We open with Barry Sullivan looking right at the camera and talking about tension. He’s got that cynical, noir cop smirk that says he’s seen it all, and very little of it has fooled him. He’s stretching and releasing a thick rubber band, and talking about how, when looking at a suspect, he increases the tension. Slowly, slowly, until it becomes unbearable and the palooka or dame breaks down and spills his or her guts. It’s a pretty good scene, as we are getting a little tense ourselves, wondering when the damn thing is going to break. Then snap!
So next we get Richard Basehart as the perfect schnook, a pharmacist who is married to a brassy slut he worships. Naturally, she is pretty much flaunting her whorish nature right in front of his bespectacled eyes. You wonder how she ever hooked up with him. It’s very much like poor old Elisha Cook, Jr., in Kubrick’s The Killing. He tries to please her, but she’s not having any of it. Then one day she leaves him. He follows her to the Malibu beach house where she’s shacked up with a muscled hunk. He confronts them, hunk beats the living shit out of him. He decides he has had enough, and vows to kill the hunk.
He thinks he’s being oh-so-smart, planning it all, but he’s pathetic. He’s going to be about as hard to track as a three-legged cow. He gets contact lenses (and still looks exactly the same as he did), rents an apartment under an alias, moves in next door to Cyd Charisse (who doesn’t dance a step; what a waste), who instantly falls for him, and he for her. (He for her, and who for he? And tea for two … sorry.) He makes it to the beach house and is within an inch of making a huge kabob of the hunk with a barbecue skewer … and decides he can’t do it. Tells the hunk to forget about it, he can have the damn slut. So the next morning it turns out somebody did skewer the hunk, only with two slugs from a .38 … and now all the plans he made point directly to him as the slugger!
Cute. No one will have any trouble guessing who actually plugged the hunk, but how the cops bring the suspect down is the nice part. It really is good police work, the cop really is as good as he brags he is. Audrey Totter, who specialized in “bad” girls (and is still alive at 95!) does good work here. If you weren’t sure she was bad, a jazzy alto sax theme comes pouring through the door every time she enters a room to remind you, courtesy of Andre Previn. Must mention an uncredited role that I spotted about halfway through. My old, dear, deceased friend, Peter Brocco, has about four lines as a police forensic scientist. I was proud of spotting him, because his face is mostly in shadow, I never saw him full on. I pegged him from his profile and his voice. Miss you, Peter.