A neat film noir in which US Treasury agents set out to catch a counterfeiter, this begins in documentary style. The Treasury has many roles, customs, coastguard, the investigation of fraud … and the printing of money. There are shots of real money being printed and checked. A didactic voice-over reminds us that it is the public’s duty to look out for counterfeit notes. But what happens to those notes that are found?

One of them is taken to a prison where Tris Stewart (Lloyd Bridges) is serving time for counterfeiting. He had notes just like this one on him when he was arrested. Someone still has the plates and is circulating notes, so, with seven years still to serve, will Tris co-operate in tracking down the culprit?

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He refuses the offer, but soon afterwards he manages to escape and goes after the culprit himself. Arriving in LA, he finds his old girlfriend Meg, now calling herself Laurie (Barbara Payton, in her first major role). She is working as a cigarette girl in a nightclub (an early bit of blatant product placement for Chesterfield). In true noir style, Tris says: “We’ll work fast. We’ll strike, then Mexico.” But the couple are being bugged by the Treasury agents, helped by one of their number (John Hoyt) posing as a conman, Johnny Hackett.

The plates are now in the hands of Jack Sylvester (James Todd). Johnny lets Laurie know that he’s loaded, and together Tris, Laurie and Jack hatch a plot to relieve him of his money in exchange for counterfeit notes which they can all spend down in Mexico.

All this is beautifully shot and will not disappoint noir fans with its superb lighting and stylish camerawork. With time, the outdoor scenes become increasingly fascinating, the clean, traffic-free streets and quaint shop signs are a bonus. There is a delightful chase sequence which ends with the cops crashing into the picket fence of a house – in central LA!

The soundtrack is also a treat, with plenty of jazz, giving way to the essential full orchestra for the most dramatic sequences. The final chase takes place in a trolley car depot, allowing for the changes of level and the confined spaces which are also a requirement of this genre.

As was the fashion at the time, there’s no hanging around with the ending. A dramatic climax is followed by a brief next day scene in the office where the T-men congratulate themselves on a job well done: “Well I guess that closes the Stewart case.” The End.

I wouldn’t call this one a classic, but it’s worth seeing if you like this kind of thing. Lloyd Bridges makes an energetic hero, Barbara Payton is less of an actor but provides the melodramatic eye candy.

Reviewed on: 08 Apr 2009
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A convicted counterfeiter tries to track down his former associates in the hopes of making off with their cash.
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Director: Richard Fleischer

Writer: Earl Felton, George Zuckerman

Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt, James Todd, Russ Conway, Robert Karnes, Fred Graham, Harry Antrim, Lucille Barkley, Ralph Brooks

Year: 1949

Runtime: 78 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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