Sunday, October 05, 2008

Tonight's Movie: He Walked By Night (1948)

HE WALKED BY NIGHT is a terrific little police "procedural" in which viewers follow two members of the LAPD (Scott Brady and Roy Roberts) on the trail of a cop killer (Richard Basehart).

I really enjoy films which demonstrate the state of police technology and lab work in this era. The film is somewhat reminiscent of two other films I've enjoyed in the past year, KID GLOVE KILLER (1942), which featured Van Heflin as a police criminologist, and MYSTERY STREET (1950), which starred Ricardo Montalban as a Boston detective and Bruce Bennett as a forensic scientist.

In HE WALKED BY NIGHT, we find none other than a young, skinny Jack Webb as the police criminologist. Seeing Webb in this role is one of the film's pleasures. The film's "by the book" storytelling, with the "names changed to protect the innocent," would seem to have been a big influence on Webb's later work, including the narration style of DRAGNET. In this case the film is narrated by Reed Hadley, whose booming voice was also used in 1947's BOOMERANG! (reviewed here) and 1948's THE IRON CURTAIN (reviewed here).

The supporting cast includes many good character actors, including John Dehner, Frank Cady, Whit Bissell, Dorothy Adams, and Adams' husband Byron Foulger. Alma Beltran, who plays the Spanish-speaking robbery witness, appeared in films for over half a century, from 1945 to 2002. The familiar voice of the dispatcher belongs to Ann Doran, who was very appealing in PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945) and NEVER A DULL MOMENT (1950).

HE WALKED BY NIGHT was directed by Alfred L. Werker and an uncredited Anthony Mann. It runs for 79 minutes. The film was strikingly photographed in black and white by John Alton, who a couple years later won the Oscar for his first color film, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951). Alton also photographed the black and white MYSTERY STREET, mentioned earlier in this post.

HE WALKED BY NIGHT is available on video and DVD. The DVD does not appear to include any extras; I'd love to see this film again with a commentary track. Maybe we'll be lucky and the film will have a more interesting DVD release in the future.

The Kino video print I watched was somewhat faded but otherwise watchable.

You can read more on HE WALKED BY NIGHT at Noir of the Week.

February 2014 Update: Here's a brief account of seeing this film at UCLA.

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