I had forgotten I had seen this before, but once I got started it was too good to turn it off.
Alan Ladd, in his first real role (he’d been in other films before but they were bit parts, so small he gets an “introducing” credit here) stars as Raven, a sadistic killer-for-hire. But he’s so good in it, he brings such emotional complexity to the role that you can’t help but root for him. He’s hired by Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) to bump off a chemist and steal some papers. Raven doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t care what’s in the papers. He just does his job and takes his pay.
Gates double-crosses him by paying out in marked bills, ones that he claims to the police were stolen from his company. Detective Michael Crane (Robert Preston) is put on the case. He’s in love with Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) who was just hired by Gates as a performer in one of his nightclubs. She accidentally winds up on a train next to Raven. Gates sees them sitting next to each other, thinks they are in cahoots, and calls the cops. Raven holds Ellen hostage in order to get away from the cops. Though she isn’t in cahoots with Raven she is working with a local senator who believes Gates is selling secrets to foreign agents.
As you can see, it is a complicated, convoluted plot. Director Frank Tuttle keeps things moving at a quick pace but still manages to more or less keep all the convolutions understandable. Veronica Lake is lovely as usual though she isn’t given much to do. She sings a couple of songs while doing some pretty fun magic tricks and makes googly eyes with Detective Crane. Her scenes with Ladd are good, but mostly she’s just there to look pretty. Preston has even less to do. He’s top-billed but he’s in the fewest scenes out of the three main cast members and when he is on screen it is just to move the plot along.
This is completely Ladd’s film and it is easy to see why he became a star. He really nails the nuances of the role and makes us feel sorry for a guy who kills for a living.