Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Scene of the Crime (1949)

SCENE OF THE CRIME is a noirish black and white police procedural starring Van Johnson as a detective trying to solve the murder of a fellow cop.

John McIntire and Tom Drake costar as Johnson's partners on the case, with McIntire playing a cop close to retirement and Drake appearing as a rookie detective learning the ropes.

Johnson's wife, who is tiring of nights spent alone at home, is played by Arlene Dahl. Gloria DeHaven gives a very interesting, multilayered performance as a singer in a sleazy nightclub who figures in the case and threatens to come between Johnson and Dahl.

The supporting cast includes Leon Ames, Norman Lloyd, Jerome Cowan, Anthony Caruso, Donald Woods, and Tom Powers.

The film has a great opening credits sequence showing a bullet from a crime scene being processed. Johnson is good as a fairly hardboiled cop, and McIntire and Drake, in particular, play nicely delineated characters. The film is interesting but just a tad sluggish, particularly when focusing on the frustrations of Johnson's wife.

The airport in the final scenes appeared to be Long Beach Airport, a small local airport which has appeared in many other films, including THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER (1947) and THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB (2007).

SCENE OF THE CRIME was directed by Roy Rowland. Rowland also directed MGM's hard-hitting police drama ROGUE COP (1954). Other Rowland films previously reviewed here include Van Johnson's THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE (1947) and the Westerns MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955) and GUN GLORY (1957).

SCENE OF THE CRIME, incidentally, reunited three of the four leads from the wonderful 1944 MGM musical TWO GIRLS AND A SAILOR: Johnson, Drake, and DeHaven.

This film runs 94 minutes. It has a score by Andre Previn, who was all of 20 years old when this film was released. The cinematography was by Paul Vogel, who also shot the entertaining "B" crime film KID GLOVE KILLER (1942) and the ground-breaking murder mystery LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), which used the camera to tell the story from a first-person point of view.

SCENE OF THE CRIME has not had a video or DVD release, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

John Nolte, reviewing the film a few weeks ago at Big Hollywood, wrote: "This was a nice little pick up courtesy of my 'Record All Things Van Johnson' DVR feature. A tightly plotted piece of noir with Johnson playing a Los Angeles homicide detective hunting down the killer of a fellow detective and friend of his who may or may not have been involved in the rackets. Good black and white photography, great locations, sharp dialogue and a 94-minute runtime made this quite the find."

April 2012 Update: I was fortunate to see this film at the Noir City Festival with Norman Lloyd in attendance!

January 2013: SCENE OF THE CRIME is now available in a remastered print from the Warner Archive.


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