Red Light (film)

Red Light is a 1949 American film noir crime film directed and produced by Roy Del Ruth, starring George Raft and Virginia Mayo, and based on the story "This Guy Gideon" by Don "Red" Barry, featuring strong religious overtones.[1]

Red Light
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoy Del Ruth
Produced byRoy Del Ruth
Joseph Kaufman
Screenplay byGeorge Callahan
Charles Grayson
Based onthe story "This Guy Gideon"
by Don 'Red' Barry
StarringGeorge Raft
Virginia Mayo
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
CinematographyBert Glennon
Edited byRichard V. Heermance
Roy Del Ruth Productions (as Pioneer Pictures Corp.)
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • September 30, 1949 (1949-09-30) (United States)
Running time
83 minutes
CountryUnited States


Bookkeeper Nick Cherney is sent to jail for embezzling from Johnny Torno's trucking company. In a California prison, he sees a newsreel showing Johnny welcoming home his brother Jess, a heroic Catholic chaplain just returned from a World War II prisoner-of-war camp. Just before his release four years later (and to give himself a clever alibi), Nick hires Rocky, an inmate who has just finished his sentence, to murder Jess.

Jess is staying in a local hotel room, about to depart for his first parish in another city. The brothers meet with a local priest, Father Redmond. It is during that meeting that Johnny finds out Jess is moving away.

Johnny arrives at his brother's hotel room not long after Jess is shot by Rocky. Knowing that he is about to die, Jess vaguely indicates that a clue to his murderer can be found within the covers of the room's Bible. Johnny takes this to mean that the name of the killer himself is inscribed somewhere therein. However, the book is not there.

Johnny refuses to wait for the police to investigate. He tracks down and questions several strangers who occupied the same room, among them Carla North. He believes that one of them has the Bible. Once he satisfies himself that Carla is not a suspect, he hires her to help in the search, inviting her to stay at his luxury apartment, while he moves to his office. Although a bit suspicious of Johnny's motives, Carla agrees.

While Johnny is questioning another hotel guest, he notices Rocky watching him. Setting a trap, he lets Rocky see him buying a book from the former guest and wrapping it up, then leaves it lying around while he gets his shoes shined. When Rocky steals the book, Johnny catches him and reveals that it is just a cookbook. Rocky manages to escape, though Johnny wounds him slightly with his gun.

Later, aboard a train back to town, Rocky tells Nick that he is through, and that he intends to blackmail Nick. Nick sucker punches him, causing him to fall off the rear of a moving train. Then, Nick goes to Torno's office to witness the search of the Gideon Bible found earlier by Carla.

When Johnny finally locates the missing Gideon Bible, he finds written within not information about the killer's identity, but a plea from his brother not to seek revenge. Nick thinks he is off the hook. Relieved, he turns to leave.

However, when he gets to the head of the stairs, he spots Rocky on the floor below. In a shootout, Nick fatally wounds Rocky, but before he dies, Rocky identifies Nick as the mastermind behind Jess's murder.

Johnny pursues Nick to the roof, out in a rainstorm. Nick accidentally steps on the main power supply to Torno's huge neon sign and is electrocuted.



It was based on a story called Mr Gideon. Roy Del Ruth and his associate Joe Kaufman brought the film rights in May 1946 from writer Donald Barry and Producer Lou Rock. The originally announced wanting Frank Sinatra to play the lead.[2]

Roy Del Ruth set up his production company at Monogram Pictures, who were trying to expand into more prestigious product. Del Ruth made It Happened on Fifth Avenue for them, one of Monogram's most expensive pictures to date. He was meant to follow it with Mr Gideon but the project was delayed.[3]

The story was retitled Red Light after a survey.[4] Del Ruth started doing background filming in San Francisco in June 1947.[5] However it was a while before filming of the actual movie began.

Monogram formed a subsidiary, Allied Artists, who would distribute their more prestigious movies. Del Ruth made The Babe Ruth Story for Allied Artists and they announced they would finance Red Light.[6] Del Ruth wanted Edward G. Robinson, William Bendix and Charles Bickford for the main roles.[7] He thought the budget would be around $1.25 to 1.5 million.[8]

In January 1949 it was announced that Monogram and United Artists had signed a deal whereby United Artists would distribute Red Light and another movie Gun Crazy. The films would be financed by Pioneer Pictures, a new company which Monogram half owned, the other half being owned by Eastern investors. George Raft was announced as star.[9] Virginia Mayo was borrowed to play the female lead.

Raft was paid $65,000 for his role.[10] He signed in February 1949 and filming started in March.[11] The production manager, Joe Gilpin, died of a heart attack during filming.[12]


Critical response

The Los Angeles Times said the film "generates suspense and promises to emerge as a taut, exciting melodrama" but that it was let down by its "religious reform theme".[13]

The New York Times said the film was "in the main, a contest familiar to Raft's retinue of fans, complete with hard, laconic characters, a search for a culprit, a few fireworks and with the Word in the Good Book as its sole, extraordinary twist."[14]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz said of the film, "Roy Del Ruth directs a routine film noir infused with themes of revenge and religion, as it veers more towards a regular crime drama except for photographic flashes that reveal the film's dark undertones. The film's classic noir shot is of the villainous Raymond Burr smoking and smiling as his frightened victim is being crushed to death while hiding under a trailer, as Burr has just kicked out the jack holding it up ... The film held my interest mainly because this was a perfect part for Raft and it was well-crafted."[15]


  1. Red Light on IMDb.
  2. Schallert, E. (1946, May 28). 'Free agent' leslie will do independent picture. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  3. By, T. F. (1946, Sep 08). OUT HOLLYWOOD WAY. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  4. French Star to Keynote Korda Bilingual Series Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]22 Mar 1947: A5. Browse this issue
  5. Schallert, E. (1947, Jun 30). DRAMA AND FILM. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  6. Of local origin. (1948, Jun 01). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. Schallert, E. (1948, Apr 15). Film vaudeville here; ryan avenger at MGM. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. Scheuer, P. K. (1947, Aug 28). DRAMA AND FILM. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  9. By THOMAS F BRADY Special to The New York Times. (1949, Jan 11). UA AND MONOGRAM IN DEAL ON SELLING. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. Everett Aaker, The Films of George Raft, McFarland & Company, 2013 p 141
  11. By THOMAS F BRADY Special to The New York Times. (1949, Feb 08). BISCHOFF CANCELS FILM FINANCE DEAL. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  12. JOE C. GILPIN. (1949, Mar 20). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  13. Scott, J. L. (1949, Sep 16). 'Red light' stars raft on music hall screens. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  14. George raft in a crime melodrama. (1950, Jan 16). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  15. Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, March 21, 2004. Last accessed: November 30, 2009.
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