Behind Green Lights begins with a windy prologue that proclaims, “This is the story of one night in a big city police station — your city or mine[…]” — although your police station’s typical night shift probably doesn’t consist of a corpse getting dropped off at the front door, a medical examiner who’s regularly paid off for evil deeds, and a police lieutenant who falls in love with a murder suspect.
Lt. Sam Carson (William Gargan) tries his best to juggle the variety of work-related balls thrown at him in the course of an evening, all the while avoiding the temptation of bribery by Max Calvert (Roy Roberts), editor of the city’s biggest newspaper. When the corpse’s primary murder suspect becomes Janet Bradley (Carole Landis), Carson does everything he can to avoid booking her — mainly because Bradley is the daughter of a mayoral candidate whose opposing candidate is being assertively backed by Calvert.
Between the comings and goings at the police station and the variety of people who flit in and out of the corpse’s apartment when he’s still alive (via flashback), this movie has enough characters and slamming doors for a bedroom farce. It’s held together mostly by the very likable leads. Gargan is extremely charming as an Everyman police officer who almost seems to be in over his head, and he’s matched by Landis as a pseudo-glamorous suspect who, thankfully, isn’t all that she seems.
Clocking in at just over an hour, Behind Green Lights is a brisk and extremely enjoyable “programmer” of the kind for which 20th Century-Fox was famous in the 1930’s and ’40s. Other than some strained comic relief involving an elderly flower lady (who figures prominently in the plot), nothing seems forced, and it’s a rare film-noir that leaves you grinning from ear to ear.