Directed by Irving Reis and based on a story by Fredric Brown that was adapted by John Paxton Ben Bengal and Ray Spencer this average film noir drama stars Pat O’Brien Claire Trevor and Herbert Marshall (among others). O’Brien plays George Steele a man who is ‘caught’ breaking into a museum by a police officer who subdues him. It is then learned that Steele is an art forgery expert who gives lectures at the museum much to the chagrin of Mr. Barton (Erskine Sanford) the nervous head of the museum. A disoriented Steele then tells a story about having been in a train wreck while going to visit his sick and dying mother. The police detective Lieutenant Cochrane (Wallace Ford) is skeptical about Steele’s story. Others listening in include his longtime girlfriend Terry Cordell (Trevor); Dr. Lowell (a psychiatrist?) played by Ray Collins who’s helps Steele recall his story (shown in an extensive flashback sequence) and is also a member of the museum board; Barton and a man named Traybin (Marshall) who’d earlier been introduced to Steele by Terry as a potential donor (her job at the museum consists of schmoozing and soliciting donations from rich philanthropists) but who also admits that he worked for the British in much the same capacity as Steele during the war (trying to detect forgeries among the paintings confiscated by the Nazi’s). We quickly learn that Lt. Cochrane takes ‘orders’ from Traybin as well. A couple of other characters are also introduced Dean Harens as Reynolds a wealthy philanthropist who scowls during Steele’s lecture to the public about his trade and later throws a party; Damian O’Flynn as Stevenson a friend of Steele’s who’s later murdered for what he learns; and Mary Ware playing a character of the same name who works for Mr. Barton.
There’s not a lot of mystery intrigue or substance to the plot which deals with whether the museum has recently exhibited forgeries that had been substituted for the originals. O’Brien didn’t encourage a lot of interest in this style of film (at least for me) either; Trevor’s character seems to have little place or purpose besides providing a confusion factor for O’Brien’s in relation to Marshall’s. In the end it’s just a simple story about a thief (and his accomplice); the false character meant to throw the viewer off the trail (e.g. Reynolds) hardly appears at all though Sanford’s character does for one scene. When the criminal is revealed it’s neither an ‘oh my’ surprise nor is his motivation for murder entirely satisfactory; his accomplice’s actions made no sense either (e.g. why would the accomplice help Steele to learn what was already known before taking him to the murderer?).