Kind of an exotic film noir in that it’s set in a fictitious island off the Pacific coast of Central America. Robert Taylor is Rigby, a government agent sent to the island to investigate a contraband ring. A couple is suspected, the Hinttens, Elizabeth and Tug (Ava Gardner and John Hodiak). Elizabeth is a night club singer who definitely gets Rigby’s attention. Elizabeth and Tug aren’t exactly an exemplar of a married couple. Also skulking about are ne’er do wells J.J. Bealer (Charles Laughton) and Carwood (Vincent Price). Then there’s Dr. Warren (Samuel S. Hinds), Pablo Gomez (Martin Garralaga).
Rigby’s ready to send a wire for an “immediate raid” but hesitates. His flashback serves as an explanation. He meets Carwood on the plane down to Carlotta. Arriving at the hotel we get a look at Bealer, aka, ‘the pie-faced man,’ and Elizabeth. I can’t understand why Rigby’s narration is in the second person; it doesn’t sound right, as though he’s giving advice or received wisdom on a recurring event, instead of telling his particular story. Anyway, Tug rolls in, exceedingly drunk, as Rigby is chatting up his wife in her dressing room; “undehydrate yourself, tourist” he says to Rigby.
The next night, a sober Tug invites Rigby to dinner. He’s oddly friendly, as though he has an agenda. Rigby checks up on and checks out Elizabeth–they go swimming, and more. Carwood shows up at the hotel; Bealer offers a bribe–The Bribe. Figuring that Carwood is up to something too, Rigby invites him fishing the next day. Carwood tries to kill Rigby by suddenly accelerating the boat, propelling Rigby overboard just as he’s reeling in a shark. The boatman Emilio (Tito Renaldo) is killed, but Rigby’s saved.
Pablo (Emilio’s father) has it in for Carwood and Beeler. Meanwhile, Elizabeth pretty much tells Rigby that she’s in love with him. Conveniently, a doctor tells Elizabeth that Tug’s heart is bad. Now Bealer is back in the picture, upping the bribe, and, strangely, admitting to the graft scheme.
Next day, Pablo takes Rigby out to follow Tug’s boat. In a little cove, they hear airplane engines–obviously evidence of the contraband ashore nearby. Pie-face gets Rigby’s attention by telling him that Elizabeth’s in trouble; that is, with the law–technically, because the smuggling boat is in her name. So, now, Bealer’s deal is blackmail. He bumbles it somewhat; the flashback’s over, anyway.
Naturally, Bealer shows up at the Hintenn’s. Elizabeth wants to get Tug out of Carlotta; but he tells her both bits of unwanted news: “Hintenn’s a crook, Rigby’s a cop.” His angle is of course to use her to get Rigby out of the picture with “a little bottle of something.” He’s not exactly wrong to say that Rigby’s “making a play for you is part of his job.” But Rigby didn’t necessarily envision falling for her.
Rigby hasn’t lost his charm for her, though. They have to come clean with each other to have trust; now both Bealer and Rigby’s voices are hovering in their thoughts. Carwood and Bealer meet up “We’ll probably have to kill him (Rigby)” Carwood figures. The immediate question is whether Elizabeth doctors Rigby’s drink. Why does she do it? “I was selling out for you…You outsmarted yourself, baby” he says, bitterly. He’s right.
Carwood goes to Tug’s bedside to pay him off. They argue about Rigby and Elizabeth; Carwood suffocates him, Beeler and Elizabeth show up, but too late. She wants to get to Rigby, but pie-face intervenes. Pablo, looking for Rigby, glimpses Bealer and Carwood. Rigby’s finally back in business; he catches up with Elizabeth, she tells him that Tug died. Bealer is conveniently hiding in a closet “You’re no gun animal” Philby taunts him, and gets his gun. Beeler knows that Carwood killed Hintten.
Rigby sends Beeler to tell Carwood that Elizabeth knows about her husband’s murder. The contraband has been found anyway “Nobody gets anything!” gripes Carwood. Meanwhile, all’s well with the happy couple. Rigby confronts Carwood, they basically want to shoot each other, but Carwood kills the lights.
The festival in town masks the commotion, as Carwood tries to lose Rigby in the crowded streets. Down at the pier, where the chase ends up, Carwood is finally nailed, framed by a fitting display of fireworks, as though he’s fallen into hell.
This worked thanks to good atmosphere, and Gardner and Taylor making a plausible couple. Price and Laughton played their usual strong oddball selves. The premise and plot were fine too, but the pacing lags quite a bit; as mentioned, the narration’s a distraction, almost caricaturing the drama.
Farmermouse thought that the fireworks were cool, so he gives The Bribe seven pinwheels. 7/10