A lecture to new government agents, thatís the "semi-documentary" angle, a composite account ("the biggest tax-evasion case since Al Capone") to show the machinery at work. Counterfeiters are slippery creatures, the dragnet sprawls from Washington to Detroit to Los Angeles, itís "like punching a feather bed" until the intrepid Treasury Department duo (Dennis OíKeefe, Alfred Ryder) dive undercover. Nabokovís "The Leonardo" is visible in the set-up, "good paper and good plates" decorate the stern vertical structure all the way to the comely "lion tamer" (Jane Randolph) near the very top. Anthony Mannís technique is Hustonís but sharpened into the hardest noir edge: From the opening view of an informerís slaying on the waterfront, lighting is a compositional tool. (John Altonís deep-focus transforms a cramped flat into multiple planes in one humorously virtuosic moment, with a bedís frame foregrounding grid patterns, a lamp illuminating the middle section, and a door opening to reveal another character shaving in the distant background.) Forged identities for forged currency (cf. Friedkinís To Live and Die in L.A.), the mirror that reflects twin organizations at opposite sides of the law. Faces in close-up devoured by shadows: The veteran schemerís supplicating mug as he roasts inside a sauna, OíKeefeís features shrinking beneath his fedoraís brim after helplessly watching his partnerís execution. Embodying the lie is the agentís ultimate achievement and plight, a netherworld of surveillance and infiltration that can be brought down by a sudden smile of recognition. Mann pursues the theme across different eras (Reign of Terror) and territories (Border Incident) until the wintry abstraction of A Dandy in Aspic; Reservoir Dogs and Infernal Affairs and countless others carry the obsessive influence. With Mary Meade, Wallace Ford, Charles McGraw, and June Lockhart. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce