Nick: Why do they wanna kill ya?
Swede: I did something wrong - once.
Pete Lunn – also known as the Swede – is leading a quiet life in a New Jersey village called Brentwood. He works at a gas station and somebody arrives… The past emerges with full force to shade his present life (the comparison with Out of the Past becomes evident).
At the beginning of the film two hard-boiled gunmen arrive at Brentwood, they want to kill the Swede. We see him in his room in the shade, he is expecting them and there is nothing he tries to do to avoid being killed. His colleague Nick tries to help him in vain:
Nick: Isn't there something I could do?
Swede: There ain't anything to do.
Nick: Couldn't you get out of town?
Swede: No. I'm through with all that runnin' around.
So the start of the film is magnificent – with sharp dialogues (they successfully reproduce a short story by Ernst Hemingway) and also great light angles.
The investigations of insurance agent Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) take us to different flashbacks. The atmosphere is always one of a vague uncertainty and the femme fatale Kitty Collins becomes the central figure of a series of double-crossings. The Swede – a former boxer - feels a strong attraction for her after she sees her sing: The more I know of love (written by Miklos Rosza).
The Swede becomes involved in criminal activities together with Colfax, Big Jim and Kitty. It is the femme fatale who double-crosses everybody: I'm poison, Swede, to myself and everybody around me!
There were many important names who came together at this film. We can mention the – at the time – unknown Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner; but also producer Mark Hellinger, musician Miklos Rozsa or director Robert Siodmak were very important names in the noir style