The film starts as the kind of jaunty musical Bing Crosby might do, (and did do with Birth of the Blues). Then our gang of musicians - inc. Priscilla Lane (Arsenic and Old Lace), Jack Carson and Elia Kazan - arrive at a dive called The Jungle, where many of the classic Noir elements are waiting, including Lloyd Nolan. This may be his best performance, and yet it's not the most memorable acting in the film.
"I'd slap you in the mouth if I thought it would do you any good."
That's Nolan on the left. His character here is just as likely to slap you as pat you on the back. He's your best friend... so long as he likes you. He doesn't have the imposing look of the gangster greats (Cagney and Robinson) but he's just as good with mixing charm and menace. He keeps you on your toes and whichever way he bends, believe me he means it. Sometimes, he even threatens with a barely suppressed chuckle, like being told by your closest pal that he won't hesitate throwing you off a cliff.
On the right is Betty Field, playing a 2nd rate singer and a 1st rate femme fatale. Field is an apple-cheeked, trashy version of Ann Sheridan. In classic femme style she knows exactly how far she can bend a man without breaking them. She knows when to play hurt and when to attack. There's the underlying motivation of the one thing she wants and can't have, which is why she goes after everything else in sight.
This is happier and more musical than pure Noir - the band have a joyful chemistry - but it definitely hangs out on the dark side of the street so that near the end, there's nobody who I comfortably felt was going to get away safe.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½