Wednesday, June 24, 2015


In Los Angeles, an off-duty cop is heading home one night when he stops a man acting suspiciously in front of a radio store. The would-be thief (Richard Basehart) shoots the cop and runs to his car, but the cop lives long enough to ram his car into the thief's car. Basehart escapes on foot, and when the police arrive, they find a small arsenal and some Navy radio equipment in the trunk of the car. Basehart, who lives alone with just a dog, seems to shun people. He has a thriving business selling electronic contraptions to a retail dealer (Whit Bissell), but actually the devices he sells are stolen from others. Soon the cops are onto him and there's a shootout at Bissell's office. The wounded Basehart escapes, removes the bullet, and stitches himself up. He then goes on a crime rampage, holding up stores and making his escapes through the city's storm drain system. He remains an enigma to the police, and the sergeant leading the case (Scott Brady) gets so frustrated that he's ordered to take time off, but when a clue pops up, Brady returns and eventually leads his men on a stakeout of Basehart's apartment which leads to a tense chase through the L.A. storm sewer system.

This is often mentioned as a particularly good example of film noir, and it often has the look and feel of one, but I maintain it's more a particularly good example of the documentary-style police procedural. Robert Porfirio calls it noir because of the "completely alienated noir protagonist," but Basehart's character is not developed at all—although we learn a few facts about him, his personality and motivation remain murky at best. The cop (Brady) is fleshed out a bit more, but except for his frustration, he doesn't seem to fit the conflicted noir hero template. This takes nothing away from the movie, which is well made and tense, with an excellent central performance from Basehart who shifts between coldly calculating and sweatily psycho. The noir look of the film is perfect, with lots of light and shadow, courtesy cinematographer John Alton and uncredited director Anthony Mann who stepped in to help the credited Alfred Werker. Jack Webb has a supporting role and supposedly was inspired by this film to create his TV show Dragnet—this film is narrated but the cops have much more personality than the TV cops had. Recommended. [DVD]

No comments: