Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Homicide (1949)

I recently read Glenn Erickson's review of HOMICIDE at DVD Savant and was immediately intrigued. This 77-minute detective film sounded quite interesting, and indeed, that proved to be the case.

Lt. Michael "Mickey" Landers (Robert Douglas), a Canadian transplant to the LAPD, travels to rural Glorietta, California, to follow up on clues left at the scene of a questionable suicide. Mickey stays at a resort where he quizzes the bartender (Robert Alda) on leads and romances the pretty cigarette salesgirl, Jo Ann (Helen Westcott).

This is the kind of little movie I love to discover. Although a "B" film, it's a quality production with interesting lead actors, very good dialogue, and solid performances by a large cast of well-known faces. The last 10 minutes is the only weak section of the film; given the savvy he'd shown to that point, Mickey seemed dense in his dealings with a bad guy, and I also would have liked the romantic angle to end on a stronger note. That said, I had a really good time watching this movie and will definitely return to it in the future.

Douglas is quite charming as the dedicated detective, whether he's sweet-talking Jo Ann or making a lifelong friend of the crochety landlady (Esther Howard) at the scene of the suicide. He's charismatic, has some snappy dialogue, and is different enough from the norm -- including the "exotic" Canadian background -- to make the viewer really sit up and pay attention.

I'd previously seen Douglas in a handful of films, including THE LADY TAKES A SAILOR (1949), THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1952), and THE SCARLET COAT (1955), but this is the first time he really caught my eye. I'd love to see him in good-guy roles similar to the character he played in HOMICIDE, if any such parts exist.

HOMICIDE was one of several 1949 films made by former child actress Helen Westcott, the daughter of Gordon Westcott. (There's more info on Gordon Westcott in my post on FOG OVER FRISCO.) The next year she would play her best-known role in THE GUNFIGHTER (1950). Westcott adds a great deal to the film, especially when she's exchanging snappy repartee with Douglas; their shared scenes are the best in the movie.

It's a bit of a mystery how Robert Alda went from starring roles in films like RHAPSODY IN BLUE (1945) and THE MAN I LOVE (1947) to playing a bartender in a "B" movie, but he's fine in his role.

 I especially enjoyed seeing George Chandler pop up as the police crime scene photographer and Ian Wolfe as the LAPD criminalist. Monte Blue, Warren Douglas, John Harmon, James Foster, Richard Benedict, Ralph Dunn, and the always-dependable Frank Ferguson are also in the cast.

HOMICIDE is one of just two feature films directed by Felix Jacoves, who also worked on a number of movies as a dialogue director. Given the quality of HOMICIDE and Jacoves' other film, the very memorable EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948), it's a shame that Jacoves didn't helm more movies. It appears from these two films that he was a man of considerable talent, able to elicit interesting performances and create a good sense of place and mood.

This film was shot in black and white by Peverell Marley. The writer was William Sackheim.

HOMICIDE is part of a Warner Archive "Film Noir Double Feature," teamed on the same disc with THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET (1949). (Update: THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET has now also been reviewed.) A trailer for HOMICIDE is included on the disc; the trailer can also be seen on the TCM website.

Recommended for fans of "B" noir.

2 Comments:

Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I must see anything with Esther Howard and this sounds like a dandy.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It was a dandy! Hope you get to check it out, I bet you'd like it. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

8:14 AM  

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