T-Men is sometimes included in lists of film noir but it’s really just a crime thriller. But it’s a very good crime thriller.
The Treasury Department is conducting an investigation into a major counterfeiting ring. They send two agents undercover to infiltrate the gang. The agents spend months establishing themselves as part of the Detroit underworld and finally manage to penetrate the counterfeiting racket. But they need to do more than that, they need to gather hard evidence to put these crooks away, so their job has just begun.
Agents O’Brien (Dennis O'Keefe) and Gennaro (Alfred Ryder) gradually work their way into positions of trust within the criminal empire. They make use of a mobster known only as The Schemer (Wallace Ford). He used to be a big-shot but has since fallen from grace. But he still knows the inside dope on the organisation, and he’s very nervous which is something the two T-Men can take advantage of.
The process by which the two Treasury agents gain the trust of the criminal gang is charted in great detail. This could have become a little tedious but director Anthony Mann keeps the pacing tight and the tension high.
While the content makes this a straight crime thriller rather than a film noir director of photography John Alton shoots the picture in classic film noir style. Alton was probably the greatest of all cinematographers in the noir style and any movie on which he worked is worth seeing just for his exquisite command of the art of moody noir cinematography.
The other big plus in this movie is Dennis O’Keefe. A year later he would deliver a superb performance in another Anthony Mann movie, Raw Deal, a film noir classic. O’Keefe brings just the right blend of recklessness and fatalistic courage to his role here.
This is a tense and exciting crime thriller, superbly executed, and is highly recommended.