The Undercover Man (1949)
Four years before Harry Cohn turned Glenn Ford loose in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat he assigned him to this Robert Rossen production from director Joseph H. Lewis. Although this film doesn’t come close to packing the punch of the later film this one is very similar in plot. Ford plays a young government agent out to bring down the head of a syndicate operation. His character Frank Warren isn’t quite as tough minded as his Dave Bannion character from Heat but regardless of personal beatings or threats against his wife Nina Foch he is determined to bring his man to justice.
Standing in his way is a slippery syndicate lawyer wonderfully played by Barry Kelley who does a nice job of relaying the threats and bribes to Ford. Assisting Ford in the case is a favorite of mine making his film debut James Whitmore. Our two detectives begin cracking down on the “numbers” racket which leads them to another well known screen gangster, Anthony Caruso who happens to have a set of books that Ford would like to get his hands on. Also in the cast is Leo Penn, father of Sean and Chris who is also tied in with the case.
Director Lewis does a good job with the material and stages a daring daylight hit on one of the above mentioned actors climaxing in a thrilling demise on a crowded city street. Lewis was a solid studio director and went on to do a great Noir film, The Big Combo in 1955. A nice bit of trivia is that the opening scene of the film is narrated by actor John Ireland although he isn’t actually in the picture. You may categorize this as a “B” product from Columbia studios but don’t pass on it if you get a chance. Glenn Ford was really one of Columbia’s best contract players for many years and I feel he has been overlooked far to often. Ford could play most genre’s with ease. From cop films and westerns to comedy or romance he turned up in many enjoyable films throughout his lengthy career including a nice turn as Pa Kent opposite Christoper Reeve’s Superman in 1978.