Debbie Marsh: The main thing is to have the money. I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, rich is better.
This sentence, spoken by street wise Debbie Marsh (maybe the best performance by Gloria Grahame) tells about a society in which rotten rich people have the power and influence over all institutions.
Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) is the syndicate boss of this corrupt city. Even the police are part of this system and they receive “orders” from the crime mob.
Lt. Ted Wilks: It was bad judgment to bother a cop's widow about the love life of her husband.
Dave Bannion: Good or bad, it was my judgment.
Lt. Ted Wilks: You're missing the point. I'm the one that gets the pressure calls from upstairs. I'm the one that has to explain. You don't keep an office like this very long stepping on a lot of corns.
Policeman Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) wants to fight this corruption. However he loses his wife – killed by Lagana’s right hand, Vince Stone (Lee Marvin). Lang portrays a society in which ethics has a high price – Bannion’s quest for justice will cause the death of several innocent women. So there is a pessimistic message lying under the heroic story.
Bannion, angry with the police department loses his job and becomes an isolated figure seeking for revenge and justice – in a role that would be developed later by actors like Clint Eastwood.
Bannion can only rely on his relatives and friends to protect her young daughter. This seems to be the main message of a great movie with unforgettable sequences – like the scalding coffee scene (though it happens off screen)...