Still a few years away from major studio "A" pictures, director Anthony Mann was already showing how he could make something very substantial out of very little with Desperate. This compact noir-ish thriller pulls together a lot of threads -- neatly and convincingly drawn characters, especially Steve Brodie's good-guy trucker, caught in a nightmare not at all of his making, and Raymond Burr's psycho gang leader; a believably dark situation for the hero; and a credible, bare-bones setting and array of supporting characters. Desperate even manages moments of relatively light, unforced humor (especially in the opening minutes) and romance, which is no small assist in making the central characters believable; as a counter-balance to the interactions of Brodie's Steve Randell and his wife Anne (Audrey Long) are the scenes between the fugitive Randall and detective Ferrari (Jason Robards, Sr.), the latter so quick to pronounce judgment and throw the hapless trucker to the wolves, that he's quietly harrowing in his easy dismissal of lives and reputations. And the script, by Harry J. Essex and Martin Rackin, even manages to resolve that point convincingly and reassuringly. In all, this is one neat and diverting low-rent, high-quality thriller, in many ways the direct antecedent to Mann's better-known, bigger-budgeted MGM-made thriller Side Street (1950).