William Bendix plays Buzz who is one of the two buddies who comes home along with Johnny. The other buddy is George who is as much as a straight arrow as one can be but what do you expect when he's played by Hugh Beaumont. William Bendix is one of the more underrated character actors from the period as I have yet to be disappointed by him, although I must admit that I have not seen the Babe Ruth Story. Bendix, like in his work in Lifeboat, carries an innate likability. There is such a genuine earnestness about his work that he manages to make Buzz a guy who is pretty easy to feel sorry for even though in his first scene it becomes clear that Buzz has a short fuse as he lashes out against a guy simply for playing music from a jukebox. The reason for his short fuse though is not because Buzz simply has a bad temper, but rather due to his experiences from the war which left a metal plate in his head.
Like in his performance in Lifeboat where he had the drunk scenes here he has those angry outburst which again could lead to some very over the top style of performance, but once again Bendix excels by not doing this. Bendix portrays Buzz's moments of losing his mind incredibly well as he portrays them as basically a nervous jolt of emotional desperation. Bendix is terrific because as he goes into the rather intense moments of Buzz he carefully always reinforces that it comes from his own pain, and that his outburst is Buzz's attempt to alleviate that even though it may be a bit futile. Bendix makes these moments all the more disconcerting because he does have such an endearing quality to his performance. He believably turns that gentle quality into a viciousness so effectively, and even though the film does not spend too much time on it, Bendix gives a fairly remarkable portrayal of his character's post traumatic stress disorder.
The film is about Ladd's characters attempt to find the real culprit to his wife's murder so it might seem obvious where Buzz fits into that when Johnny's wife invites Buzz over. Bendix is extremely effective in these rather brief scenes as brings a considerable poignancy to the moment where Johnny's wife talks to Buzz, even though she is only trying to manipulate him. Bendix makes it appropriately tragic though by honestly portraying how desperate Buzz is for a real tenderness which he will not be receiving from Johnny's wife. There major problem in regards to Bendix comes into play when the film reaching its conclusion and it turns out Buzz is at best a red herring and at worst a completely pointless to the plot. The film seems to be building to Buzz being the murderer caused by one of his moments of insanity then forgetting about it due to his moments of memory loss, that is not the case though.
I was not surprised to say the least when I read that Buzz was the original murderer and it was changed and it does feel like a last minute change since the real conclusion is rather unsatisfactory. The reason this mattes in regards to Bendix though is the film fails to give him one last scene to show where it is Buzz is going in regards to his potential insanity as his story just kinda stops after Buzz is cleared of the charges. The reason this is a problem with the film is that Buzz is easily the most interesting character in the film and Bendix easily gives the best performance. I would much rather have had the more emotionally explosive ending involving Buzz rather than the overly simple one where a character no one cared about to begin with turned out to be the killer. The usage of Buzz only does harm to the film itself but not really Bendix's performance past denying one more potentially great scene. Bendix still manages to give a moving portrait of a man traumatized by war, even if film itself doesn't use it to its fullest potential.