If we’re to believe the story that Edward G. Robinson got into a fisticuff altercation with George Raft on the set of Manpower way back in 1941, both actors must have let bygones be bygones for this late career entry for both parties that utilizes their gangland personas that if truth be told, came a good 10-14 years to late.
It’s a Canadian backdrop in this Lewis Allen directed feature that sees Montreal taking center stage though I suspect the leading stars never set foot north of the border. Eddie is a Montreal police inspector investigating the murder of an RCMP officer and it’s connection to a scientist who we’re never quite sure what it is he’s working on. Espionage mixes with gangsters when foreign agent for an unnamed country, Peter Van Eyck hires exiled gangster George Raft to come in from Lisbon to Montreal under an alias to ensure delivery of the scientist, George Dolenz into his eagerly waiting hands.
Raft decides to bring in his old flame and Noir favorite Audrey Totter to capture the eye of our scientist while Eddie G. finds the killings connected to the man with the lab coat have been upped to three. While Totter romances Dolenz, Raft keeps a low profile at the appropriately named Maple Leaf Farm and Eddie turns this flick into a police procedural as his department uses modern sciences of the day to solve the killings. There’s just too many Americans hanging around the old city of Montreal for Eddie’s comfort and he’s taken a definite interest in Miss Totter as well. She too is an American which gives Eddie pause to her real intentions. Totter of course falls for the chess playing scientist and wants nothing more than to back out of her cash agreement with the tough talking Raft.
“Women make it a pleasure to be a man.” So says dog faced Eddie when referencing Totter to Canada’s most sought after scientist. Eddie believes that whatever lab secrets Dolenz is working on is the reason for the killings and puts a shadow on him. The plot will evolve to the point that Eddie and Raft will share a scene together but it’s no Pacino/De Niro clip ala Heat. Still the pair are a couple of Hollywood legends in the gangster genre and should be looked upon as such.
“If we cannot have him, no one will.” When Van Eyck utters that line, Raft will come to realize he’s been a pawn in a game of espionage and as if he’s playing opposite Cagney in Each Dawn I Die, is going to fight the good fight at the fade out and “SPOILER ALERT” in a rather corny ending, dies in the arms of Eddie. But we knew all along he wasn’t going to make the closing credits.
“When Scarface clashes with Little Caesar.”
That headline isn’t exactly correct that the film’s trailer splashes across the screen for the purpose of advertising. While Eddie is indeed Little Caesar, Raft wasn’t Scarface. That honor goes to Paul Muni though Raft was in the film to great acclaim. It’s a case of Hollywood rewriting history for the purpose of making a buck. Had the film been made during the time both actors were in their Warner Brothers contract days of the early 1940’s, this film would have been best served as a propaganda feature against the axis powers. Much like Bogart’s All Through the Night. The target audience or rather subject this time around is the cold war scare though the film never once admits just who Van Eyck is working for so I we’ll have to take an educated guess it’s the Russians or what Dolenz is exactly doing behind the lab door.
Eddie of course had his run ins with the witch hunts of HUAC so perhaps it was a conscious decision to take up a role where he’s defending us good Canadians from gangsters and supposedly Communist infiltrations.
A Bullet For Joey is the final of five films in a superb Noir box set I’ve covered here from Kino Lorber. The other four titles included are Big House U.S.A, Storm Fear, Witness to Murder and He Ran All the Way.