The film [from the novel by David Goodis] has a sharp, brutal opening, macabre touches throughout, and a thick, gruesome quality. What starts out as a thriller switches en route into a sagging, psychological drama, but recovers in time to give out with the satisfying gory stuff. Lauren Bacall’s charm and Humphrey Bogart’s ruggedness count heavily in a strange treatment of a murder story, which if it doesn’t withstand scrutiny, does sustain mood and interest.
Scripting is superior and dialog frequently crackles. Direction is smart, with suggestion of the impressionistic approach. What begins as an apparent imitation of the Lady in the Lake technique with the central figure speaking but not being visible to the audience, explains itself part way into the film in a clever fashion. Bogart isn’t shown at the start because he’s supposed to look like someone else. When a doctor has done a plastic surgery job on him to hide him from the police, and he looks the familiar Bogart, the point of his late appearance in the film is evident.
Pic is a story of a man imprisoned on circumstantial evidence for the murder of his wife, his escape from jail, and the efforts of a girl to help him, because her father similarly had suffered unjust imprisonment.
Bacall, in a simple, unglamorous pose at the start, even then has a pleasant appeal, that hypoes intensely as soon as the old, sultry makeup and sexy charm are turned on. Bogart is impressive in something of a lack-lustre character for him. Agnes Moorehead is sufficiently vicious as the discarded femme who turns killer, giving the film some of its most vivid moments.