(director: Joseph M. Newman; screenwriters: Richard English/Francis Swan; cinematographer: Franz Planer; editor: Bert Jordan; cast: Edmund O’Brien (Mal Granger), Joanne Dru (Gail Mason), Donald Porter (Larry Mason), Sammy White (Chippie Evans), Dorothy Patrick (Trudy Maxwell), Barry Kelley (Vince Walters), Otto Kruger (Carl Stephans), Howard St. John (Lt. Pete Wright), Robert Osterloh (Gizzi), Sidney Dubin (Mendel Weiss); Runtime: 102; Columbia; 1950)

“This moralistic tale spins an interesting take on the criminal genius who falls and the sycophant crime bosses, who can’t be stopped completely.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

Film was supposedly made under police protection, as the studio was threatened by racketeers for making a film that exposed their racket. No incident happened.

A convoluted form of the American Dream rags-to-riches tale. Mal Granger (Edmund O’Brien) has great ability in telephone repairs, where he works for the telephone company. But the dissolute Mal is not satisfied with his low pay and seeks crooked ways to supplement his income. At the time this film was being made there were national newspaper stories about the dangers of bookmaking. This film was made as an answer to that crime expose. It’s a noir story, shot handsomely in B/W, depicting Mal’s rise to power in the world of California bookies and his inevitable downfall caused by greed and bad judgment.

After losing heavily to his bookie Chippie (Sammy White) at the horses, Chippie introduces Mal to the big wheel behind the operation, Vince Walters (Barry Kelley), thinking that they can help each other out. Mal uses his technical skills as a telephone repairman to rig the phones. Mal wires all the bookies in California so that they can get the racing results as soon as they are announced at the track. When Mal feels he is being played for a sucker by his boss who is getting very rich from his savvy in electronics, but paying him only a $150 weekly instead of cutting him in for a share of the illegal profits, Mal is ready to double-cross him by re-rigging the phones. Mal thereby forces himself in as a partner. The more successful he becomes, the less scruples he has about being a full-time criminal. When the syndicate cracks down on the local bookies, Mal ignores their plight and sides with the cruel boss of the central operation. A disgruntled bookie, in a state of panic at being forced out of business by the syndicate, comes into the office and kills Vince. Taking advantage of the situation, Mal now heads the syndicate.

There is a slight romance, as Mal shows an interest for the nice girl Trudy (Dorothy Patrick) who worked for Vince and who now works for Mal. But he spurns her in favor of the hot love he has for the cynical Gail (Joanne Dru), who happens to be married to one of the big bosses, Larry Mason (Donald Porter). He represents the big syndicate’s eastern boss, the coy Carl Stephens (Otto Kruger).

Lt. Pete Wright (Howard St. John), of the incorruptible gangster squad, cracks down on the bookie operations across the state. Mal is forced into joining the eastern syndicate for protection, but he soon realizes they are cheating him out of his share. He also grows increasingly jealous of Larry, who is not only married to the woman he loves but is now his boss. So he hires a treacherous gunman (Robert Osterloh) to execute him. This results in his taking over Larry’s top position in the mob.

When the hit man tries to muscle his way into Mal’s organization, saying he won’t keep quiet if he isn’t given a partnership, Mal runs him over. The police question him and he uses the alibi that he was vacationing in Palm Springs, rigging the phone to make it appear as if he was there. But this comes back to haunt him, as his call is recorded and on it there is a trolley car whistle in the background. The trouble with his alibi, is that there are no trolleys in Palm Springs.

Mal has changed into a hardened criminal, caught up in greed, power and lust. He is being tracked by both the police and the mob. He escapes to Las Vegas to rip off the mob for one last time in a phone rigging gambling scheme. He then gets trapped crossing Hoover Dam as he tries to exit Nevada for his last chance at survival in Arizona, with the police closing in.

The big boss, Otto Kruger, walks away from all this clean as a whistle as he goes back to his home in Ohio, seemingly still in charge. This moralistic tale spins an interesting take on the criminal genius who falls and the sycophant crime bosses, who can’t be stopped completely. In 1999, even with many states operating legal horse betting parlors, the bookie business is bigger than ever. There is something sinister to be said about the smiling Otto Kruger that leaves a dark shadow, as he heads back to his wealthy home. Kruger is living out the American dream that has turned into a nightmare.

Kruger has the best line in the film when he tells Chippy: “I admire loyalty, but not to the wrong people.”

REVIEWED ON 8/12/99 GRADE: B-      https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/