Directed by Fletcher Markle; produced by Edward J. and Harry Lee Danziger
After two murders, including that of a friend, are linked to an extremist political group, an assistant district attorney (Franchot Tone) in New York City pushes for an investigation. This doesn’t sit well with the people behind the crimes, people who stand to make a great deal of money.
This is what movie reviewers, both professional and amateur, call a ‘bad movie’. The premise provided a good set-up but nothing that followed was of high quality. The story veered away from exciting possibilities almost immediately, the writing was mundane (with the exception of a brief discussion of how ‘ignorance is big business’), the acting was below average.
Tone was a good actor, but here, possibly under uninspiring directing, his emotions are half-hearted or misaimed, his timing is off and his credibility flawed. Other actors, with the exception of Winifred Lenihan (who seemed to contribute nothing more to motion pictures than this performance) and Marc Lawrence as a political fixer, are wooden, overly dramatic and unbelievable. Jean Wallace and Betty Harper (later known as Doe Avedon), Tone’s two love interests, are dreadful.
Tone’s character was at least interesting, though not, I suspect, in the way the writers hoped. He was almost amoral, rather than righteous (quite a difference). He not only blithely cheats on his fiancée, but accepts backdoor help from dubious sources to gain a position as a special prosecutor. And when a woman with whom he was romantically involved is found dead a few feet from where Tone was knocked unconscious, he, after being told of the death, doesn’t even bother to check for a pulse, but immediately calls his office to arrange for a crime-scene team to be despatched - he, on the other hand, is off to follow another lead. In fairness to Tone’s character, I think this was simply sloppy writing.
The story was set up to pit Tone against what sounds like a neo-Nazi group (complete with uniforms), but it quickly turns into a crime-racket tale, with the powers behind the would-be extremists simply looking to make money. Any risky narrative about racism and discrimination is quickly forgotten. The actual dialogue ranges from forgettable to laughable. I lost count how many times Wallace answered a question with a question. It reminded me of an episode of the old Bob Newhart Show, when, for some reason, both Bob and Emily would repeatedly reply to each other’s statements with “Do you, Bob/Emily, do you really?” That was funny. Then again, so was the similar tactic in Jigsaw. It just wasn’t deliberately amusing.
The finale involves a shoot-out, which isn’t badly handled, but why a couple of the gunmen even participated, when they could have escaped unnoticed, is beyond me.
The strangest aspect of this movie has to be the inclusion of high-powered personalities in cameo spots. Henry Fonda has a line as a waiter; John Garfield appears for a few seconds; actors Burgess Meredith, Everett Sloane and Marsha Hunt all contribute minutely, while real-life society columnist Leonard Lyons shows up, too. Marlene Dietrich has a moment that actually makes sense (at least in terms of the result of her appearance, even if it doesn’t explain the reason): she is shown leaving in disdain a night club which has the gall to call itself The Blue Angel.
The cameos and the beginning of the story suggest that someone meant Jigsaw to be an important indictment of growing intolerance in Hollywood and the United States, just a few years after the practical lesson of such hatred was given by Nazi Germany. What resulted, however, was an ordinary movie, executed in a sub-ordinary fashion.