Humphrey Bogart plays Rip Murdoch, a paratrooper investigating his buddy’s disappearance following their return to the states. The trail leads to a shady club owner named Martinelli, and a dangerous blonde played by Lizabeth Scott.
Told in flashback, and featuring ample voice-over narration by Bogart, the story lifts elements from prior Bogart films, The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. Sometimes it even surpasses them. When Bogart and his buddy are coming home, they get the white-glove treatment, though no one will tell them why. Their plane lands late, meaning they’ll miss their train but as Bogart says with awe, “They actually held the limited for us.” That’s showing through telling.
Another memorable scene comes later, when Bogart attempts to win back a chunk of Scott’s money at Martinelli’s back-room casino. He steps up to the craps table and rolls point after point, letting his winnings ride. When the croupier tries to swap the dice, Bogie catches on and cashes out. After Martinelli lets him keep the original dice, Bogie agrees to double or nothing and rolls a tough point. Scott wonders if he can do it. Says Bogart with a wry smile, “What man has done Murdoch can do.”
Indeed, given Bogart’s dry performance and how close the story hews to his prior hits, the film borders on satire. Perhaps that explains Lizabeth Scott’s performance. She’s presented as a clone of Lauren Bacall’s character in The Big Sleep: a blonde, throaty-voiced singer involved in a man’s disappearance. But she and Bogart have no chemistry and she delivers most of her lines with an odd affectation where she speaks without moving her upper lip. Even worse, the film shoots her in some unflattering angles. During a would-be tense scene where a cop pulls her over and she’s searching for her driver’s license, the lighting and angle give her an ogreish appearance.
Still, she shows flashes of potential. During her big scene during the finale, after Bogart delivers a line lifted right from The Maltese Falcon, she starts talking with both lips. And when the camera’s kind, she can project a sultry gaze with the best of them. But one can’t shake the sense that she and Bogart are in different movies, and Bogart’s is better.