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An embezzler's revenge on the businessman who turned him in leads to a bloody vendetta.
In the projection room of San Quentin's movie theater, convict projectionists Nick Cherney and Rocky watch a newsreel which includes a story about Army chaplain Jess Torno returning home to San Francisco after five years in the South Pacific. In the newsreel, Jess is greeted by his brother John, the head of the Torno freight line company, who had Cherney, one of his bookeepers, arrested after he discovered that he had been embezzling from the firm. As Rocky is to be released the following week, Cherney hires him to exact revenge on John. John, who is very devoted to Jess, learns that he has been assigned to a church farther north and offers to drive him there. However, as Jess is packing in his hotel room, the lights go out, and Rocky enters the room and shoots him. Jess is still alive when John arrives to pick him up and John asks him to name the gunman, but all that Jess can say is, "written in Bible," before he dies in John's arms. However, John can find nothing in Jess's Bible. Later, John receives a visit from two homicide detectives, Strecker and Ryan, who warn him not to take the law into his own hands. After Warni Hazard, John's partner, tells him that Cherney has been released, John finds Cherney and accuses him of killing Jess, but Strecker points out that Cherney was still in prison when Jess died. While walking with Warni, John notices an office of the Gideons, an international society that places Bibles in hotel rooms, and realizes that there was a second Bible in Jess's room. When when he investigates at the hotel however, he is told that the Gideon Bible that was in Jess's room was stolen. John obtains a list of the people who have occupied the room since Jess's killing, and sees that the first person on the list is Carla North, who gave a forwarding address c/o Ken Murray's Blackouts show in Hollywood. John goes to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood and talks with Murray, who tells him that Carla's act has closed but gives him the name of her hotel. John goes there while she is out, looks through her possessions and discovers a photograph of Jess with air force personnel. When Carla returns and surprises him, she denies taking the Bible and explains that her late brother was one of the men in the photo with Jess and that Jess had sent it to her. John offers her a job in San Francisco locating the other hotel guests, but does not reveal why he wants to find them. Later, in San Francisco, Cherney comes to the Torno office seeking re-employment and overhears John telling Warni about the Bible and why he has to find it. Carla and John then travel to Reno to talk with Wallace Stoner, a short-order cook, and spot Rocky lurking outside. After John has Stoner hand him a cookbook in a bag, he leaves and is followed by Rocky. John jumps Rocky, takes his gun and finds the key to his hotel room, where Cherney is waiting. When they arrive at the hotel, both Rocky and Cherney escape. Later, on board a train, Rocky tells Cherney that he is quitting, and Cherney throws him off the train. At the San Francisco depot, Cherney stalks and kills Warni in the freight yard. John then asks Carla to go to Monterey to talk with another hotel guest, Pablo Cabrillo, but she refuses until he tells her what is going on. After he tells her the story, she questions his methods. John loses his temper, and slaps her and she leaves. The next day, Strecker and Ryan inform John that he is to be under surveillance twenty-four hours a day. However, with the help of one of his truckers, John manages to give the detectives the slip. In Monterey, John finds Pablo and his girl friend Trina, and Pablo admits to taking the Bible. Pablo explains that after he was permanently blinded in combat, he checked into the hotel intending to commit suicide after begging God's forgiveness for what he was about to do. Suddenly, he felt a cold wind and was stopped by a window cleaner, who took his gun and comforted him. They both heard the fluttering pages of the Bible and the stranger read to him, restoring Pablo's faith and his will to live. John still wants to see the Bible, however, and they go to Pablo's house, where his mother tells them that Carla came and took the Bible just an hour before. In San Francisco, as John attempts to locate Carla by phone, Cherney enters his office and John gives him a job phoning various hotels to find Carla. However, while they are phoning, Carla comes to the office with the Bible, and Strecker and Ryan also show up. Carla tells John to look at a circled passage, Romans 12:19: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." In the margin of the page, Jess had written, "Johnny--Thou Shalt Not Kill." Strecker tells the stunned John that earlier that day they found the gun that John took from Rocky in his office and determined that it is the weapon that killed his brother. John intends to leave to find Rocky, despite Carla's protests that revenge is not what Jess wanted. John then reads the verse again, while Cherney looks on cynically, and agrees with her. As Cherney leaves, he encounters Rocky, who did not die in the fall from the train. Cherney shoots him and tells the others that he has shot a prowler. However, with his dying breath, Rocky points to Cherney and states that he is responsible for Jess's death. Cherney holds them all at gunpoint and admits to paying Rocky to kill Jess and escapes to the roof. In the pouring rain, Cherney scales an electric sign advertising the Torno Freight Line and shoots it out with John. When Cherney's gun is empty and John has the drop on him, he chooses not to shot. As Cherney tries to escape, he is electrocuted by the sign and falls dead. Strecker tells Carla that John did not kill Cherney, but that "somebody else" was on the job.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||Los Angeles opening: 15 Sep 1949|
|Release Date:||1949||Production Date:||
35mm nitrate; 9 reels of 9 (ca. 9000 ft.); M4183; F44-R8-1
|Color/B&W:||Black and White||Distributions Co:||United Artists Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono||Production Co:||Roy Del Ruth Productions|
Leonard Maltin Ratings & Review
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User Ratings & Review
Good film noir!
Great story and not plodding. The title "Red Light" comes from the fact that the brother who is killed leaves a message in a hotel Bible for the...
Professionals at Work
Lansing Sexton 2011-12-01
"Red Light" is a fine B noir. Leonard Maltin calls it turgid, and David Kalat constantly damns it for not being "Double Indemnity", and...
Hollywood got it Right
Dan Scott 2011-10-19
One of the few films written where Hollyeood got it right. The use of scriptures was appropriate and revealing, and not preachy. There was no...