Arthur Franz plays the title role as Jerry Miller, a deeply disturbed man who hates women. He tries to stop himself from shooting them, going so far as to intentionally burn his hand, but the police are slow to put together clues and Jerry's rampage of terror continues.
It's an absorbing movie which, despite being made in the early '50s, in some ways has a modern feel, with many of the issues raised still relevant. The film is also a bit unusual in that at times its sympathies are disturbingly twisted, presenting the killer as the object of pity and some of the police as inept at best and cruelly stupid at worst. A scene where a police lineup is accompanied by sneering questioning and joking on the part of a police detective is disturbing, even though it's clear the people being taunted are lowlifes.
Thematically, the film's depiction of a serial killer with uncontrollable impulses reminded me very much of the previous year's M (1951). Although the script doesn't play up the San Francisco setting in the dialogue, THE SNIPER makes very effective use of its setting, just as M utilized wonderful location shots of Downtown Los Angeles. The cable cars and Coit Tower are among the locations which appear in THE SNIPER.
The setting and cast are what make this film especially enjoyable. A pair of hardworking detectives played by Adolphe Menjou and Gerald Mohr come off best among the police on the case. The casting of Menjou against type as a rumpled detective, without his trademark mustache, was inspired. I know Mohr's work best from his appearances as one of the most frequent guest stars on the TV Western MAVERICK, and it's nice to see him here as a dedicated public servant. Frank Faylen plays their boss.
Interesting faces pop up regularly. I spotted Jean Willes walking down the street near the start of the movie, and Wally Cox plays a dry cleaning employee. Good old Charles Lane is a drunk in a bar annoying Marie Windsor. Byron Foulger, who seems to turn up in everything I watch lately, is part of a police lineup. Karen Sharpe, who would later marry the film's producer, Stanley Kramer, has a bit role.
THE SNIPER was directed by Edward Dmytryk and filmed in black and white by Burnett Guffey. Edward and Edna Anhalt were nominated for the Oscar for Best Motion Picture Story; the script was by Harry Brown. The movie runs 88 minutes.
THE SNIPER is available on DVD in the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 1 set. The Columbia Pictures noir sets released by Sony are beautiful prints and highly recommended.