Monday, June 11, 2012

So I had seen The Killer Is Loose before

I mentioned the other day the film The Killer Is Loose, and how it had a plot that looked awfully familiar. There's a good reason for that: I had in fact seen the movie on a previous TCM showing. TCM's website lists a DVD available for purchase, although, oddly enough, IMDb/Amazon doesn't. But since you can apparently buy it at TCM, it's worth a blog post.

My reason for bringing it up the other day was the presence of Joseph Cotten as a police detective. We don't see him until a bit of the way into the movie, however. In fact, the movie starts off at a loan office where one of the tellers is Leon Poole, nicknamed "Foggy" and played by Wendell Corey. Things are about to go sour for him and everybody else in the bank, as a couple of men come in and hold up the place. Poole tries to stop them, and gets pistol-whipped for his effort.

Enter Detective Wagner, played by the aforementioned Jospeh Cotten. He's investigating the case, and the clues point to an inside job. The police here having your typical Hollywood efficiency, they quickly discover that Poole is the inside man. They go to his apartment to apprehend him, but a shootout ensues, in which Wagner shoots Poole's wife, killing her. Poole gets sent to jail, and having been devoted to his wife, he vows revenge.

You can figure out what's going to happen next. Poole becomes a model prisoner, with the intent (obviously not revealed to anybody) to get placed in a minimum-security area, from which he can escape and go back to the city and kill all the people who put him in jail! That means not only Det. Wagner, but also his poor put-upon wife (Rhonda Fleming), who doesn't like that her husband is doing the dangerous work he is, and is terrified of Poole's excape.

The Killer Is Loose is a decided B movie, but for the most part it's highly entertaining. A good portion of this has to do with the direction of Budd Boetticher, who is probably better known for his westerns but always did a good job with B movies. I think the lion's share of the credit, however, has to go to Wendell Corey. Corey is somebody about whom I've always wondered how he became anything more than a character actor. It's not that he couldn't act; it's more that he always seems like the wrong man for the leading roles he got. What would Joan Crawford's Harriet Craig ever see in Wendell Corey? And then there's Barbara Stanwyck in The File on Thelma Jordon. But Corey is actually surprisingly good here. He seems to be playing a character who is on the verge of breaking down psychologically, but nobody around him can see that this is happening. When he gets out of prison, he's quite flat and almost emotionless in the way he treats the people he encounters, especially Otto Flanders, one of the men who helped put him in prison. Poole more or less holds the Flanderses hostage, until deciding to off Mr. Flanders. I did, however, find myself a bit incredulous when Poole asked Mrs. Flanders for some food. There was a pot on the stove, and you'd think that perhaps Mrs. Flanders might have seen The Big Heat and learned something from Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame.

The ending of The Killer Is Loose also feels a bit rushed. We know thanks to the Production Code that Poole is going to get what's coming to him. Here, that comes in the form of Poole, having stolen some of Mrs. Flanders' clothes, going to Det. Wagner's house in drag, following behind Mrs. Wagner, who's walking to the house for reasons of her own. The cops recognize Poole fairly quickly and are of course perfect shots. I can't imagine real-life copes being this good at what they do, and taking down a criminal with no collateral damage at all. But then this was the 1950s; perhaps the cops really were more virtuous than they are today. (I suppose Serpico might disagree.)

Still, you can't be that surprised that The Killer Is Loose has problems. It is, after all, a B movie. And for what it does, it's quite entertaining and well worth the watch.

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