Monday, July 7, 2008

He walked at 9AM

While the Fox Movie Channel was airing The Rookie this morning, TCM was showing a much better movie, He Walked By Night.

He Walked By Night is what is often called a "police procedural", a docudrama dealing with the solving of a murder, much along the same lines as, say The Naked City. However, while The Naked City is a combination of drama and mystery, He Walked By Night is much more of a noir, and also focuses more on the criminal (no spoilers here, since we know he's guilty) than does The Naked City, where it takes just as long for us to figure out the identity of the killer as it does the police.

Richard Basehart plays the killer, an electronics expert (actually, he's stealing other people's technology and passing it off as his own) who shoots a policeman one night when the cop gets too close to inquiring about Basehart's less than honorable activities. Life isn't glamorous for the police, who have to do a lot of grunt work, but eventually, they're able to put all the clues together, and get their man in a tense climax. A lot of the credit for this goes to uncredited director Anthony Mann. He uses light and shadow quite effectively to heighten the tension. Watch the climax, which takes place in the sewers beneath Los Angeles; one wonders if Carroll Reed saw this before setting the climax of The Third Man in the sewers of Vienna. There's also an excellent scene in which Basehart returns to his bungalow after he's been shot by the police and removes the bullet from his own shoulder himself (since he knows the police are scoring the local emergency rooms looking for gunshot victims). It's obviously uncomfortable, and you see the sweat beading up on Basehart's face as he performs surgery on himself.

As for the rest of the cast, watch for police lab technician Lee; that's Jack Webb before he became famous. It was clearly on the set of He Walked By Night that the idea for Dragnet was born, with webb as Sgt. Friday. Indeed, it wasn't long after the release of He Walked By Night that Dragnet became first a radio show, before eventually making the transition to TV and even the big screen.

He Walked By Night was produced by the minor Eagle-Lion Films, but is one of those movie that shows just what good work can do to overcome a small budget. Perhaps it helps that it was based on a true story, that of Erwin Walker. It's an outstanding little movie from the late 1940s, and one that is just as exciting today as it must have been 60 years ago when it first premiered on screen. Happily, it's available on DVD for anybody who wants to watch it.

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