Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton. T-MEN is a gripping story about United States Treasury agents working undercover to break a counterfeiting ring.
Dennis O'Brien (Dennis O'Keefe) and Tony Genaro (Alfred Ryder) are the agents posing as mobsters. O'Keefe is particularly good in a serious role which is a long way from the lightweight types he played in films such as MGM's HOLD THAT KISS (1938) a decade earlier.
The crooks they deal with are played by a gallery of superb actors, including Charles McGraw, Wallace Ford, and Jane Randolph (CAT PEOPLE). The film gradually builds to an ultra-suspenseful climax with all the members of the ring gathered on a ship.
The film is justly famous for its tough, unemotional presentation of agents risking all in the line of duty, and it's also highly regarded for Alton's stunning black and white cinematography. There's a marvelous scene early on where an agent walks into a room, reflected in a window, and that's just the beginning of a visually beautiful film depicting the "mean streets" of the Los Angeles area. The film would be worth watching if only to observe the way Alton uses black and white and sets up his shots.
Part of the fun of watching a film like this is the interesting faces who pass by. In this case they include Jim Bannon as Agent Lindsay; marvelous character actor Frank Ferguson as a Secret Service agent working at the L.A. Farmers Market; June Lockhart, who has terrific impact in her single scene as Genaro's wife; and Keefe Brasselle as a desk clerk.
The familiar voice of Reed Hadley is heard narrating the film. Hadley narrated countless docu-noir titles, including THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945), HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948), and THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950).
My daughter mentioned that she didn't care for the constant narration, as it dissipated the tension and pulled her out of the story; her comment made me realize that I like the narration of the docu-noir style for exactly that reason. I appreciate the tension being lessened here and there, and I think I find the "voice of law enforcement" narrator reassuring!
The film was co-produced by Aubrey Schenck; as a side note, the first film produced by Schenck was SHOCK (1946), which I saw last week.
I watched a very good VHS print from the Kino on Video line. (I was sorry to note today that the president of Kino, Donald Krim, has passed away.) T-MEN is also available on DVD and can be rented from Netflix.
March 2014 Update: I had a wonderful chance to see this film in 35mm as part of UCLA's Anthony Mann series.