Conceptually, tonight's entry doesn't have much in common with other film noirs. The plot - two US Treasury agents infiltrate a counterfeit ring and meticulously work their way towards the top - is pretty straightforward cops-and-robbers terrain. But as mentioned here, "if someone asked me to choose one example of what film noir looked like, I would likely sit them down and show them T-Men. Aesthetically it’s simply astonishing."
|Alfred Ryder (Robert Crater from "The Man Trap") and Dennis O'Keefe play the undercover Treasury Agents, Genaro and O'Brien.|
|He throws himself into both the investigation -|
|and buries himself in his undercover persona: a flashy gangster type.|
|Like all "undercover agent" stories, we see him pay the price for committing to the role successfully.|
|Genaro's not so lucky...|
|Charles McGraw, arguably at his grittiest, as the muscle, "Moxie."|
Mary Meade plays the picture-lady at Club Trinidad through whom Agent O'Brien makes contact with the California side of the counterfeit ring.
T-Men opens with the real life Elmer Lincoln Irey (one of the Treasury Agents who brought down Al Capone) telling us that what we're about to see is a composite of real events.
"These are the 6 fingers of the Treasury Department's fist, and that fist hits fair - but hard."
|This scene where they meet is interesting as they go through an elaborate ritual of changing into their gangster duds.|
|"Name's Genaro." "Nice to know you, see?"|
As mentioned above, the real star of the show is the cinematography. Every trick in the book is used to keep your eye glued to the screen.
|The technique calls attention to itself but is used so seamlessly that you barely notice how tricky some of the compositions are.|
|The bath scenes montage is probably the film's most-often cited visual. Understandably so. It was recreated pretty well in Paul Schrader's Blue Collar (1978.)|
|Reflective surfaces are also used to great effect.|
|Just an amazing-looking film.|
One thing I wasn't able to screencap effectively was the pulsing lights of the neon signs outside the windows of some scenes. This became a visual cliche of the genre, but when you see the technique employed in T-Men, it's easy to understand how and why that was the case.
Despite the red-white-and-blue swagger of the narration and the bookend Elmer Irey stuff, T-Men conveys a palpable unease - is all of this really worth it? The narration insists it is; this is the admittedly-high price we pay for a free society. Free = "real" money, though, i.e. fiat currency. America off the gold standard - something very much still in the air at the time (even after World War 2. Perhaps even especially.) Interestingly, the Treasury experts at one point - discussing the high quality of the counterfeiters' contraband - remind the audience that "China invented paper." But not paper currency.