Two U.S. Treasury (“T-men”) agents go undercover in Detroit, and then Los Angeles, in an attempt to break a U.S. currency counterfeiting ring.
Jeffrey Kauffman @ Blu-ray.com wrote:
Director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton worked together six times over the relatively short expanse of only three or so years, resulting in chiaroscuro drenched noirs like He Walked by Night (due in just a few more weeks from ClassicFlix), Raw Deal (on ClassicFlix’s release list, but not yet officially scheduled), Reign of Terror, Border Incident and Devil’s Doorway, the one kind of outlier in this grouping due to it being a historical piece that rather presciently if somewhat tangentially examined issues of Native American rights long before they became fodder for westerns later in the fifties. Mann and Alton began their collaboration in 1947 with T-Men, a film which has a first rate presentational style bolstering a somewhat lumbering storyline, one that perhaps isn’t helped especially by a curious quasi-documentary approach that includes former Treasury Department official Elmer Lincoln Irey, the man who spearheaded the investigation which finally brought down Al Capone, in what is referred to as a “stultifying” prologue that Irey has trouble getting through, even though he appears to be reading from a sheaf of papers on the desk in front of him.
As Irey and narrator Reed Hadley indicate, while this is supposedly a “ripped from the headlines” affair, it’s actually a “composite” case, by which is meant (I assume) that perhaps a little of that good old fashioned “fictionalizing” comes into play. The basic setup of T-Men isn’t overly elaborate. An early scene documents the villainous behavior of Moxie (Charles McGraw), who turns out to unsurprisingly be one of the major bad guys of the piece. The good guys are Treasury Agents Dennis O’Brien (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony Genaro (Alfred Ryder), who go undercover with appropriate aliases as supposed survivors of a gang massacre, with the intent of infiltrating a counterfeiting group.
With the possible exception of one rather shocking death, there is a somewhat predictable pathway toward justice that T-Men provides, replete with two focal characters who, while inarguably noble, are a little on the bland side, essentially ciphers that the audience can “color in” as they see fit. Even Genaro’s recent marriage to Mary (June Lockhart) is used less for traditional character development than for some brief but visceral emotional content. The film wallows in a kind of seedy atmosphere, positing the T-Men in a decrepit hotel at one point, and offering up a series of vignettes featuring a coterie of kind of gritty underworld personalities.
Where T-Men excels is in its presentational aspect. From the first shadow drenched scene to any number of subsequent framings that are recurrently askew or which feature almost bizarre aggregations of foreground objects and deep focus, Mann and Alton offer deliberately asymmetrical framings which in and of themselves suggest a world out of order, but which also uniformly offer visual interest even when the screenplay isn’t overly compelling. While the writing is at least competent, this is a film that attains its visceral impact from how the content is being presented, rather than the content itself.
While the two heroes are a bit on the nondescript side, and the actors portraying them therefore struggle to really deliver anything overly memorable, the film’s coterie of nefarious types offers a good deal more color. Even bit parts like the seedy hotel operator who initially hooks the guys up with the underworld is given a good deal of smarmy deference by Tito Vuolo. Wallace Ford and William Malten have decent showcases for brief bursts of brutish energy, but it’s Charles McGraw who handily steals every scene he’s in as one of the most lethal of the bad guys.
Note:Audio #2 is commentary by Biographer & Producer Alan K. Rode.