Byron Haskin, 1948
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, Wendell Corey
After Frankie Madison is released from 14 years in prison, he goes to see his old rum-runner partner Noll Turner, and learns that Noll has frozen him out and he won't get a share of Noll's successful nightclub business. Noll tries to distract Frankie with Noll's own singer girlfriend, Kay, who works at the nightclub. What Kay doesn't realize is that Noll is planning to marry a wealthy socialite behind her back in order to increase the fortune he's amassing. Frankie begins to see through Noll's schemes and tries to take half of the business by force, not realizing that Noll has cleverly tied everything in paperwork, fake corporations, and other financial tricks. Noll has Frankie badly beaten and framed for murder, which forces a showdown between the two men.
Based on the play Beggars Are Coming to Town by Theodore Reeves, this marks the first collaboration between actors Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, who were in a number of films together, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Douglas got his start in noir with films like The Strange Lover of Martha Ivers (1946) and Out of the Past (1947). I Walk Alone was only his fourth film role. He gives a solid performance as the slimy, charismatic, and duplicitous Noll, a man with humble origins as a bootlegger whose change of fortunes results in a nightclub. While Noll is a fairly standard character-type, Douglas has a few quirks, including his mounting obsession with money. Presumably, he is marrying the wealthy socialite – also a masochist – in order to insure that if his business fails, he'll have some financial security. A strange motivation for a supposedly assured, confident man. Unlike The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Out of the Past, or the later Ace in the Hole, I Walk Alone just doesn't offer enough in the way of script material for Douglas to shine.
Lancaster also got his start in noir with The Killers (1946) and Brute Force (1947). Similarly to Douglas, this was Lancaster's fifth film. Despite his powerful physical performances, Lancaster simply doesn't have the acting prowess of Douglas, which is more than evident with I Walk Alone's script. He is unable to carry the numerous melodramatic scenes and one in particular – where Douglas trips him up with miles of red tape and his response is to sit with his head in his hands – come across as a little ridiculous. He is somewhat tempered by Lizabeth Scott, another actress not quite as strong as her competition (such as Lauren Bacall or Barbara Stanwyck), though she's likable and memorable as Kay, a nightclub singer who first seems to be a femme fatale, but is really just a trusting romantic.
I Walk Alone is entertaining, but is not a film noir classic. It mostly suffers from a mediocre script and a sense of too little too late and potential that fizzles out. There are some nice performances – it's worth watching once for Douglas and Lancaster – and a few good scenes, but nothing about it is inspired or original. The confrontation between Douglas and Lancaster happens far too late in the film and a number of unraveling plot threads dissipate the building sense of tension and dread. Though I Walk Alone isn't available on DVD, you can rent it streaming on Amazon. It comes recommended only for die-hard fans of noir, Douglas, Lancaster, or Scott, who gives one of her most likable performances here.