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The dislocation felt by returning servicemen was one of the chief topical
themes of the film noir cycle. After being primed to take risks but no
prisoners in the anarchic and violent theaters of World War, many found it
hard to ratchet back down upon their return to an often jarringly altered
society. Amnesia was the primary noir metaphor -- having to reconstruct an
entire past life from scratch.
Others faced having to cope with disabilities; still others, having spent
the "best years of their lives" in hellholes abroad, weren't about to wait
for the high life on the installment plan.
Backfire forgoes amnesia for the latter two categories. Gordon MacRae
recuperates from spinal-cord injuries in a veterans' hospital until he can
get out and buy a ranch with army buddy Edmond O'Brien, who abruptly
vanishes. Upon release, MacRae sets out to track him down through the
labyrinthine underbelly of postwar Los Angeles. It looks like O'Brien got
mixed up with heavy gamblers, and is in fact wanted for apparently murdering
a syndicate kingpin. MacRae is aided in his quest by his nurse (Virginia
Mayo, good as a good gal for once) but thrown off the trail by a mysterious
foreigner (Viveca Lindfors, as a discount-chain Ingrid Bergman). But, as
always in the noir scheme, things are rarely what they at first
No masterpiece, Backfire nevertheless keeps up the pace and the suspense,
drawing (like Somewhere in the Night) on themes and formats that were
central concerns of the cycle.
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