Homicide Sgt Dave Bannion (Ford), a seemingly wholesome family man, investigates a fellow officer's suicide. Lifting the lid off the garbage can, he uncovers a world where megalomaniac crime bosses, police commissioners and city councillors share the same poker table, and all opposition is put on the payroll. Pulled off the case and suspended from duty, personal tragedy and a growing contempt for his peers lead him into a vengeful vendetta that equates his actions with those of his enemies. Lang strips down William P McGivern's novel to essentials, giving the story a narrative drive as efficient and powerful as a handgun. The dialogue is functional.
Every shot is composed with economy and exactitude, no act gratuitous. The most celebrated scene, where Marvin's psychopathic gangster mutilates his moll Grahame's face with scalding coffee, is remarkable in that you never see him do it; the contract killings are also sex murders, but again unseen. Bannion's redemption comes as he (and we) are moved by the courage of others; a crippled woman gives him a lead, a band of old army chums protect his daughter, and finally Grahame, in whose retributive act lies his purgation.