Review Date: 7/13/14
Written By: Raymond Chandler
Cast: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Howard Da Silva, William Bendix
Upon returning home from the war, naval pilot Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) is greeted by an unfaithful wife who has no intentions of quitting her partying lifestyle and salvaging their marriage. He threatens to kill her, but walks out on her instead, leaving his gun behind. The next morning, Mrs. Morrison is found dead and Johnny is a prime suspect. Racing against time, Johnny tries to track down the real murderer and clear his name with the aid of a mysterious woman named Joyce (Veronica Lake).
Like all good mysteries, the film does a good job of playing the audience by deflecting and redirecting suspicions until the real culprit is finally revealed. Interestingly, the original murderer was changed due to protests from the US military, which makes the final resolution seem like a cop-out. Even more interesting is the fact that Raymond Chandler developed writer's block while working on the story, and resorted to heavy drinking in order to finish it. He also had an intense dislike for Veronica Lake and reportedly referred to her as "Moronica Lake." Alan Ladd is a charming but uninteresting lead, and is easily forgettable. Veronica Lake is also quite charming, but her delivery is flat and her dialog is much smarter than she appears to be. Her character is a jumbled mess of contradictions, and it's never clear what her motivations and intentions are. The real standouts are Howard Da Silva's nuanced performance as the slimy Eddie Harwood, and Willaim Bendix's unnerving portrayal of Morrison's psychologically wounded and quick-tempered war buddy, Eddie.
The pacing is slow, but the dialog is snappy and the fight scenes are rough and visually effective. The production values are good, and while the film contains all the elements of a hard-boiled detective tale, it lacks the ambience and moodiness of similar films from the classic film noir period. The film definitely plays it safe and aims for a mainstream audience, hoping for a spark between Ladd and Lake that never happens.