The film, told mainly through flashback, follows the investigation of an organization based on the original Murder, Inc., as the authorities — led by assistant district attorney Martin Ferguson (Bogart) — struggle to find a witness who can convict the Big Bad.
Not to be confused with the third Dirty Harry movie.
- Bad Boss:
- Mendoza orders the murders of almost every person who works for him (although a few survive) for He Knows Too Much or You Have Failed Me reasons.
- Rico, The Dragon, kills his subordinate Vince for showing disgust at the amount of blood in a Dangerously Close Shave murder. He also helps Mendoza kill most of their subordinates to divert the police investigation. Then, when Rico suspects Mendoza is going to kill him, he uses his his last three loyal subordinates as The Bait while hiding nearby to see if they'll be killed.
- Dangerously Close Shave: Rico murders Tony Vetto while he's getting a shave, stepping up to the barber (who has been coerced into helping the killers) and taking the razor from him after he's sharpened it, then approaching Tony (whose back is to them) as the film cuts to the next scene.
- Disney Villain Death: Rico, the Murder, Inc. team leader, falls to his death while trying to climb down a drainpipe to escape from an assassin.
- Disposing of a Body: The killers employ a man called Sad Eyes to bury most of their victims in the swamp.
- Embarrassing Nickname: Big Babe is short for big baby, a nickname Lazick got for being an overweight Dirty Coward.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
- Get into Jail Free: Aware that his employers are about to pull a You Have Failed Me card, former mental patient Philadelphia gets himself re-institutionalized to get out of their reach.
- The Ghost: Smiley, the assassin who Duke says forced him to murder Nina, has been killed by his superiors in a fire for letting Duke get away when the police go to arrest him, and he never appears in any of the flashbacks.
- How We Got Here: The film opens with the police guarding Rico, The Stool Pigeon, right before the trial of the Murder, Inc. leader Rico used to work for. After Rico dies, the police then recall everything that led to the arrests of Rico and his boss, trying to figure out a way to keep their case alive, and most of the remaining movie is told in flashbacks or flashbacks within flashbacks.
- Murder, Inc.: The film features a group of hired killers based on the original, real-life Murder Inc. They have a bad case of No Honor Among Thieves and unravel pretty fast during a police investigation.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In an effort to shake up Mendoza, the incarcerated Big Bad, the heroes toss several pictures of his victims into his cell for him to look at, including that of Nina Lombardo (who supposedly witnessed Mendoza personally commit a murder when she was a child). Looking at those pictures causes Mendoza to realize that Nina's eyes are a different color than the kid from all those years ago, and his men targeted the wrong girl, while Nina's roommate is the real witness. This causes Mendoza to send his assassins after the real witness, and the police barely figure it out in time to save her.
- Seeking Sanctuary: When "Big Babe" Lazick fails a job from Murder, Inc., the cops find him hiding in a church, and he freaks out when they drag him outside, being convinced it's the only place he's safe from assassins.
- Villainous Breakdown: Almost every single Professional Killer in the movie is flippant and cocky about their work. Every one is reduced to a terrified, cowering wreck when faced with being killed by the other assassins, arrested by the police, or both. Rico The Dragon is a particularly sadistic bully who comes across as the most pathetic after multiple attempts on his life once he becomes The Stool Pigeon.
- Would Not Hit a Girl: Zigzagged. When Professional Killer Duke finds out that Nina is his latest target, he's perturbed, saying he's never killed a woman before, but is still willing to go through with the hit until they fall in love while he's getting close to her for the planned hit. Duke and Nina try to go on the run, but Duke's gang catch them and force Duke to kill Nina after all.