AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Undercover Man
Director: Joseph H. Lewis (Dir)
Release Date:   Apr 1949
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 20 Apr 1948
Production Date:   4 May--16 Jun 1948
Duration (in mins):   84-85
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Cast:   Glenn Ford (Frank Warren)  
    Nina Foch (Judith Warren)  
    James Whitmore (George Pappas)  
    Barry Kelley (Edward O'Rourke)  
    David Wolfe (Stanley Weinberg)  
    Frank Twiddell (Inspector Herzog)  
    Howard St. John (Joseph S. Horan)  
    John F. Hamilton (Sergeant Shannon)  
    Leo Penn (Sidney Gordon)  
    Joan Lazer (Rosa Rocco)  
    Esther Minciotti (Maria Rocco)  
    Angela Clarke (Theresa Rocco)  
    Anthony Caruso (Salvatore Rocco)  
    Robert Osterloh (Manny Zanger)  
    Kay Medford (Gladys LaVerne)  
    Patricia White (Muriel Gordon)  
    Peter Brocco (Johnny)  
    Everett Glass (Judge Parker)  
    Joe Mantell (Newsboy)  
    Michael Cisney (Fred Ferguson)  
    Marcella Cisney (Alice Ferguson)  
    Sidney Dubin (Harris)  
    William Vedder (Druggist)  
    Jim Drum (Policeman)  
    Robert Malcolm (Policeman)  
    Allen Mathews (Policeman)  
    Esther Zeitlin (Woman in window)  
    Tom Coffey (Gunman)  
    William Rhinehart (Gunman)  
    Ralph Volkie (Big Fellow/Man in white)  
    Al Murphy (Middle-aged man)  
    Lynn Whitney (Blonde)  
    Ronnie Ralph (Boy)  
    Billy Gray (Boy)  
    Cy Malis (Slugger)  
    Jack Gordon (Slugger)  
    Silvio Minciotti (Vendor)  
    Virginia Farmer (Housewife)  
    John Butler (Grocer)  
    Rose Plumer (Woman tenant)  
    Richard Bartell (Court attendant)  
    Ben Erway (Court clerk)  
    Franklyn Farnum (Federal judge)  
    Frank Mayo (Jury foreman)  
    Wheaton Chambers (Male secretary)  
    George Douglas (District Attorney)  
    Helen Wallace (Mrs. O'Rourke)  
    Sammy LaMarr (Customer)  
    Peter Virgo (Cigar store proprietor)  
    Pat Lane (Deputy)  
    Brian O'Hara (Deputy)  
    Joe Palma (Deputy)  
    Paul Marion (Young hoodlum)  
    Edwin Max (Manager)  
    Billy Nelson (Bouncer)  
    William Stubbs (Crap dealer)  
    Ted Jordan (Thug)  
    Glen Thompson (Hoodlum)  
    Roy Darmour (Hoodlum)  
    Wally Rose (Hoodlum)  
    Harlan Warde (Hoodlum)  
    Saul Gorss (Hoodlum)  
    Stella LeSaint (Storekeeper's wife)  
    Tom Hanlon (Newsreel announcer)  
    Ken Harvey (Big Fellow)  
    Daniel Meyers    
    Franklin Parker    
    Alma Maison    
    Irene Martin    
    Ann Cameron    
    Bernard Sell    
    Ed Randolph    

Summary: Treasury agent Frank Warren attempts to contact Manny Zanger, a man with access to information that would prove that mobster "The Big Fellow," the head of a major crime syndicate, is guilty of tax evasion, but Zanger is killed before the meeting takes place. Although the police capture the killer, they are unable to hold him because none of the witnesses will testify against him. The Treasury Department hopes to apprehend The Big Fellow on tax evasion charges, and to this end, confiscates bookkeeping records from his low-level associates. The T-men then arrest all the bookkeepers who work for the syndicate in order to compare their signatures to those on certain bank deposit cards. Before the T-men can complete this effort, however, Edward O'Rourke, the syndicate lawyer, obtains the bookkeepers' release. In frustration, Inspector Herzog, a police captain, quits the force. Sergeant Shannon, a policeman who, years earlier, abandoned his attempt to fight The Big Fellow, then shows Frank the record of Salvatore Rocco, a bookkeeper for the mob, whom he arrested before he was demoted to a desk job. When Frank learns that Rocco lives in the same neighborhood as Zanger's contact, he visits the apartment. Rocco's wife, angry because he has left her for another woman, admits that Rocco knew Zanger, but adds that she does not know Rocco's current whereabouts. She shows Frank a letter from Rocco, and Frank is pleased to discover that Rocco's handwriting matches that on the bank deposit cards. Frank and his associate persuade Rocco's girlfriend, Gladys LaVerne, to talk to Rocco. Gladys tells Frank that Rocco will testify if he gets federal protection and the reward. In exchange, Rocco asks his young daughter Rosa to bring him a notebook he had hidden at his former apartment, which contains the records of deposits he made for the mob. Before she can deliver it, however, Rocco is killed by the mob. When Frank returns from Rocco's funeral, his room has been searched and two waiting men beat him severely. Later, O'Rourke tries to make a deal with The Big Fellow and subtly threatens Judy, Frank's wife, who is staying at her parent's nearby farm. Deeply disturbed, Frank takes the next train to visit Judy and tells her that he intends to quit his job. After Frank's return to the city, Rosa and her grandmother visit Frank. Rosa's grandmother tells Frank that her husband died defying the Mafia in Italy, then gives him Rocco's book. A contrite Frank agrees to stay and fight The Big Fellow. The book contains almost all the evidence the Treasury Department needs to prosecute The Big Fellow. They then track down Sidney Gordon, another mob bookkeeper, in Los Angeles, and arrest him and his wife Muriel. Gordon agrees to cooperate and his testimony leads to the indictment of The Big Fellow and his associates. O'Rourke then sets out to buy off the grand jury. After O'Rourke is subpoenaed, he meets secretly with Frank and offers him a complete account of The Big Fellow's financial arrangements and also reveals that the jury has been bought. The mobsters discover his betrayal and kill him. Frank then uses O'Rourke's information to substitute a new jury for the corrupt one and The Big Fellow is sentenced to twenty years in prison. 

Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Production Text: A Robert Rossen Production
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Joseph H. Lewis (Dir)
  Wilbur McGaugh (Asst dir)
Writer: Sydney Boehm (Wrt for the screen by)
  Malvin Wald (Addl dial)
Photography: Burnett Guffey (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Walter Holscher (Art dir)
Film Editor: Al Clark (Film ed)
Set Decoration: William Kiernan (Set dec)
Costumes: Jean Louis (Gowns)
Music: George Duning (Mus score)
  M. W. Stoloff (Mus dir)
Sound: Jack Goodrich (Sd eng)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the article "Undercover Man: He Trapped Capone" by Frank J. Wilson in Collier's (26 Apr 1947) and a story outline by Jack Rubin.
Authors: Jack Rubin
  Frank J. Wilson

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp. 15/3/1949 dd/mm/yyyy LP2161

PCA NO: 13250
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Crime
 
Subjects (Major): Bookkeepers
  Gangsters
  Lawyers
  Murder
  United States. Treasury Department
 
Subjects (Minor): Betrayal
  Bribery
  Farms
  Fathers and daughters
  Grandmothers
  Italian Americans
  Juries
  Marriage
  Police
  Subpoena
  Suicide
  Tax evasion
  Witnesses

Note: The film's working title was Chicago Story , according to an 11 Mar 1948 LAT article, and it was to be shot on location in Chicago. The film begins with the following written and spoken foreword: "In the cracking of many big criminal cases--such as those of the John Dillinger, Lucky Luciano and Al Capone, among others--the newspaper headlines tell only of the glamorous and sensational figures involved. But behind the headlines are the untold stories of ordinary men and women, acting with extraordinary courage. This picture concerns one of these men." This film marked the film debut of actor James Whitmore (1921--2009). A 4 May 1948 LAT news item reported that some scenes were shot at Union Station in Los Angeles. Contemporary reviews noted that this film was loosely based on the events surrounding the arrest of Al Capone. CBCS credits both Ralph Volkie and Ken Harvey with the role of "The Big Fellow." 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   26 Mar 1949.   
Daily Variety   18 Mar 49   p. 3.
Film Daily   21 Mar 49   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jun 48   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Mar 49   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   11 Mar 1948.   
Los Angeles Times   4 May 1948.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   26 Mar 49   p. 4549.
New York Times   21 Apr 49   p. 30.
Variety   23 Mar 49   p. 8.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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