Richard Widmark plays Harry Fabian, a small-time hustler who overreaches himself by trying to become a wrestling promoter. It is a vivid performance and Fabian's character is discussed in Paul Arthur's essay on the film:
It is also fascinating to see British stalwarts of the era such as Herbert Lom, Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan acting in this essentially American film and looking thoroughly at home there.
Harry, famously referred to by a romantic rival as “an artist without an art,” is a figure of palpable instability, always in the midst of a surefire shady venture, some criminalized shortcut to what he describes as “a life of ease and plenty.”
Unfortunately, every jittery step he takes brings him closer to immanent disaster and death (in addition to morbid visual cues, variants of the phrase “You’re a dead man” are a key dialogue motif). Worse still, his precipitous actions drag down everyone around him—although, with the exception of his mistreated girlfriend, Mary Bristol, these underworld characters largely deserve their malign fates.