Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Whodunnit Wednesday - He Walked By Night (1948)

THIS IS A TRUE STORY. It is known to the police department of one of our largest cities as the most difficult homicide case in its experience, principally because of the diabolical cleverness, intelligence and cunning of a completely unknown killer... The record is set down here factually ---- as it happened ---- only the names are changed ---- to protect the innocent.

If the above opening sounds somewhat familiar, kiddies, then there's probably a reason for that. Today's flick, He Walked By Night, was the film that inspired Jack Webb to create the series Dragnet.

In 1948, Webb was coming off of the success of his radio show Pat Novak for Hire in which he portrayed an unlicensed private detective with a penchant for lines like "She drifted into the room like 98 pounds of warm smoke. Her voice was hot and sticky--like a furnace full of marshmallows." He had also begun to do some film acting, and was offered the role of a crime lab technician in He Walked By Night. the movies was based on the actual shooting of a California Highway Patrolman. Shot in a semi-documentary style, the film was made with the co-operation of the Los Angeles Police Department who sent Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn to the set to be a consultant. Webb and Wynn struck up a friendship, and over the course of the film, Webb had the idea that a radio show featuring the life of a Los Angeles police detective which was as true-to-life as possible and which would have episodes based on actual cases might prove popular. Taking the idea to NBC, he actually had something of an uphill battle, but eventually won them over, and the radio Show Dragnet premiered in 1949, lasting until 1954. In 1951, the show expanded, making the move to television, where it would last until almost the end of the decade.

The movie itself is actually quite good, even if it has been overshadowed by what came after. A fine example of noir filmaking, including some very dark and angular camera work by noted noir cinematographer John Alton, it contains quite a few twists during its 79 minutes. Roy Morgan, a brilliant man with an inside knowledge of police procedure, shoots and kills a patrolman named Hollis. Morgan is also a thief who steals electronics equipment and then sells it to a dealer named Paul Reeves. When the police raid Reeves store, Morgan is almost caught. he escapes, but not before shooting another officer and taking a bullet himself. Deciding to try something new in hopes of throwing the police off his trail, Morgan becomes an armed robber, but when they recover a slug from one of his robberies, forensics specialist Lee (Webb) is able to connect it to Morgan's other crimes. From there it is all downhill for the criminal.

There's not a good embedable trailer online for the flick, so instead, I'm gonna give you another Jack Webb treasure from an appearance on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show:

And now, the Skinny:
Title: He Walked By Night
Release Date: 1948
Running Time: 79 min.
Black and White
Starring: Richard Basehart
Directed by: Alfred L. Werker, Anthony Mann
Produced by: Bryan Foy, Robert Kane
Distributed by: Eagle-Lion Films

He Walked By Night is available to watch or download for free here.
Amazon has the movie available for purchase on DVD: He Walked By Night.
Netflix also has the DVD available for rental: He Walked by Night.

Until next time, Happy Teasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


Anonymous said...

It's amazing they could almost keep a straight face doing that tongue twister.

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