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.George Raft as Johnny Torno
Virginia Mayo as Carla North
Gene Lockhart as Warni Hazard
Raymond Burr as Nick Cherney
Harry Morgan as Rocky
Barton MacLane as Detective Strecker
Arthur Franz as Father (Chaplain) Jess Torno
Arthur Shields as Father Redmond
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.
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.
The story was retitled Red Light after a survey. Del Ruth started doing background filming in San Francisco in June 1947. 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. Del Ruth wanted Edward G. Robinson, William Bendix and Charles Bickford for the main roles. He thought the budget would be around $1.25 to 1.5 million.
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. Virginia Mayo was borrowed to play the female lead.
Raft was paid $65,000 for his role. He signed in February 1949 and filming started in March. The production manager, Joe Gilpin, died of a heart attack during filming.
The Los Angeles Times said the film "generates suspense and promises to emerge as a taunt, exciting melodrama" but that it was let down by its "religious reform theme".
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."
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."