Mickey Rooney and Film Noir would seem to be another one of his bad marriages, and if it did happen it would be a Hollywood gimmick. It happened several times. After World War II, Rooney was looking to restart his career and present himself as some other than an aging child star. Film Noir might be Rooney’s proper vehicle. In anti-hero style, he made a fortune then, through multiple divorces, drinking, gambling and carousing with women he wasn’t married to, he lost a fortune. So, how did it go?
The credits are classic Noir; loud moody music, a night setting with waves crashing on the beach. Then comes the first scene and we wonder what’s going on. At Gus’ Place, a neighborhood diner, Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney) a mechanic, is having lunch with his friends, co-worker Chuck (Wally Cassell) and charter boat worker Buzz (Jimmie Dodd). They are talking about girls. Talking about girls with Chuck and Buzz. (Yikes.)
After four years in the navy, Dan doesn’t want an anchor, a respectable girl, he wants excitement. In walks a blonde with an I’m-not-in-your-league attitude. Vera (Jeanne Cagney) is the new cashier. She resists Dan’s charm until he invites her out to the Music Box to see Red Nichols and His Five Pennies (a real group).
Dan and Chuck return to work and Dan realizes that he’s broke. He calls Buzz to ask for the $20 he loaned him. (Multiply all dollars amounts by 10; $20 is about half a week’s wages.) Buzz can’t pay him until the next day. Unable to get any money, Dan puts his first foot into the quicksand. With an audit of his register two days off, Dan decides to take the money and replace it the next day.
Dressed and ready for a night out, Dan, in his jalopy, pulls up just as Vera is leaving work and with sexually charged banter, the Noir kicks in. Vera wants to go shopping. He drives her to shop window to see the $2000 mink coat she wants. Dan must be thinking, Screwy dame. The Music Box is closed on Mondays. Vera takes him to an arcade where she used to work.
There is obviously unpleasant history between the arcade owner Nick (Peter Lorre) and Vera. Nick catches her and Dan making out in the photo booth and runs them off. During a walk on the beach, Vera tells Dan that at sixteen she ran away from West Virginia. It seems that she might be a sympathetic character.
The next day, back at work, Dan finds that the bookkeeper has shown up two days early. Desperate, he runs down the street looking for a way to get money. At Jay Jewelry Store he buys a $100 watch for a dollar down and $10 a month. He immediately hocks it for $30 then manages to slip the $20 into the money bag satisfy the bookkeeper. Almost immediately a cop (John Gallaudet) shows up and, knowing what Dan did, explains that selling property with a lien holder is fraud. He gives Dan until noon tomorrow to pay of the watch.
Dan tries to hock his car to Jack For Your Old Hack but he isn’t offered enough so he does the logical thing and goes to a bar. Next to him, and very drunk, is a man called Shorty (Sidney Marion) who runs a bingo parlor and is carrying a lot of money. Dan follows the man into the parking lot, covers his face with a white handkerchief and robs him. Seen by a witness, he jumps a fence, removes the money and throws the wallet and the handkerchief in the garbage.
Hurrying out of the alley, he runs into Helen and her friend Millie (Patsy O’Connor). The girls separate so Helen can be with Dan. After buying Helen an ice cream, he runs off on her to join Vera.
In the Arcade, Dan finds Nick struggling with Vera, wanting the $50 he says she owes him. She claims it was a gift. Dan doesn’t want her owing him anything so he throws a fifty dollar bill at Nick. Dan takes Vera to the Music Bar, he claims to have won it playing craps. It’s common knowledge in the neighborhood that Shorty carries fifties and she has heard about the robbery. (Nick has also connected Dan to the robbery.)
The next day Dan pays off the watch. Nick found Dan’s mask and uses it for blackmail. He wants a new car from the garage where Dan works. Once again desperate, he leaves the bathroom window open, breaks in that night and gets the car to Nick.
When he goes to work the next morning the garage owner, Markey (Art Smith), tells Dan that he knows he stole the car and he wants it back tomorrow or $3000 for a car that lists at $1950. Dan finds Vera at Gus’ Place, where she still works, and asks her to go to Texas with him. As he drives her home he tells her everything. She knows where they can get that kind of money; rob Nick. He keeps enough to cash paychecks.
While Vera waits by the car, she sends Dan in to get the money. Dan is not a practiced burglar. He makes enough noise to alert the night watchman. Dan gets shot at but makes an escape. Back at Vera’s room they count out $3610. The Landlady (Minerva Urecal) catches them together and runs Dan off.
The next day Dan makes arrangements to meet that night with Mackey in his office. When Dan is finally able find Vera, he meet her in her room. She is wearing the mink coat. She tells him that she bought it with her share of the money. Dan’s life is slipping from his control. Vera tells him to take what’s left and offer it to Mackey; she got a $2000 mink coat for $1800.
Dan takes what money is left and tells Mackey to take it or leave it. Mackey takes it then picks up the phone to call the police while holding a gun on Dan. Dan jumps across the desk and, in the fight, strangles Mackey.
Outside Vera’s, he runs into Chuck and Helen arm in arm. Chuck tells him that he quit Mackey because he accused him of stealing the car and he either wanted the car back or $3000.
In Vera’s room, Dan tells her what has happened and again she refuses to go to Texas. He sees her for what she is; selfish and corrupt. As he leaves, the cops are coming up the stairs; Dan runs the other way. While he is hiding on the ledge with Mackey’s gun, the police serve a search warrant on Vera. She assumes they’re looking for Dan. She rambles on about dead body; she doesn’t notice they’re looking through drawers. Thinking that Dan may be hiding in the closet, they find the mink coat. Vera tells them that she bought it with her own money and shows them the receipt. Nick figured she was involved in the robbery and the police work out that the $1800 was her half of the money.
Dan makes his way to his car where Helen is waiting. She too had figured out that he had robbed Shorty. He tries to get her to leave but she refuses. They are making plans to go to Mexico when the car breaks down. At a stoplight they jump in the back of a man’s car and Dan tells him to drive. The man turns out to be Harvey (Taylor Holmes), a sympathetic lawyer. Dan confesses to try and save Helen. Harvey raises the possibility that Mackey might not be dead.
Dan’s next plan is to catch Buzz’s boat at the Santa Monica Pier and get to Mexico by sea. Helen wants to go with him but he assures her that he will send for her after he’s established himself there. He leaves Helen with Harvey, who promises to wait a while before calling the police.
The police are at the boat questioning Buzz. Harvey and Helen turn on the radio. After a scare, hearing that all exits from the city are blocked, they here that they’re looking for a cop killer. The next report announces that Mackey survived and named Dan as his assailant.
Missing the boat, the police on the Pier come on Dan. After a frantic chase, where Dan drops his gun, Dan is shot in the shoulder. Harvey’s car to take Dan to the hospital. Once they catch Dan up on the events, Harvey figures that he’ll get from one to ten years, but as a first time offender, it will probably be closer to a year. Helen promises to wait. A year or two in prison is presented as a Hollywood happy ending.
Lacking in intensity and claustrophobic atmosphere, this movie is not a classic but watching it is not a waste of time. It does need to be pointed out that a body count of zero is nearly unheard of in the Land of Noir.