Film noir! The genre of femme fatales, moral ambiguity, doomed antiheroes. Stories where one bad decision can leave its mark on the rest of someone’s life, forced to run from shadows as they desperately attempt to make amends for an act of weakness in the heat of passion. But also, sometimes, the genre where Broderick Crawford can go undercover, smash up the entire criminal underworld and get a happy ending? Maybe?
Whether The Mob qualifies as true noir is certainly debatable — it’s really more of a straightforward crime thriller. But the opening scene certainly fits: Crawford plays Johnny Damico, an off-duty cop who stumbles into a shooting on the rain-slicked streets of an unnamed city. The killer is still on the scene, but after he flashes a police badge and gives a name and a believable story, Damico dispatches him to the nearby burger joint to call it in. The only problem is that the badge was stolen from a murdered cop, and the burger joint has a back door.
And so, Damico has made his One Big Mistake. Resigned to his fate, he reports back to headquarters for a classic “not angry, just disappointed” lecture and prepares for unemployment or a return to the army. But the commissioner has other ideas; an official suspension and a fake picture in the papers will be the cover for Johnny — the only person who has seen the killer — to go undercover and seek him out. And so he becomes “Tim Flynn, a middle-sized crook from New Orleans,” flown out on the next plane and shipped back with a phony criminal record to start figuring out the gossip from the local dockers.
Damico’s low-key nature, sweet devotion to his fiancé and resignation to his fate don’t mark him out as the ideal candidate for a rough-and-tumble undercover job, but as soon as he gets off the boat—- shorn of his regulation police moustache, and followed onto dry land by the belligerent yells of the guy who has had to put up with “Tim Flynn” for a week — he’s a revelation. With a rowdy new personality and an answer for everything, he forces his way into a job and starts working his way up.
The Mob is the kind of movie where pretty much every character looks like they’ve only slept a couple of hours in their life, whether they’re on the right or the wrong side of the law. There’s some casting magic at work here; the fresh young face among the dock workers turns out to be an uncredited Charles Bronson, and when our undercover hero throws his weight around a little too much, he attracts the attention of mob middle-manager Ernest Borgnine. The smaller names are all similarly rough around the edges, and Tim Flynn fits in perfectly, never missing a beat when confronted with the next bit of trouble.
It’s a blast how much twisty undercover plot The Mob fits into its 86 minutes, and once he makes his transformation into Flynn, Crawford barely stops running his mouth off for a second…except for when he’s bruising his way through a couple of really well-shot action scenes, or being subjected to unconventional torture methods from his corrupt former colleagues. His progress through the criminal underworld has a couple of killer twists and the big final scene keeps the stakes high right to the very end… Well, almost to the very end, as there’s a goofy final scene that might leave a sour taste if this did lean fully into the noir tropes. But in a film like this, that puts thrills ahead of all else, it just about works.
The Mob is not a film I’d ever heard talked about before pulling it out of a noir box set — it’s the directorial debut of Robert Parrish, who made the more consistently noir-y Cry Danger the same year and went on to be one of the many directors who contributed to the original Casino Royale. He does solid work here, especially in the action scenes, but it’s the sharp script and Crawford’s committed performance in the lead that really escalate it. It really caught me off guard, and it’s up there with the best films I’ve seen all year — and while I’d recommend the beautifully crisp blu-ray, it’s also on YouTube in full.