In Center City, a housewife is murdered in a night-club by a gang of thieves. When a security guard of a bank is killed by the same gun during a heist, the crime becomes a federal offense under FBI jurisdiction. When the prime suspect is released and executed in the same night, FBI Inspector George Briggs recruits the rookie agent Gene Cordell to follow the last paths of the victim undercover in the identity of George Manly. Gene meets the powerful gangster Alec Stiles in a gymnasium, and later he is invited to join his gang. Working with his also undercover liaison Cy Gordon, Gene finds evidences to incriminate Stiles. However, he discovers also that somebody from the precinct is feeding Stiles with classified information.
The semidocumentary crimefighting/spybusting thrillers of the late ’40s are fascinating for their blend of institutionalized rectitude (the FBI is totally trustworthy and awesomely competent), authentic locations (“filmed where it happened”), and noir poetics. Once Inspector George Briggs (Lloyd Nolan repeating his House on 92nd Street role) sends agent Gene Cordell (Mark Stevens) to work undercover on Center City’s skid row, the movie has settled into an evocative meditation on the underside of Middle American town life c. 1948: the never-empty arcades and diners; a seedy drifters’ hotel you can almost smell; cars parked slantwise along a commercial street that retains a memory of countryside; and an upstairs gym–Stiles’s place–where even in daytime a surprising number of men congregate in hopes of seeing someone take a beating. And there’s one sequence of skulking in a ferry terminal, so beautifully observed by director William Keighley and ace cinematographer Joe MacDonald, you’ll wish you could shake their hands. Harry Kleiner’s screenplay was reworked seven years later for Samuel Fuller’s House of Bamboo.
Subtitles:English & Spanish sub/idx