LARCENY. Universal International, 1948. John Payne, Joan Caulfield, Dan Duryea, Shelley Winters, Dorothy Hart, Percy Helton, Patricia Alphin, Don Wilson. Based on the novel The Velvet Fleece by Lois Eby & John Fleming. Director: George Sherman.

   This little-known but still better than average film noir seems to have fallen through the cracks. With the huge popularity of genre, with any inconsequential black-and-white movie being swooped up and called a noir film, you’d think that someone would have recognized this as the real thing and put it out as something other than as an under the counter collector-to-collector DVD.

   Which is how you can find this one, and the only way, if you go looking. While not a full-fledged masterpiece, it’s certainly worth the time to go searching for it. As you might expect, Dan Duryea is one of bad guys, and the ruggedly handsome John Payne is a member of his gang of con-men. Their favorite modus operandi is letting their marks persuade themselves into backing some sort of real estate venture, while Duryea and the others are there, ready and willing to make off with the funds.

   In Larceny, Payne is the one who is elected to hustle a war widow (Joan Caulfield) into building a home for wayward boys as a memorial for her husband, killed in action in the war and for whom she is still mourning. And he’s so convincing as the dead man’s buddy that I think I would have believed him myself.

   Complications? You shouldn’t doubt it for a minute. She is obviously falling in love with him. He for her? It is difficult to say, but it seems to be the road the story is taking. But messing things up completely is a brassy blonde named Tory (Shelley Winters) who is nominally Duryea’s girl but who has a yen for Payne. Amd he for her, all things considered.

   And that’s not all. There are two other good-looking women in the tale who are more than willing to slip John Payne’s character their telephone numbers. I said ruggedly handsome, and I meant it.

   And as in true noir fashion, things do not end well for all of the participants. Everyone seemed to be having a good time making it, and I enjoyed watching, never quite knowing which way it was heading.