Dane Clark, Gordon MacRae, and Virginia Mayo in Backfire (1950)


(director: Vincent Sherman; screenwriters: Ivan Goff/Larry Marcus/Ben Roberts/from a story by Mr. Marcus; cinematographer: Carl E. Guthrie; editor: Thomas Reilly; music: Max Steiner/Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: Virginia Mayo (Julie Benson), Viveca Lindfors (Lysa Randolph), Ed Begley (Captain Garcia), Gordon MacRae (Bob Corey, Cowboy), Dane Clark (Ben Arno), Edmond O’Brien (Steve Connolly), Frances Robinson (Mrs. Blayne), Richard Rober (Solly Blayne), Sheila Stephenson (Bonnie Willis), David Hoffman (Burns, hotel clerk), Ida Moore (Sybil, maid); Runtime: 91; rated: NR; producer: Anthony Veiller; Warner Bros.; 1950)

“The acting by MacRae and O’Brien was better than the script deserved, which elevated the thriller into a so-so one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This Warner Brothers B-film noir thriller is a test for the dramatic potential of singing star Gordon MacRae, who is really very good in his role as ex-GI Bob Corey. Recovering from a spinal injury in a Van Nuys, California, veteran’s hospital, he’s visited by his army buddy Steve Connolly (Edmond O’Brien). Steve is an ex-gambler with a spotty criminal record while living in NYC before his army duty, who has now reformed after being an army hero. He intends to go partners in a ranch with Bob, who is nicknamed Cowboy.

While in the hospital Bob has a nightmare that Steve died, as he wonders why he hasn’t heard from his friend in the last ten days–especially on Christmas. To calm him down his nurse girlfriend Julie Benson (Virginia Mayo) gives him a shot to sedate him, but while groggy he receives a mysterious woman visitor with a Viennese accent. She tells him that Steve was in a car accident and has a spinal injury, and he wants to kill himself. Bob gets her address and says he’ll be discharged in ten days, and tells her to make sure Steve hangs on until then. But no one in the hospital believes he had a visitor, as they think he was hallucinating.

When Bob is discharged from the hospital after 13 operations, he learns from police Captain Garcia (Begley) that Steve is on the lam and is the main suspect in the murder of a gambler named Solly Blayne. The hotel clerk and maid place Solly in Steve’s hotel room just before he was murdered, as they were arguing over $40,000 that Solly said was owed to him. Bob doesn’t believe Steve is capable of murder, and tries to track down Steve by following his footsteps. After he checks into the same dumpy hotel Steve was in, he finds a card there with a mortuary address. When he goes there he finds it’s run by a former NYC nightclub owner Ben Arno (Dane Clark), who was in the army with them. Ben tells them how he was surprised to find Steve getting pummeled in a boxing match he attended, but hadn’t seen him after that as Steve refused any help.

Bob then visits Bonnie Willis, who was friends with nightclub singer Lysa Randolph (Viveca Lindfors). She blurts out how Steve met the beautiful Lysa while working as a bodyguard for a gambler named Lou Walsh, and how he fell in love with Lou’s girl. There’s a surprise at the end of Bob’s quest.

The acting by MacRae and O’Brien was better than the script deserved, which elevated the thriller into a so-so one.