(director: Fred Zinnemann; screenwriters: from a story by Collier Young/Robert L. Richards; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; music; Bronislau Kaper; cast: Van Heflin (Frank R. Enley), Robert Ryan (Joe Parkson), Janet Leigh (Edith Enley), Phyllis Thaxter (Ann Sturges), Mary Astor (Pat), Berry Kroeger (Johnny), Taylor Holmes (Gavery), Will Wright (Pop); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William H. Wright;MGM; 1949)

A tense melodrama…

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A tense melodrama about a crippled P.O.W, Joe Parkson (Ryan), armed with a gun, tracking down his former Air Force commander, Captain Frank Enley (Van Heflin), who moved from Syracuse to a small California town, Santa Lisa, just so he couldn’t be found. Frank betrayed his fellow soldiers by becoming a Nazi informer, as he naively told of their escape plans believing the men couldn’t succeed and would make things worst for all of them by going ahead with the escape. He rats them out thinking the Nazis would honor their promises to go easy on the men. This caused ten men to die and Joe, the only survivor, to walk with a permanent limp and become mentally unbalanced. Frank is now a respected building contractor and leading citizen in the community, with a loving wife, Edith (Leigh), and a young son.

When the embittered Joe shows up in his hometown to kill him, he’s the only other person who knows of the incident. Frank panics and is filled with guilt, as he confesses his error to his wife. He tells her he can’t blame Joe for feeling that way and that they can’t go to the police and let the papers get hold of the story, because that would ruin his reputation.

Frank flees to nearby Los Angeles to attend a builder’s convention, but when he learns from his wife that Joe’s girlfriend, Ann Sturges (Thaxter), told her that Joe knows where he is — Frank panics and becomes drunk with self-pity and guilt. This leads him to a seedy bar where a woman of the night, Pat (Astor), hears his sad story how he would give away his $20,000 construction business just to be free of this problem. She takes him to a shady lawyer friend of hers, Gavery (Holmes), and he plans to get a contract killer for him, Johnny (Kroeger), for a fee of $10,000.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

When Frank sobers up in the morning, he realizes that he did the wrong thing again and goes back to his hometown to meet Joe and warn him of the danger he’s in. But when he sees Johnny firing at Joe, he darts in front of him and takes one for Joe to atone for his past misdeed.

It was a taut, suspenseful story, ruined somewhat by the cop-out ending. It’s still a superior film noir, with a meaningful social conscience theme. Frank’s a man haunted by the past and how he ate the food the Nazis gave him after he sold out his comrades. His successful life is wiped away by his cloudy past.

The post-war boom in the economy is seen from the point of view of the troubled soldiers who came home physically and mentally wounded and eventually realize that money can’t buy them everything. The director Fred Zinnemann (“High Noon“/”The Men“) came to America from Austria to escape the Nazis, but his parents remained behind and became Holocaust victims. The grimness of this tale is certainly something the director understood, and for most of the film that shows. The mood of the film is best captured in the capable hands of Bob Surtees’ eloquent black and white photography.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”