***** out of 5
"You're driving along and SMACKO, your own hometown hits you smack in the face."
Top-notch film noir that fires on all cylinders, while not getting stuck in any of the ruts of typical noir cliches. This story is peopled by characters who each in their own way are attempting to escape their past, as symbolized by the town of Iverstown, in which they all grew up. I could elaborate on that theme, but the film does it much better than any written analysis could.
Instead I'll just point out one cool shot I noticed that really summed up the story visually- Van Heflin and Barbara Stanwyck are on the spiral staircase (so many great ones in film noir), framed by a window that resembles a spiderweb, with a sheer, cobweb-looking drapery hanging over it. Stanwyck's hands are grasping toward Van Heflin, half-pleading, half-menacing, as she tries to convince him that he has a perfect chance to kill her husband and have her to himself- Kirk Douglas lies drunk at the bottom of the stairs, where he stumbled down drunk; Van Heflin could easily break his neck and claim it was a tragic accident. This pivotal moment ties together everything else in the film leading up to it into one ultimate decision- does Heflin step into the spider's parlor to be dragged into the noir spidersweb? Well, you'll have to watch it for yourself to find out.
This film goes into the dark corners of the human heart, and takes the viewers along with it, forcing them to accept a happy ending that involves double suicide as the only resolution and escape from the webs of a very enticing spider.