Thursday, November 05, 2009


This short but effective noir police thriller was directed by Richard Fleischer (who later did 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and FANTASTIC VOYAGE) and was based on a story by noir and Western director Anthony Mann. There's a killer on the loose who calls himself The Judge; thinking he has somehow been "ordained" to judge others, he warns his victims that they deserve to die, then he kills them, usually strangling them from behind, and leaves a note for the police who are stumped and who are facing a public outcry for their failure to stop this guy. Cop William Lundigan and his sidekick Jeff Corey are obsessed with tracking him down. Lundigan develops an antagonistic relationship with Dorothy Patrick, a tabloid reporter who wants to help crack the case. When she boldly sneaks into his apartment one night to get information, he casually changes into his pajamas, pulls down his Murphy bed, and climbs in, leaving her at a loss for words. Eventually, he agrees to feed her info and let her write a story under his name. Lundigan, using what few witness descriptions he has, builds a faceless dummy figure of the Judge, hoping it may help in identifying some suspects. Just as the cop and the reporter seem to be getting along, she pisses him off by running an incomplete story that leads directly to another "Judge" death. Eventually, the dummy pays off when a waitress recognizes the figure, and the climactic chase takes place a la WHITE HEAT up and down the ladders of a large oil refinery.

What's memorable about this film is the gimmick of the faceless dummy; logically, I'm not sure why Lundigan decided to make such a thing since there is really nothing physical about the Judge that stands out from the ordinary, but it does make for a creepy prop. The best scene in the movie involves Lundigan and the dummy alone in a room on a rainy afternoon (see picture above). I like Lundigan and he's fine here as the stolid lead, though Patrick is bland and their romantic subplot is uninteresting after the amusing apartment scene. The film never quite lives up to its opening, a violent scene in which a newspaper editor is attacked by the Judge. This is a fairly straightforward police procedural which would have benefited from at least an attempt at some psychological delving into the Judge character. Worth seeing. [TCM]

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