Friday, July 19, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Murder is My Beat (1955)

MURDER IS MY BEAT is a bit of a curiosity, a lower-rank film noir from Allied Artists which is all over the map: It's got a solid basic storyline, some nicely edited moments, and good L.A. locations mixed with tepid performances, so-bad-it's-good voiceover narration, ultra-obvious back projections, and a documentary sequence which makes the viewer wonder where on earth the crime movie went.

All in all, a rather strange film, yet as a film noir fan, I was glad I saw it.

Homicide detective Ray Patrick (Paul Langton) is delivering convicted murderess Eden Lane (Barbara Payton) to prison when Eden spots the man she supposedly killed standing on a train platform. (The body, you see, was burned, including the hands -- no fingerprints.)

Patrick, normally a by-the-book guy, is suddenly overcome with determination to find out if the "victim" is alive and hopefully clear Eden's name. He and Eden jump off the moving train and plan to give themselves a week to solve the case, then turn Eden in at the prison. Why Det. Patrick doesn't just call in his fellow cops instead of jeopardizing his career was beyond me, but then we wouldn't have a movie...

Langton and Payton give desultory, uninspired performances; Langton's playing a part that screams for Charles McGraw, although McGraw's good guy characters were probably too hard-boiled to do anything as crazy as run out on a job. The once-gorgeous Payton, in her last starring role, looks puffy and plays her role rather flatly, without a great deal of conviction.

The underlying story is actually pretty good, which helps to hold the viewer's interest, and there are a couple of nicely done moments, such as the scene on the train which cuts back and forth from Ray to Eden to the train wheels moving inexorably forward.

On the other hand, some of the voice-overs in the script by Aubrey Wisberg are painfully corny, particularly in the scene where the poor cop trudges through the snow in search of the accused murderess.

Some of the storyline is set at a ceramics factory, and in the movie's strangest moment we are suddenly treated to documentary footage of the factory assembly lines. This footage has nothing to do with the story, it's just dropped into the middle of the movie, which is actually strangely amusing. I was expecting a ceramic figurine to be a key plot element, but nope! Although the owners of the factory, played by Roy Gordon and the always-reliable Selena Royle, do figure in the goings-on.

MURDER IS MY BEAT was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, whose credits include THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946), RUTHLESS (1947), and DETOUR (1945); an interesting bit of trivia is that DETOUR starred Tom Neal, who was involved in an infamous scandal with MURDER IS MY BEAT's Barbara Payton in the early '50s. The short, sad life of Barbara Payton was chronicled in the book KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE by John O'Dowd, published by Bear Manor Media.

The movie was shot in black and white by Harold G. Wellman. Some early shots of L.A. convey a nice sense of place, but there's an overuse of phony back projections, both during Det. Patrick's visit to the ceramics factory and when Eden's friend Patsy (Tracy Roberts) is walking down the street in a small town.

Robert Shayne brings life to the role of Patrick's friend, Police Captain Rawley, and his presence in the last section of the movie is a definite plus, giving the movie a bit of needed energy. The cast also includes Kate McKenna, Jay Adler, Henry Harvey Sr., Madge Cleveland, and Anthony Jochim.

The remastered print from Warner Archive is quite nice, and despite -- because of? -- its odder aspects, film noir fans should check out this good-looking DVD.

There's more on this film from Mark at Where Danger Lives and Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant.


Blogger john k said...

As you say Laura,MURDER IS MY BEAT is not top-drawer Noir
but its a worthwhile release and most fans will want this one.
At any rate its just great to see such a minor film given this
super treatment from Warner Archive;remastered in widescreen.
I totally agree had Charles McGraw been involved the film would
have been far better.
The one I am waiting for in this series is THE HUNTED,which
The Archive say they will release at some point.I really enjoyed
your review of this film Laura and simply cannot wait for it to
turn up on DVD.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this film, John -- I was especially interested that you shared my thought that Charles McGraw would have lifted the film's quality considerably.

Can't tell you how happy I am that your source tells you that THE HUNTED will be out from Warner Archive at some point. I have been hoping for that since the Archive has released other relatively unknown Allied Artists noir titles such as MURDER IS MY BEAT or SOUTHSIDE 1-1000, and there's such a beautiful restored print from UCLA, WB and the Film Noir Foundation.

My dad had the chance to see THE HUNTED after I did and shared my enthusiasm for it -- it was nice to know I wasn't alone in my reaction. I'd love for more noir fans such as yourself to be able to check it out.

Best wishes,

5:49 PM  

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