Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Bribe (1949)

High-gloss, late-studio era film noir from MGM, about a Federal agent (Robert Taylor) sent to South America to arrest a group of crooks who have been defrauding the government by selling recycled war plane motors on the black market. When he arrives in the town of Carlota, he gets involved with a sultry, mysterious nightclub singer (Ava Gardner), who happens to be married to the chief suspect in his investigation.

This is one of those films that is so well-made at every level, with such care and precision typical of the studio system, that every strand of hair, every bead of sweat seems to be arranged perfectly in its place. Yet this does not detract from its dark and menacing tone. Directed by longtime MGM stalwart Robert Z. Leonard, it's a highly effective mystery-thriller, greatly aided by the performances of Vincent Price and Charles Laughton as the villains. This is not one of Laughton's greatest roles, but he still does his usually fine job as the fat, pathetic crook who has turned to crime just to get by.

Even at 98 minutes, the plot drags a bit at times, though it is consistently entertaining, with nice cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg and an atmospheric (if at times a little too busy) score by Miklos Rosza. The highlight is a climactic showdown between Taylor and Price amidst a shower of fireworks, a visually stunning set-piece, though it is Laughton who quietly walks away with the film's great, last line.

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