The 1946 film, Behind Green Lights, takes over the course of one night at one police station.
When tough-but-fair Police Lt. Sam Carson (William Gargan) shows up for work, he discovers that a car has been haphazardly parked in front of the station. Inside the car is bullet-ridden body of Walter Bard, a somewhat notorious private investigator. If the brazenness of the crime wasn’t already enough to indicate that there’s more going on here than just a detective following the wrong lead, it is soon discovered that Bard was acquainted with Janet Bradley (Carole Landis), the daughter of a reform-minded mayoral candidate. As Janet explains it to Lt. Carson, Bard was blackmailing a friend of hers. Janet admits that she had a gun with her the last time that she saw Bard but she swears that she didn’t murder him.
Corrupt newspaper publisher Max Calvert (Roy Roberts) views Janet’s father as being a potential rival and he immediately starts to pressure Lt. Carson to make an arrest in the case. Not convinced of Janet’s guilt, Carson refuses. Meanwhile, the crooked coroner (Don Beddoe) comes across evidence that could change the entire case but, as a favor to Calvert, tries to cover it up….
But that’s not all. It’s a very busy night at the precinct. Not only does Carson have to deal with the murder and all of the political fallout, he also has to deal with an escapes prisoner and a collection of snarky crime reports who spend all of their hanging out at the station house and waiting for a big story to drop.
Largely set in one location and featuring a cast made up of fast-talking, quick-witted cynics, Behind Green Lights sometimes feel more like a play than a film. (One could easily imagine it taking place in the same cinematic universe as The Front Page. Call it the MacArthur/Hecht Cinematic Universe, or MHCU for short.) Though the film only has a running time of 64 minutes, it manages to pack a lot of twists and turns into that hour. For the most part, it all works. The mystery is intriguing, the cast is made up of properly tough character actors, and the tragic Carole Landis is well-cast as a character who could be an innocent victim or a dangerous femme fatale. The film and her performance will keep you guessing. (It has been written that Landis, a talented actress who never quite got the roles that roles that she deserved, was heart-broken when Rex Harrison refused to divorce his wife and marry her. Two years after the release of Behind Green Lights, she was found dead at the age of 29. The official ruling was suicide, though members of Landis’s family dispute that.)
Behind Green Lights may be a minor noir but it’s still an entertaining one. And it can be viewed for free on YouTube! Just remember, when doing an online search, that the film is called Behind Green Lights and not Behind the Green Door. Don’t make the same mistake that I did!