Burt Lancaster (of later "The Sweet Smell of Success" fame) stars in his film debut as "The Swede", given the names of Pete Lund and later, Ole Andreson. He is only in one scene before he is gunned down by two memorable hitmen (after being shown to be very accepting of his fate). His backstory is then shown through a series of flashbacks, as his murder is investigated. In these scenes, Lancaster has undeniable presence, but is stil a bit more humble then he is in later iconic roles, despite his size. He has a quick temper though, and is quick to resort to violence, and I have to say his punches look pretty painful.
The femme fatale of this piece is Kitty Collins, played by Ava Gardener. Like many noir femmes, she's a singer. She's a standard yet well-executed femme; deception and allurement are her stock in trade. Gardener brings a dark kind of beauty to the role; you believe it when men fall over themselves to do time for her or be backstabbed by her. I'd even say she's a strong female character, though she posesses dubious morality; she's willing to tell even gangsters to step off.
This film is a character piece, not just of Andreson and those immediately related to him, but other characters too. These include the hitmen that gun down Andreson, who are very distinct; they are sinister but prone to running their mouth a bit. Also important to the story is Big Jim Colfax, the crime boss that Andreson runs with in his past. He plans out possibly the best idea for a heist that I've ever seen, and I am not being superlative (okay, I am, but I mean it.)
The main theme of this film, I'd say is new beginnings, and how unstable they inherently are. If you've seen "Out of the Past", you'd know that some film noirs love this trope. By the time the events of the beginning occur Kitty Collins has married a respectable husband and has settled into a respectable life, but the past is always there, waiting to catch up with her. Big Jim Colfax has a similar situation: he has gone into legitimate business, but ultimately suffers the fallout from his former life. This film is another in the noir pantheon that espouses cynicism when it comes to the "fresh start" concept. There are no clean breaks, not in this life.
Best Line: "Don't ask a dying man to lie his soul into Hell," said sternly by Sam Levene (who also appeared in "The Sweet Smell of Success").