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Posted by martinteller on October 13, 2012

In the Korean War, Matt (Jeffrey Hunter) saves the life of Vince (David Janssen), both suffering severe injuries.  Vince swears an oath to repay him.  Seven years later, Matt is a contractor married to Nina (Stella Stevens), his boss’s daughter.  Nina is alcoholic, trampy, and emotionally cruel, and Matt is miserable.  He’s fallen in love with the secretary Liz (Elaine Devry) but can’t bring himself to sever with Nina… for one thing, she holds all the money and he’s indebted to her father.  Then Vince shows up to make good on his promise… in the form of a lucrative but dangerous heist from Latin American revolutionaries.  Torn between his heart’s desires and his sense of morality, Matt makes a decision.

This is one of two noirs directed by actor Edmond O’Brien.  Though, as with Cape Fear (both films based on novels by John D. McDonald), some may consider 1961 outside the traditional noir period, it fits the genre neatly.  Ethical dilemmas, a heist gone wrong, hero torn between a femme fatale and a “good” girl.  Except for the jazzy soundtrack (often too loud in the mix) it doesn’t pack much style, but it’s got some satisfying turns and flows nicely.  Matt’s surrounded by corruption on all sides, his moral compass spinning like a pinwheel as he tries to be noble.

Hunter is good and Janssen is all right, but as is so often the case, it’s the femme fatale who steals the show.  Stevens is riveting as the boozy, seductive, manipulative, sadistic Nina… she gets most of the best lines and delivers them with gusto.  It’s not a very complex character — try finding a redeeming quality in her — but she gives it her all.  If you’ve ever felt stuck in a rotten marriage, Nina may convince you it could be worse.

There isn’t much of distinction going on (an oddly sympathetic villain is the only unusual aspect I can think of) but it’s a pretty solid and easily watchable crime drama.  The real shame is that Stevens isn’t in it more, as she’s the most compelling facet of the film.  Rating: Good (74)


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