With a running time scarcely long enough to qualify it as a feature, this memorably bizarre effort from Columbia's B-pictures unit and journeyman director Earl McEvoy (whose brief career yielded about three other credits) represents an unsuccessful and little-known attempt to meld soapy film noir with docudrama. In theory, this conglomeration alone might have proven interesting. But the film isn't quite intelligent enough to blend its two extremes into a central narrative; until the final act, it funnels each genre into a distinct substory, and the result feels like two pieces of mismatched fabric, sloppily stitched together, with an ugly seam protruding between them. Thus, for the majority of the picture, McEvoy and screenwriter Harry Essex cross-cut between a hackneyed and rote melodramatic premise involving diamond smugglers and a jilted lover, and an absolutely fascinating narrative thread concerning the smallpox epidemic that Evelyn Keyes' character unwittingly totes into Grand Central Station, infecting every poor ignorant bastard who comes within two feet of her. Most intriguing about this picture is its source material: Essex adapted his disease subplot from a Good Housekeeping article, which covered -- in depth -- the now long-forgotten smallpox hysteria and mass vaccination in New York City, circa fall 1947. Why Essex and McEvoy failed to preserve this as their central (and only) narrative thread, and felt the need to doctor it up, is a complete mystery. One continually feels oneself being hooked by the central story, only to feel it offset by ill-advised noirish additions, the worst of which -- an endless purple prose voice-over following the opening credits -- is a howler, funny and irreverent enough to rival even Sam Elliott's introductory narration in The Big Lebowski. Evelyn Keyes should have received the red badge of courage for her role, however. No mainstream Hollywood actress has ever sacrificed so much to deliberately look so wretched; in the final sequence, when Keyes stumbles into a jeweler's store with a sore-covered face, closely resembling a walking corpse, she undoubtedly suffers more -- in a single moment -- than any leading lady of her generation.