This is a pretty routine crime drama involving narcotics in New York. The SS Florentine docks and unships a crate of medical dope but instead of dope there is nothing but sand in the crate. The purser has stolen it, with the complicity of one of the passengers, a Miss Toni Cardell. Two Treasury agents, Scott Brady and Richard Rober, latch on to the case and track the dope through a network of heavies and murderers led by Yul Brynner. They succeed with the help of the U. S. Coast Guard and at the cost of Brady's life.
Right away, though, I had a slight problem in that nobody anywhere is named Miss Toni Cardell. It's the kind of echt-schiksa name that somebody might dream up because it sounded right, like "Ellie Arroway" in Carl Sagan's novel, "Contact." But just try to find a name like Toni Cardell in a phone book, especially in Shanghai. I dare you.
Secondly, the crate carrying the dope is opened by customs agents. It's a big crate, the size of a wardrobe, and it's filled entirely with sand. A reasonable inference is that a LOT of dope is missing, yet when the box of narcotics is finally discovered in a locker at Grand Central Station, it's only big enough to contain, say, three dictionaries.
Those, of course, are minor things. Yet this is a minor movie. It's a routine track-'em-down mystery with T-men putting themselves in danger by posing as somebody else. Scott Brady is okay. He's an Irishman with Burt Lancaster's habit of sticking out his jaw in a defiant scowl when he's angry. It's rather likable. His partner, Richard Rober, on the other hand, has practically nothing to offer, a bland, acceptably handsome contract player. He's the one who should have been knocked off early on, allowing Scott Brady to continue the chase.
Best performance, hands down -- Yul Brynner with hair as the Vladimir Putin look-alike who heads the whole operation. What a background the guy had. A Jew from Sakhalin Island off the Siberian coast, a stint at the Sorbonne in Paris, a trapeze artist. "The King and I" brought him fame but left him socked into a domineering and unsubtle persona. Here, he gives his most earnest performance. He's suave, handsome, delicate even. And -- this being 1949, the year when the Cold War became an undeniable fact -- his Russian accent fits the temporal template. He's better here than he ever was later.
But, taken as a whole, what we have here is an inexpensive Eagle Lion crime drama with self-sacrificing heroes and ruthless villains. Nice to see the Coast Guard in action. Even if, to pump up the action, the writers and Lazlo Benedict, the director, have Brynner shooting his snub-nosed revolver at an 83-footer armed with a 20 millimeter cannon on the bow.
Diverting, yes, but not much new.