Few leading men reestablished their default screen-selves as readily as Dick Powell did, moving from goofy juvenile tenor @ Warners to utility star player in stylized romantic comedies for René Clair & Preston Sturges before surprising everyone as tough guy private-eye in the mid-‘40s. And he’d continue evolving into middle-aged solid citizen gigs @ M-G-M before turning producer/director. This one, back in his R.K.O. detective period, plants his self-deprecating wiseass character into a Western, which proves a genre too far. Journeyman director Sidney Lanfield can’t make the story add up (neither will you)*, but the basic idea sends Army Lieutenant Powell out West undercover to track down the killers of two soldiers, lost in a stagecoach gold robbery. And the town’s just loaded with suspects & characters to choose from: Burl Ives balladeer/hotelier, Agnes Moorehead’s goldmine owner, Raymond Burr’s debt-plagued lawyer & Jane Greer’s gambling house proprietor. Greer’s the real reason to pay attention, so cool, so calm, so collected . . . so amoral. One of the great ladies of noir (thanks to OUT OF THE PAST/’47), Howard Hughes had her under contract and kept her on a very short leash. If only the film didn’t keep dropping the narrative ball, this one could have added up to something.
DOUBLE-BILL: Powell had his big mid-career break in Edward Dmytryk’s fast-paced Raymond Chandler gumshoe classic MURDER, MY SWEET/’44. And they’re both even better in the Chandleresque hooey of CORNERED/’45.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Lanfield’s exposition/dialogue stuff is awfully flat, but things get considerably lively elsewhere, including a nasty piece of fisticuffs between Powell & Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams. From uncredited assistant-director Joel Freeman?