“I don’t do much business with preachers”
Ray Milland is Lucifer, alias Nick Beal ‘Agent’, who, with the help of b-girl Audrey Totter goes shopping for the soul of honest DA and aspiring governer Thomas Mitchell. Add to the mix smart direction from John Farrow, a killer script from Jonathon Latimer, superb noir lensing by Lionel Lindon, and a haunting score from Franz Waxman. Garnish with a bespectacled George Macready cast against type as a reverend running a boy’s club, and you have a thoroughly entertaining melodrama. Milland dominates as Beelzebub in a sharp suit and rakish fedora. He slaps, ices, insinuates, and connives a swathe through the earnest life of Joseph Foster DA, after with his help Foster naively cuts a legal corner in nailing a hood. The mis-en-scene is canny, and particularly inspired is the use of a seedy wharf-side bar as Nick’s ‘office.’ The only weakness is the bible-saves ending, though Nick is left free to disappear into a harbor fog to corrupt other souls.
The story offers an intriguing twist to the noir punishment and redemption motifs. Nick has a written contract for the DA’s soul – vetted as enforceable by his global legal team – which will only be triggered if when-push-comes-to-shove Foster does the right thing by a public mea-culpa and renouncing of his ill-gotten gains. A wily trap indeed. The jaws snap shut at the instant of redemption. But a noir ending would have had the hapless DA disappearing into the fog en-route to the Island of Almas Perdidas.