Helen Brent knows Sam Wild is more than a social climber who married her wealthy foster sister. He's a remorseless killer. And yet she finds his brash confidence, square-shouldered good looks and constant aura of menace completely irresistible. Versatile director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music, West Side Story) shows his film-noir chops with this dark gem whose mix of heiress sisters, stone-hearted men, needy hangers-on and inexplicable but inevitable love plays like a soap opera that refuses to wash itself clean. Walter Slezak portrays the verse-quoting shamus. And Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney portray the illicit lovers who play with fire?and burn their names forever into film-noir lore.
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The seamiest entry in the mostly decorous filmography of director Robert Wise showcases B-movie bad boy Lawrence Tierney as a psychotic drifter who's irresistible to women ("His eyes run up and down ya like a searchlight!" breathes housemaid Ellen Colby, just about the only female he doesn't bother targeting). A number of people end up dead by his hand, but the kicker is that he crosses paths with a woman--socialite-divorcee Claire Trevor--just as heartless as he, and even more treacherous. The script makes less sense with each passing reel, but there are ripe character turns by Walter Slezak, as a philosophical private eye who operates out of a diner; Elisha Cook Jr., as Tierney's more level-headed partner (in what other company would Elisha Cook be playing the more level-headed lowlife?); and Esther Howard, as a hard-bitten old bat who keeps an ill-advised rendezvous in the most nightmarish nocturnal wasteland San Francisco had to offer. --Richard T. Jameson
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