VICE SQUAD. United  Artists, 1953. Edward G. Robinson, Paulette Goddard, Porter Hall, Adam Williams, Jay Adler, Joan Vohs, and Lee Van Cleef. Screenplay by Lawrence Roman, from the novel Harness Bull, by Leslie T. White. Directed by Arnold Laven.

   A B-movie with a bit of faded star power. Not always exciting, but when it works, it works well.

   Edward G Robinson runs the Detective Bureau of an unnamed agency that looks a lot like LAPD and since the film starts with a cop-killing, he pretty much has his work cut out for him. He takes time to expose a fortune hunter posing as an Italian Count, and listen to an underworld informant (Jay Adler, in a nicely-done bit part) with a tip on a forthcoming bank job, but his primary focus is on the murdered officer — until the killing is tied in with the hold-up.

   Screen-writer Lawrence Roman (whose credits include A Kiss Before Dying) does a fine job of switching focus between the cops and the hoodlums, delineating the characters, bringing out internal conflicts in both camps, and generally pointing up the similarities in their methodical approach — Robinson often seems to have as little regard for the niceties of the law as the bad guys — while the hoods prepare for their caper and the cops prepare to close in on them.

   Arnold Laven was a workhorse director who showed flashes of talent, given a decent script. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) and Rough  Night in Jericho  (1967) offer lively action scenes and moments of real feeling surprising in rough-and-ready movies. Vice Squad doesn’t achieve much emotional intensity, but it builds a certain amount of suspense as it moves along, and really comes alive in a final chase-and-shootout in a rotting warehouse.

   By the way, second-billed Paulette Goddard gets about five minutes of screen time, shot on two sets with the look of being rushed through in a single day — talk about faded star power! But what really bothers me is that this movie is all about unraveling a murder and bank robbery.

   So why did they call it Vice Squad?