The opening bluntly establishes the protagonist's mission in the midst of a San Francisco heat wave as a sweltering Borgesian fantasy. "Who was murdered?" "I was." The brisk evocation of Edmond O'Brien as a square bachelor before secretary-sweetheart Pamela Britton's unshakable marriage wish yields to a deep-focus whirlpool, with curious anticipations of North by Northwest (the aspiring bon vivant is "set straight" by villains who tinker with his drink). The hotel O'Brien checks into is a vast boys' night out, the jive joint he visits is a hepcat inferno, the Grim Reaper is seen from the back as a trenchcoated figure switching glasses at the counter. The morning after finds the hero with a swirling stomach, a visit to the doctor reveals a circulatory system full of "luminous toxin" (a visual gag that reappears in Re-Animator). A furious tracking shot follows the newly "murdered" O'Brien through Market Street until he reaches a newsstand and, exhausted, gazes up at the blasting, indifferent sun. Rudolph Maté marshals all the cinematographic resources learned from Dreyer and delivers a compact waking nightmare: The Passion of Joan of Arc is briefly seen (via Phantom Lady) at the nightclub, though Vampyr best suits this tale of a walking dead seeking an answer to his dread. (Fittingly, the film has a central place in Paul Schrader's "Notes on Film Noir" essay.) The gangland ghouls making O'Brien sweat along the way include smooth capo Luther Adler and henchman Neville Brand ("An unfortunate boy... He likes to give pain"), toothy grin flashing as he savors the thought of putting a bullet in the hero's belly. An extraordinarily direct trauma: The story is recounted and, once it is over, the teller keels over. With Beverly Garland, Lynn Baggett, William Ching, Henry Hart, and Laurette Luez. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce