It opens like The Killers, allows a flicker of On Dangerous Ground and proceeds like Shockproof, but is really an extension of Detour. "The only way I can wake up from this nightmare is to go back to sleep." A tale half-told in a dingy hotel cabin, the corpse disfigured in the fireplace and the police detective (Paul Langton) after the blonde named Eden (Barbara Payton). Little difference between parched Los Angeles pavement and desolate Sierra County snow, where the runaway chanteuse is apprehended for the murder of the industrialist who may turn up alive and well at a railroad station. The decisive moment comes in the train, numb officer and desperate moll sitting across from each other and awakened by a flash of doubt and a jump from the moving express. (The literal leap of faith rhymes later with a leap of death, such is the absorbingly fractured structure.) Cops like grudging firefighters ("The alarm rings and we're off, whether we like it or not") and femmes fatales on the verge of catatonia, original sin and characters "sharpened by constant grinding against the world," the distinctive Edgar G. Ulmer vortex. Nightclubs and churches equally grim and ineffectual, and yet the hint of salvation as fragile as a ceramic figurineŚcontrasted with the secrets and lies of the bourgeois older couple the investigation leads to, the modest hope brewing between Langton and Payton is a breeze in a desert. (The octagon-shaped gash beneath his eye matches the black mole on her cheek, haunted marks worn like badges.) The unblinking lens on a cosmos "coming apart at the seams" is a singular Ulmer mastery, the great bizarrerie noir is shared simultaneously with Lewis' The Big Combo. With Robert Shayne, Tracey Roberts, Selena Royle, Roy Gordon, and Kate MacKenna. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce