-length songs-worth of screen time for a dubbed leading lady. But that’s Trudy Stevens making those throaty sounds for Lizabeth Scott. No doubt, producer Hal Wallis was still trying to mold Scott into his own Lauren Bacall.