This film marked the feature film debut of actor Steven Hill.
After World War II, immigrants in Cuba who are refused visas for various reasons try to sneak into the U.S. illegally with the help of a human smuggling ring run by Palinov (George Macready), a Levantine café owner. Following the death of one immigrant, U.S. Immigration operative Pete Karczag (John Hodiak) is sent to Havana, where he poses as a Hungarian in need of Palinov's services. During his dangerous undercover investigation, Pete meets Marianne Lorress (Hedy Lamarr), a penniless Austrian refugee of the Buchenwald concentration camp who is waiting to be smuggled into the United States by Palinov. He decides to use her to obtain the place and time of Palinov's next operation.
However Pete falls in love with Marianne, and deducing that she must give herself to Palinov in trade for the trip, talks her into staying in Cuba. Palinov discovers Karczag's true purpose and decides to use his own services. He exposes Pete to Marianne, who angrily decides to go ahead with the smuggling trip. Palinov tries to have Pete killed but the agent overcomes his would-be killer, gets the information from him, and reports it to his superior, Frank Westlake (James Craig). Palinov flies to the United States with Marianne and the other smuggled passengers. However, the airplane is being tracked by U.S. Immigration and is unable to refuel in Florida. Palinov and his pilot crash-land in the Florida Everglades in one last desperate attempt to elude capture.
Palinov forces Marianne to accompany him and his pilot, seeking a boat hidden on a river. He kills one of the passengers trying to board their small raft; the rest flee into the glades. Pete and Westlake take up pursuit but split up when Westlake decides that saving the lives of the remaining immigrants takes priority over arresting Palinov. Pete continues after the fugitives and Marianne. The pilot is bitten by a poisonous snake and is left behind. Pete finds the hidden boat and gives it to Palinov in exchange for Marianne, although Palinov treacherously tries but fails to shoot them during his escape. Pete reassures her that Palinov won't get far—Pete emptied the boat's fuel tank before giving it up.Hedy Lamarr as Marianne Lorress
John Hodiak as Peter Karczag
James Craig as Frank Westlake
George Macready as Palinov
Steven Geray as Frenchman
Bruce Cowling as Archer Delby James
Nedrick Young as Harry Nordell
Steven Hill as Jack
Robert Osterloh as Lt. Lannahan
Trevor Bardette as Lt. Carfagno
Charles Wagenheim as Ramon Santez
Renzo Cesana as A. Sestina
Esther Zeitlin as Beryl Sandring
Carlo Tricoli as Mr. Sandring
Marta Mitrovich as Elizaveth Alonescu
Don Garner as Dmitri Matthias
Richard Crane as Navy Flyer
Nita Bieber as Dancer
The working title of this film was Visa and the production dates were early January through late February 1950.
According to MGM records the film earned $668,000 in the US and Canada and $336,000 elsewhere, leading to a loss of $444,000.
Despite the fact that the film was made on a small budget, most reviews find the Casablanca-like film entertaining.
When the film was released, the staff at Variety magazine praised the film, writing, "Beginning is a bit too cryptic for quick understanding, but when plotline [adapted by Cyril Hume from a suggested story by Lawrence Taylor] does take shape, the story builds and holds attention. Joseph H. Lewis' direction spins it along expertly, neatly pacing the suspenseful sequences."
In the 21st century, Time Out Film Guide praised director Lewis. "A tight little script and economically etched characters provide a strong foundation, but it is Lewis' evocative visuals that really turn this into a poverty row gem."
In 2003, Dennis Schwartz gave the film a mixed review, writing: "Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy/The Big Combo) does his best to make this tightly but uninspiring clichéd film noir work. But even though he adds zest and style by his solid visual directing effort, this low-budget Casablanca wannabe still lacks force. Though this is one of the much praised poverty row director's poorer films, it still is an interesting watch due to the strange effects of the visuals and the surreal atmospheric location shots."
The dramatic score for the film, an ethnic Caribbean motif, was composed by David Raksin and conducted by Johnny Green.
A suite of Raksin's music that survives on the film's master tape was issued on CD in 2009, on Film Score Monthly records.