CUSTOMS AGENT 1950
This is another of the many "Government Law Enforcement Agency" films that were popular during the late 1940's and early 50's. These films had titles like T-Men, Revenue Agent, C-Man and Federal Agent at Large.
This one has the Customs Service on the trail of drug smugglers. They are bringing heroin into the States and then smuggling Streptomycin back to the Orient. Streptomycin was a highly controlled wonder drug in the 50's. This anti-biotic was worth a fortune in the Orient and was in big demand. The Government wants the trade stopped but have been unable to catch those responsible.
The film starts with the Customs detachment stationed in Shanghai, China. A Customs agent is ambushed and shot dead. The man's partner, William Eythe, who should have been with him, was out drinking at a club. He is blamed for his partner's death and very publicly fired by the local boss, Jim Backus, and thrown out of the Customs Service.
Eythe now goes on a month long bender to end all benders. The whole time he is drowning himself in booze he has a man following him. As Eythe's money runs low, so does his choice of drinking establishments. He finally ends up at a dive named, "The Golden Rat", there he passes out and is gobbled up by several large gentlemen who take him for a ride.
He wakes up in a fancy apartment with a splitting hangover. A man, Howard St John, gives him a large coffee and asks if he would like a job. "What kind of pay" are the first words out of Eythe. St. John smiles, then responds with. "Many thousands".
Eythe asks for several days to sober up before he gives an answer. He heads back to his flea bag rooms to crash. There he is meet by Griff Barnett, (He is named Charles McGraw in the film!) an old family friend. Barnett, a importer of small toys etc to the U.S. is concerned about Eythe's fall from grace. "Not to worry, I believe I have found a job!" Eythe meets with St. John and accepts the job offer. St John needs someone who know the ins and out of how the Customs boys operate. He has some small "items" he would like delivered Stateside. The pay is half the value of the items. Ship passage to the States is arranged and a salary advance handed over.
Eythe heads to the bar to celebrate and asks for a private room. There he meets with Jim Backus and we find out the death of his partner, as well as his firing, was all a ploy. It was a ruse to seek entry into the mob.
Eythe arranges it so he can smuggle the heroin into the States in-order to prove his worth to the mob. On the ship, he meets Marjorie Reynolds who is a mob employee assigned to keep a "close" eye on Eythe.
The ship docks on the West Coast and Eythe sails through customs. He then pulls a fast one on the mob and bolts with their heroin. The mob figures he plans to sell the drugs himself and keep the cash. They are not amused. Eythe meets with his Customs contact and they plan a scam arrest for the heroin. They give Eythe a large wad of cash to flash around. They then hold a fake arrest of one of their undercover agents on drug charges. This of course hits the newspapers. The mob figures Eythe sold the drugs and got away before being arrested himself.
The mob finds Eythe at a low rent hotel and grabs him up for a friendly chat. He hands over the cash and says he was just making sure he got his cut. St John and Reynolds are furious and all for giving him the deep six. In walks Griff Barnet who we soon discover is really the big boss of the operation. He appreciates initiative, but tells Eythe that any further examples will result in a bullet to the back of the head.
Now they get down to planning the job to get hold of the streptomycin for the return to the Orient. They have the route of a drug factory delivery truck from an inside man. They will hit the truck, load the booty onto a waiting ship, then back to China for the payoff.
The robbery goes bad and the truck driver is killed. St John's henchmen, Denver Pyle and John Doucette, take great pleasure in the murder as Eythe helplessly looks on. Eythe then manages to get word to his contact about the mob shipping arrangements. The Coast Guard and Customs boys swoop in as the mob tries to load the drugs onto the ship. The mandatory fistfight and blazing gun battle ensues before the nasty types are dispatched and the survivors rounded up.
A middle of the road programmer from Columbia pictures that runs just over an hour and is, IMO, a decent time-waster.
William Eythe had roles in OX-BOW INCIDENT, SPECIAL AGENT and THE HOUSE ON 92ND ST. Griff Barnett was in THE GANGSTER, THE SELLOUT, SAIGON, POSSESSED, CRISS CROSS and ARENLO AFFAIR. Marjorie Reynolds was in MINISTRY OF FEAR, HIS KIND OF WOMAN and of course was Peg, in THE LIFE OF RILEY. John Doucette seemed to have bits in every second film and TV show so I will not bother to list them all.
The director was Seymoir Friedman whose work included, ESCAPE ROUTE, PRISON WARDEN, CHINATOWN AT MIDNIGHT and LOAN SHARK. The d of p was Phil Tannura who lensed THE MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER, HI-JACKED and NIGHT EDITOR. Screenplay was by Russell Hughes who did THIS SIDE OF THE LAW.