director: Robert Z. Leonard; screenwriters: from a short story by Frederick Nebel/Marguerite Roberts; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Gene Ruggiero; cast: Robert Taylor (Rigby), Ava Gardner (Elizabeth Hintten), Charles Laughton (J.J. Bealer), Vincent Price (Carwood), John Hodiak (Tug Hintten), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Warren), Tito Renaldo (Emilio Gomez), Martin Garralaga (Pablo Gomez), John Hoyt (Gibbs); Runtime: 98; MGM; 1949)

“It is only the heavies, Vincent Price and Charles Laughton, who keep the film dripping with venom.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This tolerable but not particularly interesting noir film suffers from a meaningless story, lackluster direction, and glamorous stars who are miscast–Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner. They are too beautiful for their parts. There was no conviction felt when succumbing to their pangs of love; they brought little to the story in the way of true cynical noir feeling. It is only the heavies, Vincent Price and Charles Laughton, who keep the film dripping with venom.

The film is badly compromised by its misplaced romantic direction and was unable to pick up steam until the finale, where there is a splendid shoot-out between Taylor and Price amidst a fireworks display. But by that time the story seemed too trite to really matter, and its main theme about the moral dilemma of whether Taylor should accept a lot of cash to look the other way or of letting Ava go even if she was guilty seemed to hardly matter.

Federal agent Rigby (Taylor) is sent to the island of Carlotta off the coast of Central America to investigate a graft racket, where war surplus supplies such as airplane motors are being illegally smuggled. The crime organization is making millions on it and not declaring taxes. He is given the name of a local agent on the mainland to contact for assistance and to make any arrests needed, since the American government has no jurisdiction there to arrest suspects. He is also told who the two suspects are for him to keep an eye on, Elizabeth Hintten (Ava) and her husband Tug Hintten (Hodiak). But he quickly detects another suspect, someone who walks on bad feet and is slovenly and weasel-like, whom he nicknames Pie Shape but whose real name is J. J. Bealer (Laughton). He was the only one in the film who was even remotely interesting and who, along with Price, seemed to be in the right film.

Agent Rigby narrates his story in the flashback form as he is just recovering from being drugged and is remorseful, after losing his sense of duty because a beautiful woman made his head spin. He seems bewildered by his loss of honor, as he tries to explain what happened and how come he did what he did.

Rigby, when on the island, pretends he came down here to fish for marlins but that doesn’t fool the crime organization. They make plans to either bribe him or compromise him, so that he won’t turn them in. Elizabeth’s drunken husband Tug is a minor player in the organization; after his good combat record as an Air Force pilot during the war he unfortunately had some hard times fall on him, as he was fired from his civilian airline job because of a bad heart. Tug never told his wife about the reason why he was fired. The couple have been on the island for the last seven months, hoping to raise enough money to go back to the States.

Elizabeth works as a torch singer in the local nightclub and is innocent of any crime involvement. When Tug is ordered by the boss of the operation Carwood (Price) to keep tabs on Rigby, that pushes his wife closer to the agent.

The real heavy in this film Carwood has one great scene, where he is out fishing on Rigby’s chartered boat and Rigby lands a real big marlin but has trouble reeling him in. So the young boy whose boat this is, Emilio (Tito), goes to help him as Carwood takes the wheel of the boat and jerks it pretending he doesn’t know how to operate it, and Rigby falls in the ocean filled with sharks. Emilio goes to rescue him but disappears in a sea of sharks. Rigby gets saved by another fishing boat, but vows to make sure Carwood pays for this dastardly act.

Rigby is closing in on the criminal operation but has meanwhile fallen desperately in love with Elizabeth, whom he knows doesn’t love her husband anymore.

Bealer tries to bribe Rigby with as much as $12,000 to leave the area but when Rigby doesn’t take the bait, Bealer instead blackmails Elizabeth into drugging Rigby. That keeps Rigby from going out that night in his boat, which is now being operated by Emilio’s father (Garralaga). The crime organization has a deal going down that night but their plans are spoiled, as Rigby phoned ahead to have the local agents pick up the ones on the boat.

Carwood is now desperate and when Tug threatens to talk, Carwood instead kills him. Carwood then goes after Elizabeth and Rigby. The action reaches its climax in front of the fiesta crowd, and Rigby guns Carwood down in self-defense in a wild shootout.

The Bribe” was shot in the MGM studio and has a phony look, and enough trite dialogue to put a few yawns on your kisser. My favorite trite saying was by Taylor, trying to explain his moral decline: “Selling out for honor– honor, just a word. Say it often enough and its just a sound without any meaning, anymore.” That could also describe this film, as it lost its purpose early on and its story never found any truth.