If you want to know where the ‘The Usual Suspects’ or ‘Reservoir Dogs’ came from, look no further than this ‘heist-gone-wrong’ movie, John Huston’s greatest noir thriller, released in a fine new print. Adapted from WR Burnett’s pulp novel, it assembles a motley bunch of Midwestern hoods for a ‘perfect’ $1 million diamond robbery, including Sterling Hayden’s hulking hardman, the inimitable Sam Jaffe’s evil mastermind and Louis Calhern’s duplicitous lawyer (‘Some sweet girl,’ he croons wistfully at the angel on the couch, the iridescent young Marilyn in her first part). Exciting and tautly directed – the lengthy robbery scenes are exemplary – it’s moody to the dying frame, emphasised by Harold Rosson’s lighting of trash-filled back-alleys and half-lit clip joints and Miklós Rozsa’s haunting theme music. But, although the malaise and moral corruption it describes runs as socially deep as any of Fritz Lang’s noirs, it’s Huston’s irony and his attention to character, the villain’s thwarted professionalism and, albeit misguided, ambition, that deepens it, ensuring the pastoral ending’s pathetic force and emotional kick.
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