Trevor Howard as Clem Morgan has been mustered out of the RAF. It takes a few minutes to get over the idea that Howard is playing a 27 year old guy, as he's not all that well preserved for his actual thirty-five. But once we forgive the film for daring to state his purported age, the role goes splendidly.
Crime-ridden postwar London has provided Clem with few honest opportunities; that, or he's too jaded to give a damn. As a bit of an adventurer whose gotten bored with merely carousing the bars, he decides to throw in with some black marketeers for the sake of jolly excitement. Alas, he soon finds himself the fall guy for a Limehouse drug runner, the sharp-eyed psychotic gangster Narcy (for Narcissistic) played with horrific conviction by Griffith Jones, who combines the looks of Dick Powell & Gary Oldman.
This appalling bad guy could've alone raised the film well above the average & insured a sinister film noir. But there's an entire cast performing superbly so Griffith's psychopath doesn't have to carry the film.
Chorus girl Sally (Sally Gray) tries to help clear Clem, as she has found out that her best friend's boyfriend Soapy (Jack McNaughton) is guilt-ridden & would like to come forward with what he knows, but is rightly afraid of Narcy, who soon kidnaps Sally & Soapy's faithful girlfriend Cora (Rene Ray) in his bid to silence Soapy.
Soapy holes up in the ratty-ass Hotel Nelson where he is found by Narcy. A grim chase through the grubby dock area isn't apt to end well for Soapy, & the eerie lighting intensifies the horrific beauty of the dock slums.
When Clem, sent up for fifteen years, breaks out of prison, one would expect him, with his jaded-playboy-in-trouble persona, to become the Hitchcockian good guy seeking only to clear his name or redeem himself. Instead, he sets out on the trail of pure vengeance, making for good bad guy vs bad bad guy.
A fascinating little side-story arises when Clem, freshly broken out of jail, is assisted by an unexpectedly generous woman whose house he broke into. But she expects payment for her assistance, & believing the news reports that he's an escaped murderer, she thinks he should be willing to kill her husband for her. This rather shocking side-tale works so well because well written & delivered with venomous verve by Vida Hope.
As Scotland Yard & Narcy's thugs simultaneously close in on Clem, he makes small effort to get to safety, since he's so intent on getting Narcy. Location shots around ruins of postwar London add to the story's grittiness & realism.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl