OUTSIDE THE WALL. Universal, 1950.Richard Basehart, Marilyn Maxwell, Signe Hasso, Dorothy Hart, John Hoyt, Joseph Pevney, Lloyd Gough, and Harry Morgan. Written by Henry Edward Helseth and Crane Wilbur. Directed by Crane Wilbur.

   No classic, but it’ll keep you watching.

   Richard Basehart plays Larry Martin, a convict just shy of 30, released after fifteen years in prison (do the math.) At loose ends on the outside, he gets a job in a TB sanitarium. A bit of exposition shows Martin to be tough and savvy, but lacking in social skills and completely at a loss with women — elements that will figure into the plot just ahead.

   About this time Martin sees newspaper headlines about a million-dollar heist of an armored car, the gang decimated in a shoot-out that left only two at large with the loot — and recognizes photos of head-perp Jack Bernard (John Hoyt) from the time he spent in stir. And as plot would have it, a few days later Bernard is admitted to the sanitarium under an assumed name, near death from TB.

   All this time, Martin has been struggling to establish a relationship with his co-workers, passing over pretty and pleasant nurse Celia (Signe Hasso) for greedy blonde Charlotte (Marilyn Maxwell.) When Charlotte lets him know she wants the “finer things” in life, Martin accepts a job offer from the fugitive Bernard.

   It seems Bernard is paying protection to his ex-wife Ann (venomous Dorothy Hart) and needs Martin to deliver it while he’s laid up. Ann only seems interested in how soon Bernard will croak, but it soon develops that she has a few nasty friends (including a sadistic Harry Morgan) who think Martin must be the other survivor of the heist, and their ticket to the hot millions.

   From this point on, Outside the Wall gets agreeably tricky and enjoyably violent. Helseth wrote the novel basis of the classic Cry of the City, and he has a sure feel for dishonor among thieves. He’s not helped at all by Crane Wilbur’s flat-footed direction, and neither are the actors, but Richard Basehart gives out with a neatly-played character — smart and tough among the low-lifes he grew up with, but lost and vulnerable with ordinary folk, and quite unable to cope with the decent woman who wants to save him.

   The result is a film that mostly misses its potential. But it comes close enough to stay with.