It isn't his best, but this 1953 feature may be the archetypal Sam Fuller film, a condensation of his themes and techniques with the steam still rising. As Fuller's typically perverse, pigheaded hero—a pickpocket who accidentally lifts a roll of top-secret microfilm—Richard Widmark draws on the snickering, psychotic style that first made him a star as a heavy. Fuller's didacticism is fully vented, as is his flair for chunky, racking violence: the film contains an unforgettable image of a thug's chin being bounced rhythmically down a flight of stairs. There's an excellent, layered performance from Thelma Ritter, an actress generally given to cartoonishness. With Jean Peters and Richard Kiley. 80 min.
By Dave Kehr