I was deceived! Mr. James Lileks described this movie in a Bleat last month, and I was intrigued enough to put it in my Blockbuster queue. But…
Anyway: it's a noir from 1959, a variety where the unlikeable protagonists make a lot of obviously stupid decisions on the way to their inevitable doom. Ed Begley Sr. is an ex-cop, bitter about being kicked off the force for refusing to testify about corruption. His plan is to knock over a bank in the sleepy Hudson River Valley town of "Melton"; it seems like easy pickings. But he needs a couple guys to help. So—obviously—he picks a whiny sadistic racist, played by Robert Ryan, and a whiny gambling-addicted black guy, played by Harry Belafonte. Good plan, Ed Begley, Sr.!
There's a lot of dialog (mostly unnatural and incoherent), acting (mostly over-), and "character development" (mostly clichéd and uninteresting) on the way to the ill-fated heist. We get to meet Ryan's and Belafonte's significant others, their acquaintances, and get to know way too much about their motivation in falling in with Begley and his idiotic scheme.
But finally, the big finish, and everything is tidily wrapped up in a heavy-handed metaphor about American race relations. (Remember: 1959.) I'll spoil it: instead of trying to escape from the cops hot on their trail, Ryan and Belafonte start shooting at each other. Unfortunately, they do this in a flammable environment and merely manage to blow themselves up. A cop at the end is standing over their charred bodies, and is asked "Which is which?" He responds: "Does it matter?"
Oh, I get it!