Two hit men walk into a diner asking for a man called "the Swede". When the killers find the Swede, he's expecting them and doesn't put up a fight. Since the Swede had a life insurance policy, an investigator, on a hunch, decides to look into the murder. As the Swede's past is laid bare, it comes to light that he was in love with a beautiful woman who may have lured him into pulling off a bank robbery overseen by another man.
When two hit men arrive in the diner of a small town, they announce their intention to the owner of killing one of his customers - former boxer "the Swede" (Burt Lancaster). He manages to convince them that he would not be coming in that night, and so they leave to track him down. His friend, who was tied up in the diner rushes to warn him, but he does nothing - he invites the fate that we see, right from the beginning of the film. Why though? Why didn't he run? It transpires that he had a modest life insurance policy and so investigator "Reardon" (Edmond O'Brien) tries to track down the beneficiary and piece together a story of robbery, betrayal and duplicity - to all of which the character of "Kitty" (Ava Gardner) proves central. This is a superior film noir, with Lancaster and O'Brien on great form as the flashbacks gradually fill in the gaps and with the help of "Lt. Lubinsky" (Sam Levene) they discovers what truly happened. Ava Gardner's character features quite sparingly, but potently when she is on screen - manipulating and twisting as she manoeuvres the men around her with consummate skill. The pace is measured, the story takes it's time to develop and that helps make this quite a compelling drama that puts a little more meat on the bones of the original Hemingway short story. The photography is intense, using the light and shade dramatically, and the score from the maestro Miklós Rósza adds a richness to the gritty look of the film too. Burt Lancaster's first major screen role, but it's O'Brien who does most of the heavy lifting here, and he does it well!