Yes. Yes. Yes.
This is what I had in mind when I decided to do a month of noir. An absolutely fantastic film, as well as a noir in the sense most of us think of when the idea comes to mind. I’ve been really glad to have my understanding of noir expanded over the month, but it was still nice to get back to a film like this one. It’s a taut crime mystery, nearly every shot is a contrast between light and shadow, there are seedy characters throughout, we get a down the middle femme fatale, at the center of the mystery is a poor sap who gets pulled in over his head and loses everything, and the action is driven by an investigator who is sorting through the myriad clues to try and piece together what really happened as he follows the money.
The opening moments of the film, up until probably around the 20 minute mark, are based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway (one of his Nick Adams stories). The introduction alone is worth the price of admission. It’s amazing, electric, tense, and perfectly shot, as two hitmen blow into town on a contract, a man who turns out not to give much resistance to his coming demise. Then, the rest of the film is original, and no longer based on the short story, as an insurance investigator gets hooked by the case and keeps working the knot until the threads begin to loosen and the mystery unravels.
So good. Everyone in it is pitch-perfect. Especially Edmond O’Brien as the insurance investigator; Burt Lancaster as our ill-fated center of the action: The Swede; and Ava Gardner, who lights up the screen in her few short appearances as the film’s femme fatale. Seriously, though, everyone was really great.
I loved the writing, the acting, the cinematography, the direction, the pacing. This is a perfect noir film, instantly launched into my top three favorites so far this month.