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There is not much of anything hard hitting in this eighty-eight minute crime noir-ette about narcotics smuggling. Directed by William Seiter with a decent screenplay by Devery Freeman, this Universal International released B-movie eventually slipped between theater seats rather quickly. Fans of Claire Trevor or Fred MacMurray may be pleased, however. Fans of Raymond Burr, not so much, as his screen time carries less weight than he appears, playing a ruthless drug dealer in a widescreen suit. A music score by Hans Salter supports the film.
The opening establishes this as a light comedy with Trevor slightly daft as per Madeline Kahn some twenty years later. Trevor’s character is “Madeleine” by the way. Policewoman Trevor is being ignored as the right undercover officer to infiltrate the drug dealing gang. With her face framed within a “V” between two male sleeves, their superior thinks she is not tawdry enough. Glancing her direction, one guy thinks she would probably pass. Two seconds later, Trevor's expression reacts to the remark. Another makes it a point to mention she was in the OSS during the war and speaks “Mexican.” Training she never uses throughout the film.
The film cuts to Mexico as Salter’s score decidedly adds a theme seemingly pulled from a music library shelf labeled, “Mexican.” Trevor arrives by dusty bus, walks into a cantina and in the very next frame she is dancing in a chorus line! Their second, assumed purposely humorous number, has all six girls displaying their training from the Lucy Ricardo School of Music and Dance. A number that could have used at least one run through backstage. None are in sync with the melody nor the difficult lyrics of, 'la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.' Sounding uncomfortably like barnyard chickens. Trevor seems especially out of her element. It is a funny scene. She tries, in not-so-subtle fashion, to get Burr to make eye contact. After making several passes, at one point she kicks her left then her right leg high on both sides of him. I imagine the breeze felt good in the stuffy nightclub.
Trevor is making inroads into Burr’s circle of noir-do-wells but all is interrupted when MacMurray enters the film with gun in hand, confronting Burr about a shipment of narcotics. He wants credit for the sale. There is a tussle, some gunpowder, and MacMurray absconds with Trevor, assuming she is part of Burr’s inner circle. Narcotics boss, Roy Roberts, arranges for them to pose as husband and wife as they head toward the borderline of a studio set.
In this film, I could not accept Fred MacMurray as a hardened criminal as his first screen appearance might suggest. He does wear a frown most of the way, but I expected dry quips at any moment. The script lightens up and not surprisingly, so does MacMurray. Really no secret, thanks to the comedic music score. Avoiding the Mexican authorities, they ditch one of the most strategically muddied cars in film. Now on foot, there are shades of “It Happened One Night” as both share their phony backstories so as not to reveal their true identity. There is a lot of assumptions between them. The last ten minutes are worth the wait as big surprises await the leads. Other than the early tussle with the big Burr, the only real excitement comes in the last two minutes.
Note: This is purely an innocuous action/comedy movie which happens to have respected leads. A film that starts promising and ends pleasant enough. Trevor had a flair for subtle comedy. MacMurray was no stranger to comedy, either. But as a memorable film noir crime saga, it is borderline at best.