Film Review: He Walked by Night (1948)

Release Date: November 24th, 1948 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Alfred L. Werker, Anthony Mann (uncredited)
Written by: John C. Higgins, Crane Wilbur
Music by: Leonid Raab
Cast: Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Jack Webb, Whit Bissell

Eagle-Lion FIlms, 79 Minutes

Review:

“And so the tedious quest went on. Sergeant Brennan wore out his shoes and his patience going from police station to police station, checking photos until his eyes were blurry. For police work is not all glamour and excitement and glory. There are days and days of routine, of tedious probing, of tireless searching. Fruitless days. Days when nothing goes right, when it seems as if no one could ever think his way through the maze of baffling trails a criminal leaves. But the answer to that is persistence and the hope that sooner or later something will turn up, some tiny lead that can grow into a warm trail and point to the cracking of a case.” – Narrator

This is a really gritty picture and it has a semidocumentary feel to it. For those who have seen T-Men, you probably can’t help making comparisons between the two. While Alfred L. Werker was billed as the director, this feels an awful lot like Anthony Mann’s T-Men. Strangely enough, he also directed this but wasn’t given credit for it. Honestly, it feels like it is wholly his film.

The film also benefits from the cinematography of John Alton, who worked on several pictures with Mann, most notably, the aforementioned T-Men, as well as his stupendous work in Raw Deal.

Also like T-Men, the story is based off of real life events. In the case of this picture, it is a fictional retelling of the story of Erwin “Machine-Gun” Walker, a former cop and war veteran that started a crime spree in Los Angeles that included burglaries, robberies and shootouts. In this film, names have been changed and so have some of the details. The criminal is named Roy and he is most wanted fro being a cop killer.

Richard Basehart was believable as the criminal and he carried this picture on his back. The actors who played the cops were also good and so was the shop owner who had an association with Basehart’s Roy. Basehart just takes over the screen whenever he is present. He’s clever, ruthless and calculated. Basehart conveys these qualities with ease and his presence is like a dark and intimidating cloud over the proceedings, ready to rain down hell.

The action in this film is stupendous and displays more energy than what was the norm in the 1940s. The final chase scene through the Los Angeles sewers is beautiful and draws parallels to the finale of the 1949 film The Third Man. The moment where Roy slides on his belly across the asphalt, escaping into a storm drain is amazing and unlike anything I’ve seen before this picture’s time of release. The moment where the dying cop uses his car to smash into Roy’s, to prevent his escape, is another great action shot unlike anything from this era or before. This is a rather violent film for its time but nothing is really downplayed or understated.

He Walked by Night is one of the best classic film-noir movies ever made. It is short and quick but it doesn’t need to be anything more than what it was. It made its point, gave us something that truly felt real and was unapologetic about it in an era where censors had a tight grip on the film industry.

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