He Walked by Night

Director: Alfred L. Werker
(& uncredited Anthony Mann)

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Set in Los Angeles, He Walked by Night (1948) presents a criminal case history in an almost documentary style which started the whole "police procedural" type of crime film, & adding plenty of atmospheric film noir photography.

He Walked by NightIt's the primary inspiration for Dragnet with cops speaking in that Dragnet just-the-facts monotone style. It even has Jack Webb in it, in an important support role as head of the police forensics lab. It was during the filming of He Walked by Night that Webb met tecnical adviser & police sargent Marty Wynn, with whom Webb first worked out the idea for Dragnet, initially as a radio program that eventually moved to television.

Richard Basehart is nearly caught trying to rob a radio store & shoots the police officer point blank through the driver's window, then jumps in his own car, but the critically wounded officer manages to ram the shooter's vehicle, so that he has to flee afoot.

Basehart plays the killer with a sociopathic calculating intensity which, in contrast to the matter-of-fact acting of the police investigators, causes the screen to truly come alive whenever the bad guy's center stage. Basehart's is the most striking performance, a coldhearted killer yet hyper-sensitive to his little dog's moods.

An intelligant & methodical criminal, he has for some while specialized in stealing then fencing advanced electronics, & pretends to be an inventor & tinkerer to the businessman (Whit Bissell) to whom he sells the electronics.

Captain Breen (Roy Roberts) heads the investigation. When the killer Roy Martin/Morgan changes his modus operadi to avoid detection, it takes Breen & his team a while to realize that two groups of crimes are by the same trigger-happy criminal, but using the same gun soon permitted the cops to connect the dots.

Roy can vanish like a phantom, knowing the Los Angels sewer system, & the under-city sequences add to the gloomy noir texture of this well crafted little movie. The sewer drain sequences are reminiscent of the Vienna sewer scenes of The Third Man (1949), & the L.A. sewers figure largely in many other films, most famously with Them (1954).

Roy at first seemed like some kind of master criminal & we even wonder momentarily if he really is the electronics wizard he pretended to be. But he's mostly a fraud, an ordinary thief & murderer. When cornered at last, he erupts with fear & desparation, a rat in the sewers whose life of crime culminates in a terrifying shoot-out, gorgeously filmed.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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