Impact, 1949, b&w. Arthur Lubin (dir.), Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines, Charles Coburn, Helen Walker, Anna May Wong, Robert Warwick, Tony Barrett. 1:51.
Walter Williams (Donlevy) is a high-powered San Francisco industrialist, who worked his way up through the ranks—and who’s married to (and deeply in love with) a faithless wife. She’s out to do him in, conspiring with her lover to kill him in the course of a road trip (where the lover pretends to be her cousin, hitchhiking back east).
But things go a little awry. The car’s destroyed in a flaming wreck (colliding head-on with a gas tanker on the highway to Reno, apparently)—and Williams, left just off the road as dead, isn’t (although the unrecognizable corpse in the wreck is assumed to be Williams). He chooses not to return to SF right away, instead making his way to Larkspur, Idaho, where he forges a new life under a new name…until he decides he needs to make things right.
That’s only part of the plot, and in some ways the most interesting part is the last half-hour or so, where the faithless wife attempts to pin the lover’s murder on him. It’s quite a story, involving detection and (of course) a new love interest, well played and plotted by all involved. The print’s excellent and I found the whole thing surprisingly satisfying. It’s one I’ll watch again. $2.00
He Walked By Night, 1948, b&w. Alfred L. Werker (dir.), Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell, James Cardwell, Jack Webb. 1:19.
A true-crime (rather, true-criminal) story and police procedural, with lots of narration and a feel that’s reminiscent of (apparently the template and inspiration for) Dragnet. It has a young Jack Webb—a couple of years before the original Dragnet, in his second adult role, as a forensics technician, not a detective as such. It’s set in LA and heavily features the LA sewer system.
Richard Basehart plays Roy Walker, who seemingly could make an excellent living as an electronics whiz but prefers to be a burglar (and, later, robber) with electronics innovation as a sideline. We never learn his motive for seemingly-needless crimes; as one reviewer noted, all we learn is what the police learn. Among other things, this may be one of the first flicks to involve a criminal listening in on police-band radio.
It’s an odd one, and of course I don’t know what LA was like in 1946. Apparently, the storm drain openings are big enough so a full-grown man can just roll into them. The idea of getting crime victims to help build a good drawing of the perp’s face was new (in this case, they use slides as a sort of identikit, working with a couple dozen robbery victims). And, to be sure, LA had an endless supply of police to send to a crime scene. The sleeve description’s off (as it is for Impact), but that’s irrelevant.
Not bad, not great—a little heavy on the narration, a little light on the logic, specifically the motivation for the criminal. Still, it gets points as, apparently, the first of its kind: A fact-based police yarn set in LA, with the names changed to protect whoever and showing police as hard-working people who sometimes have trouble with investigations, not as quick-witted romancers who have lots of shootouts. The print’s OK. Including a $0.25 bonus for its significance as the inspiration for Dragnet, I’ll give it $1.50
Quicksand, 1950, b&w. Irving Pichel (dir.), Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates, Peter Lorre. 1:19.
This one’s not a mystery, but a film noir—exploring how an auto mechanic going after the wrong woman can go from “borrowing” $20 to murder in about half a dozen not-so-easy steps. Although I’m not a great Mickey Rooney fan and he’s in almost every frame of this film, I have to say he did a good job.
It’s a fairly effective story, with a continuously moving plot. Peter Lorre plays one of several fundamentally dishonest people, in his case the proprietor of an arcade. Good but not great; I’ll give it $1.25.
Eyes in the Night, 1942, b&w. Fred Zinnemann (dir.), Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, Donna Reed, Stephen McNally. 1:20.
The setup: a woman (Harding) finds that her stepdaughter (a 21-year-old Reed) is in love with her own former lover, who’s managed to turn the stepdaughter against her. The former lover’s an actor and the stepdaughter plans a dramatic career; they’re both involved in a production that’s in the works. But the actor turns up dead…and the daughter believes the stepmother’s to blame. She goes to a famous blind detective, Duncan Maclain (Arnold) to see if he can help.
The reality: It’s all espionage. The woman’s husband has invented some formula important to the war effort. He’s flown off for a final test before delivering it to Washington—and the butler in the house is a plant, part of a ring determined to steal the formula. The playwright who’s directing the production is the leader of the gang, and they killed the former lover because he was unreliable (or something)
The bulk of the movie’s set in the scientist’s estate, with the detective portraying the woman’s uncle and trying to keep the bad guys from getting the formula. Somehow it all works out—largely due to Friday, the detective’s seeing-eye dog.
Generally well played. Arnold’s very effective as the blind detective. Not great, but pretty good. I’ll give it $1.50.