Hayden plays a totalitarian-minded chief detective whose brutal methods are currently being investigated by bureaucrats intent on making crime easier and policing harder. Dwelling in the loopholes of law and order, these hobgoblins are always the real villains in films with the ultimate goal of undermining what namby-pamby liberal types call checks and balances that are supposed to keep our country from being a police state: elected officials, lawyers and, of course, the press. Against the knee-jerks, the film suggests that the chief's mind is like a vast differential engine, intuiting the deterministic equations in the chaos of criminality where a wavering eyebrow inevitably leads to multiple homicides -- imagine a cross between Harry Callahan and the precogs from Philip K. Dick's The Minority Report. When he tries to explain how he knows that a church-going, family-oriented baker is a copkiller despite having solid character witnesses, airtight alibis and no priors, a fellow detective looks about as comprehending as a neanderthal hearing the obelisk play Ligeti for the first time. Rational deduction becomes mystical, a voodoo conjuring best left to the professional witchdoctors. The audience is assured of the chief's preternatural acumen when Gloria Grahame shows up as the baker's girlfriend in a border town. Anyone who's watched enough film noir knows that dating her means you're guilty of something and will soon die for what you've done. Had this film been made today, it most likely would've been about police brutality and the dangers of trusting those in power, but because it has Joseph Breen's stamp of approval, the "criminals" had to be punished and "cop" was mutually exclusive to "evil." Which means that'll you'll enjoy the film if you tend to wax nostalgic for 1930s Italy or lean left with a masochistic sense of humor.
It's film noir festival time again at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. First up for me was a Sterling Hayden double-feature.