(director: Joseph Lerner; screenwriter: Berne Giler; cinematographer: Gerald Hirschfeld; editor: Gera Lerner; music: Gail Kubik; cast: Dean Jagger (Cliff Holden), John Carradine (Doc Spencer), Harry Landers (Owney Shor), Lottie Elwen (Kathe van Bourne), Rene Paul (Matty Royal), Adelaide Klein (Minnie Hoffman), Edith Atwater (Lydia Brundage), Walter Brooke (Joe), Jean Ellyn (Birdie Alton); Runtime: 75; Film Classics; 1949)
“The film didn’t make much sense, but it was watchable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lively crime fighting programmer featuring a Custom Agent tracking down a jewel thief and a murderer. It was good on the action part, but there was not much brainwork put into the story and no feel for the characters. It was a routine B-film done on a modest budget in a quasi-documentary style and in a flat black-and-white tone, with nothing much to recommend it except for its atmospheric treatment of New York City and by using authentic locations.

C in the title stands for Customs. Cliff Holden (Dean Jagger) is an investigator for the U.S. Customs Department located in Manhattan. When he returns from a hunting trip he learns from his boss that his longtime friend in the agency was killed chasing down a necklace theft from a wealthy New Yorker living in Paris, Lydia Brundage. The only hint that the deceased agent left was that he was trailing a man called Matty Royal, and he was closing in on him.

Cliff flies to France in order to book a return plane trip to New York with a seat next to Royal. Cliff meets a chatty Hollander named Kathe van Bourne, who is coming to New York to marry an American named Joe. She switches seats with Royal to continue talking with Cliff, which ruins his chances of secretly grilling Royal.

Warning: spoilers to follow.

Before the plane lands, Royal knocks out Kathe in the rest room and Dr. Spencer (Carradine), a gang member, administers an injection to make her sleepy. She’s carted off in an ambulance with the valuable emerald necklace bandaged to her head, as she’s used as a patsy to smuggle in the necklace. One of Royal’s strong-arm henchmen Owney (Landers) and a female accomplice Birdie, meet the ambulance with the proper immigration papers. They secured the papers by going to the expectant groom’s apartment, where Owney got carried away in his assignment to just steal the papers and beat him to death.

When the ambulance crashes after a struggle inside, Kathe escapes with the necklace and heads to see Joe. But Cliff, posing as a private eye named O’Hara, meets Kathe and sends her with the necklace to stay at his housekeeper Minnie’s apartment.

Cliff greets Owney and Birdie in Joe’s apartment, who go there in pursuit of Kathe and the necklace. Cliff decides to let Owney take him to Royal’s place, where the punky thug works him over to get info on the necklace. In Royal’s place Spencer calls and the agent finds out the doctor has become an alcoholic since his wife died, and sells himself cheaply to Royal. This is the clue the agent has been waiting for and he tracks the doctor down to the flophouse he’s staying.

Cliff seems to have little contact with the other Custom Agents and gets a few more beatings working alone and taking big risks, as he’s determined to get Royal for the murder of his friend and the other gang members for their part in the crime.

The film didn’t make much sense, but it was watchable.

'C'-Man Poster