It begins in the California Sierras, folds back to New York and Acapulco and San Francisco, then drifts onward to a Lake Tahoe roadblock, always with the irresistible flow of a dream. (The intricate structure is scarcely appreciated by the local police officer, who grumbles like a blindsided reviewer: "Too many people. Too much talk.") The gas station owner (Robert Mitchum) was once a gumshoe, his background of desire and betrayal catches up to the small-town sanctuary, a tale recounted on a late-night car ride (cf. Franju's Thérèse Desqueyroux). The gambling gangster (Kirk Douglas) hires him to track down the "wild goose with 40 Gs," she (Jane Greer) emerges out of the Mexican theater and into the café to set up the poetic leitmotif. ("And then I saw her, coming out of the sun ... And then she walked in, out of the moonlight.") The runaway couple's affair is launched beneath sailboat nets and exalted by tropical monsoons, it passes through a tangle of blackmail and murder before the final hail of bullets. "Well, build my gallows high, baby." The apex of film noir is an extension of Val Lewton's lambent death-drive—the uncanny calm with which Jacques Tourneur lays his grids turns the chump's fall into a perverse three-way dance, crystalline to the point of obscurity. (His cinematographer, Nicholas Musuraca, composes not in blocks of smoke and shadow but in endless gradations of suspended morality.) Mitchum, not yet 30 but already the weariest of hepcats, and Douglas at his most jovially pugnacious face each other like somnolent-avid totems of postwar masculinity, Greer the most lustrous of femmes fatales has her own doppelgängers in the resolved sweetheart (Virginia Huston) and the come-hither secretary (Rhonda Fleming). Observing from the sidelines is the deaf and mute youth (Dickie Moore), the impassive Tourneur lurker whose fishing-pole swing provides a most startling and graceful frisson. "Is there a way to win?" "There's a way to lose more slowly." Hawks' The Big Sleep is the genre's unparalleled marriage fantasy, here is its icy-hot Liebestod. With Richard Webb, Steve Brodie, Paul Valentine, and Ken Niles. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce