George Taylor (John Hodiak) wakes up in a Marine field hospital in the Pacific. His jaw is wired shut, his face has been rearranged by a grenade, he has no memory. He finds in his wallet an old note from a friend, Larry Cravat. He's finally discharged and goes to Los Angeles, where Cravat's letter said he'd put $5,000 in a bank account for Taylor. He still has no memory. Suddenly, he finds himself up to his neck in a three-year-old murder supposedly committed by Cravat, a missing suitcase containing $2 million of Nazi money, a nightclub songstress named Christy Smith (Nancy Guild), her boss, Mel Phillips (Richard Conte), and an assortment of bruisers, low lifes and mental cases. Off to the side, watching and waiting, is police lieutenant Don Kendall (Lloyd Nolan), who has a hunch Taylor may lead him to Cravat.
This was one of Joseph Mankiewicz's first director jobs. He'd made his reputation writing screenplays and he wrote this one. As a director, he was still learning his way. The movie is interesting, but is not in the league of the films he would start making in two or three years. Once the plot really kicks in, however, about a third of the way, the movie starts getting better and better.
Although as a noir, the film has all the nighttime scenes and tough dialogue you might want, it still is very much a B-movie, and this is, I think, because of two flaws you need to accept if you're going to enjoy it. The two leads, John Hodiak and Nancy Guild, aren't very effective. Hodiak was a sincere, somewhat stolid middle-of-the-road actor. At his best, as in A Bell for Adano and Sunday Dinner for a Soldier, he could be effective. I don't think tough-guy roles played to his strengths. He was only 41 when he died of a heart attack. This was Nancy Guild's first film. She had no acting experience and it shows. Her lack of snap and her slow line readings drain interest from the character.
On the other hand, the movie features two first-rate actors in major roles, Richard Conte and Lloyd Nolan. Fritz Kortner, who plays a bad guy with humor and ham, is fun to watch. In small parts you can get a glimpse of Sheldon Leonard, Whit Bissell and Harry Morgan.
There's also the pleasure of hearing some vivid Mankiewicz dialogue: At one point a woman kisses Taylor flat out. He's unresponsive. "Did you have fun?" he asks her. She looks at him. "I've had more fun drinking a Bromo-Seltzer," she says.
One night Taylor arrives late at Chris' apartment. She'd waited up for him and had fixed food. "There are some sandwiches over there," she tells him, "with their toes curled up."
"Memories have a way of getting stuck together like pages in a book," one character says.
Enjoy the film for what it is, a B-noir with some good lines and, even if Hodiak and especially Guild can't pull it off, some good performances by the other actors. The black and white DVD transfer is first rate, clear and sharp. There are a lot of nighttime scenes and they look great.