STEP BY STEP. RKO Radio Pictures, 1946. Lawrence Tierney, Anne Jeffreys, Jason Robards Sr., George Cleveland. Screenwriter: Stuart Palmer. Director: Phil Rosen.

   I don’t know his career all that well, but I know enough to make it awfully hard to imagine that the tough-looking Lawrence Tierney had many leading roles in which he wasn’t the villain. Nonetheless, here he is in this low budget postwar mystery movie, pairing up with a deliciously blonde Anne Jeffreys to help nab a gang of Nazi spies somewhere along the sunny California coast.


   Fresh out of the Marines, Johnny Christopher (Tierney) spots Evelyn Smith (Jeffreys) while she’s swimming in the ocean, and in a two-piece bathing suit yet. Not easily taking a friendly no for an answer, he follows her to the house where she’s working as a Senator’s secretary, but another Miss Smith seems to have taken her place. Johnny’s Miss Smith is nowhere in sight.

   Bringing the police in does not help, and in fact makes things worse. When the bodies start to pile up, he’s immediately been tagged as being a semi-delusional if not cracked-up war veteran, and his Miss Smith, when found, quickly becomes his partner on the lam.


   Although I admit that the plot is ridden with as many holes as that legendary slice of Swiss cheese, it still tickled my fancy to see fate conspire against the pair of fugitives, with every step they take getting them more and more deeply into trouble. George Cleveland, playing a cranky but lovable old motel owner, is the only one who believes in them.

   Since I watched a print that omitted the opening credits, I didn’t recognize Anne Jeffreys until I looked it up after the movie was over, but with her long blonde hair curled up slightly at the ends, I didn’t take my eyes off her very often. Even as a misunderstood hero, Lawrence Tierney played his part as if he were an old-fashioned pocket watch that has been wound up too tightly and is ready to burst into a flying display of gears, cogs and pieces of broken springs at the slightest provocation.


   And on two occasions, he does, in a couple of high-flying, hard-punching fist-fights in which he nearly bounces off the walls in the bargain. A good film that the critics didn’t care for (*), but on the other hand, five out of six IMDB viewers so far have thought it was as much fun to watch as I did.


   (*) Here, for example, are some of Bosley Crowther’s contemporaneous comments as they appeared in The New York Times: “Even two murders don’t relieve the tedium of this incredible tale about an ex-Marine and a chance feminine acquaintance who stumble into a Nazi espionage plot in sunny California and get quite a pushing around before their innocence is established and the spies are apprehended. As the principals Lawrence Tierney and Anne Jeffreys move through the film like two bewildered innocents in search of a director.”