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Film / The Bribe

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The Bribe is a 1949 Film Noir directed by Robert Z. Leonard, adapted by screenwriter Marguerite Roberts from Frederick Nebel's short story of the name name.

Rigby (Robert Taylor) is a federal agent who has been sent to the island of "Carlotta", somewhere off the coast of Central America. Rigby is investigating a racket in which smugglers are stealing valuable airplane engines and surreptitiously selling them off with other, much less valuable war surplus.

In the town of Los Trancos he encounters some bad guys. Among the bad guys are Tug Hintten (John Hodiak), an alcoholic former Air Force pilot, and J.J. Bealer (Charles Laughton), an obvious weasel who soon is offering Rigby a $10,000 bribe to go away. On the plane to Carlotta along with Rigby is a businessman named Carwood (Vincent Price), who acts friendly and affable but is soon revealed to be the head of the smuggling ring.

However, Rigby's attention is soon distracted when he meets Tug's luscious wife Elizabeth (Ava Gardner). Elizabeth is stuck in a failed marriage with Tug and quickly falls for Rigby. When Rigby comes to realize that Elizabeth may be implicated in the smuggling ring, he has to decide whether or not to turn the lot of them in, or to sell out and let Elizabeth off the hook.

Several scenes from this film were used 33 years later in an Affectionate Parody of Film Noir, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.


  • Binocular Shot: Seen when Rigby, taken out to sea by Pablo, scouts the island's coast looking for the smugglers.
  • Black Dude Dies First: When Carwood tries to kill Rigby by causing him to fall off the fishing boat, Rigby isn't killed—but his Hispanic islander guide Pablo is, eaten by sharks.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: A relatively rare live-action version of this, as Carwood's eyes are caught by a beam of light from outside after he turns out the lights, plunging the room into darkness.
  • The Chanteuse: Elizabeth's job by night, singing in the cantina in Los Trancos. This provides Ava Gardner the chance to wear some skimpy dresses.
  • Film Noir: A federal agent goes to a steamy tropical locale and hunts a smuggling ring, while getting involved with a sexy, married chanteuse who may or may not be part of said ring.
  • Heat Wave: Carlotta is a tropical island with Central American weather, which means the white people are constantly mopping sweat and complaining about the heat. This of course ratchets up the tension as Rigby hunts the smugglers while also getting hot and steamy with Elizabeth.
  • Impairment Shot: Rigby's vision blurs after Elizabeth gives him the drugged drink (she is trying to delay him long enough for Carwood to get the airplane engines to his contacts).
  • MacGuffin: The smuggled airplane engines, which are never even seen.
  • Narrator: Some two-thirds of the film is told in a flashback, with Rigby's narration explaining how things came to this.
  • Not What I Signed Up For: Bealer is a smuggler and scoundrel, but he is not a murderer, and he's taken aback when Carwood kills Tug and says that he will kill Elizabeth. Bealer winds up helping Rigby take Carwood down.
  • Second-Person Narration: Rigby addresses his own reflection in the mirror, as he berates himself for falling for Elizabeth's charms and neglecting his duty. He speaks to the reflection throughout his narration, saying that "you" sold out and "you" did this and that.
  • Sexy Sweater Girl: When Elizabeth isn't wearing her tight midriff-baring cocktail dress, she's wearing a series of tight blouses.
  • Slipping a Mickey: At Bealer's urging, Elizabeth gives Rigby a drink laced with a sedative. The idea is to knock him out long enough for Carwood to deliver the airplane engines and get away.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Elizabeth, whose husband is both an alcoholic, and a criminal, and a failure (Tug turned to crime because he's deeply in debt). Still, however, the film deems it necessary to kill Tug off before Elizabeth and Rigby can have their happy ending.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Played with. Carwood attempts to kill Tug via Vorpal Pillow, but he is interrupted by Elizabeth. However, Tug, who is already bedridden with a failing heart, has a cardiac event and dies as Carwood hides in the kitchen.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Not quite the whole episode, but the first two-thirds of the film are a series of flashbacks as Rigby remembers coming to the island, investigating the smuggling ring, and falling in love with Elizabeth.