(director: Anthony Mann; screenwriters: story by Virginia Kellogg/John C. Higgins; cinematographer: John Alton; editor: Fred Allen; music: Paul Sawtell; cast: Dennis O’Keefe (Dennis O’Brien), Mary Meade (Evangeline), Charles McGraw (Moxie), Alfred Ryder (Anthony Genaro), Wallace Ford (Schemer), June Lockhart (Mary Gennaro), John Wengraf (Shiv Triano), Jane Randolph (Diana Simpson), William Malten (Paul Miller), Herbert Heyes (Chief Carson), Art Smith (Gregg), Jack Overman (Brownie), Anton Kosta (Vantucci), Tito Vuolo (Pasquale), Jim Bannon (Lindsay); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Aubrey Schenk; Eagle-Lion; 1947)
“Brought to wider attention the immense skills of B-film director Anthony Mann.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The compelling well-made fake realism of the small studio sleeper semi-documentary crime thriller, T-Men, brought to wider attention the immense skills of B-film director Anthony Mann (“Desperate”/”The Tin Star”/”The Man From Laramie”) and cinematographer John Alton. It’s based on the story by Virginia Kellogg and written by John C. Higgins. It tells about a composite case from Treasury files, the Shanghai Paper Case, where two undercover Treasury agents, bachelor Dennis O’Brien (Dennis O’Keefe) and recently married man Anthony Genaro (Alfred Ryder), go undercover as partners in Detroit and then Los Angeles to infiltrate a counterfeit ring. The partners develop a deep respect and loyalty for each other which conceivably takes the place of a conventional heterosexual relationship. When one of the agents is murdered cold-bloodedly by the gang, the other can only look on without doing anything to stop it but unconsciously twitch in horror. The surviving agent takes it personally and vows to get even with the gangland killer Moxie (Charles McGraw). The bland agents were given no personalities and were defined only by their job, with the married one seemingly enjoying more playing an Italian gangster than a middle-class hubby.
O’Brien and Genaro are hooked up by their Treasury Department boss (Herbert Heyes) with fake identities as small-time gangsters who are the only survivors from a real Detroit gang. They connect with Detroit mobster Vantucci after making contact with crooked hotel proprietor Pasquale (Tito Vuolo). The agents discover that a man called Schemer (Wallace Ford), now living in Los Angeles, has been providing the mob with counterfeit liquor stamps. O’Brien divorces himself from Genaro to locate Schemer in Los Angeles, while Genaro gets punched around by Vantucci’s boys until he convinces them that O’Brien split because things were too hot for him here. Agent O’Brien cleverly worms his way into the L.A. counterfeit ring by passing around some queer money and showing he has a better set of plates than they have. He’s soon joined by Genaro, as they work together to pump Schemer for more info and he inadvertently leads them to a technician, Paul Miller, who works the counterfeit plates. From there they walk in dangerous territory with mob leader Triano, as they try to figure out who is the big boss of this international counterfeiting ring.
It lands smoothly on noir turf by detailing in minutia the routine heroic undercover work of the agents and how they willingly absorb the hardships of living perversely as gangsters without their family and friends to comfort them. Their dedication to the job is equated with the highest form of patriotism and selflessness, which comes across more eloquently in the narrative than in the propaganda handed out by the Treasury Department. John Alton’s brilliant camerawork makes the mise-en-scène dramatically grander than the matter-of-fact tone of the narration.
REVIEWED ON 3/22/2005 GRADE: B+