He’s unpolished, but smart.”
So says leading lady Anne Jeffreys of Pat O’Brien playing a very Mike Hammer styled private eye in Panama. Would you believe his character’s name is actually Dan Hammer? The duo find themselves in hot water when parties converge and murders occurs in the search for a map worth a fortune in oil deposits.
This Ted Tetzlaff film under the RKO banner begins with a very effective airport sequence where two men hitch a ride on a cargo plane heading south. One looks the part of a thug and the other a nervous bookish type with a black leather folder under his coat. It’s pretty obvious one is going to take a serious fall and the folder is going to switch hands before the plane lands. You might say that “murder is in the air.”
O’Brien winds up hired to protect the man who gets off the plane with the folder that contains the prize most every character in the script is going to be in search of. This includes O’Brien when Jerome Cowan hires him to find the man he’s already been retained to protect and get the map that should be within the elusive black folder.
When O’Brien’s first client turns up murdered in a tub and the map missing, Walter Slezak happens onto the scene adding another mysterious character to the proceedings.
Like any murder mystery with a private eye as the focal point we’re sure to have a romantic angle within. This time it’s club singer Anne Jeffreys who may be more then she seems as she makes a play for O’Brien and takes a keen interest in his current client and the mysterious map. The two constantly spar with each other delivering verbal jabs and hints of romance as they get themselves deeper in this tale of corrupt characters who kill for the right to claim the map as their own.
Pat plays it tough from the start to finish. He’s quick with his hands and packs a heater just in case. Like any private eye of the genre, he has a touch and go relationship with the local law enforcement and makes enemies easily while attracting a beautiful “dame.” His current mystery won’t be easy to solve and he’s sure to take a hell of a beating once the serious contenders make their presence known. Surely a screen veteran such as Pat can handle the gangsters, claim the map and the tempting beauty as his own.
With the help of a wily scene stealing Percy Kilbride as a local cabbie I think he’ll do just fine. Kilbride aka Pa Kettle is such a natural on screen that it just doesn’t seem as if he’s acting at all. At least he’s always had me fooled if he is.
I got more enjoyment than I expected from this RKO flick that one would almost assume had been meant for a young Robert Mitchum, the studios poster boy for such tales of murder mixed with what we now refer to as Noir. O’Brien does his best here and is savvy with the wise cracks as he was through most of his career. Never a huge supporter of Pat’s I can’t help but point out that if it weren’t for the close ups I’d swear I was watching William Bendix in his role due to the white suit and the ever expanding waistline. Sorry Pat. I just had to say it.
This black and white feature is worth a look and features an appropriately slimy Walter Slezak who is wonderfully captured on film in a tense scene when confronting Cowan over the whereabouts of the prize. Not surprisingly, I caught this on TCM if your going to give it a go.