A man is murdered, apparently by one of a group of demobilized soldiers he met in a bar. But which one? And why?A man is murdered, apparently by one of a group of demobilized soldiers he met in a bar. But which one? And why?A man is murdered, apparently by one of a group of demobilized soldiers he met in a bar. But which one? And why?
Great Message, Great Symbolism, Very Good Movie
It's hard to go totally wrong with Robert Mitchum, Robert Young, and Robert Ryan all together as the three male leads, and with director Edward Dmytryk pulling together a complicated murder and detective yarn. That's reason enough to watch it once and even twice.
You might need a second look to fully catch the plot as it is explained (too much) or shown in flashback (also too much) because it's a little complicated without good reason. But it makes sense overall, and we see early on (too early probably) who the culprit is, and even why.
Besides the drama, well done in typical noir lighting and filled with those short quips that make post-war films dramatic, there is the social message, the anti-anti-Semitic point of it all. It only borders on preachy once or twice, and it's such an obviously good point to make we watch it being made approvingly and wait for the plot and the dramatic acting to take front row. Which they do, especially Young, who is a brilliantly laconic and patient detective, and Ryan, who is mean in a believably crude and angry way (Ryan is good at that, his typecasting reasonable). Mitchum mostly plays a watered down version of what he is famous for, and the fourth known acting force, Gloria Grahame, is a great, brief, presence even if slightly dispensable.
Though the movie is dominated by the sequence of events and by the message, both of which grow in force as we go, it is really easy to watch just for the lighting, camera-work, and acting, including the classic fight scene that opens the first few seconds of the film, all done with shadows.
The archetypes of soldiers presented is very deliberate, and this might be something people at the time were very familiar with and could relate to as much as the anti-Semitism thread. The shell-shocked soldier rendered helpless (but still intrinsically capable), the modest youngster without confidence (but capable, too), and the weary but outwardly able veteran are all there. And of course, the angry, violent soldier who is a product of the war, too. This last is also a responsibility of society--even the army goes all out to make good on the injustices here, not just because they are criminal, but because they stem from the wear and tear of a long awful war.
The audience then, more than now, could really get, but it's there to appreciate still.
- Jul 2, 2009