Monday, May 14, 2012

Movie Monday: The Killer is Loose

This week's Movie Monday selection is the 1956 film noir The Killer is Loose!

I was trolling on Netfix in the mood for something old-timey and short, something simple, and a 73-minute Budd Boetticher crime thriller seemed like the perfect thing! Plus--Joseph Cotten!
The Killer is Loose's set-up is very, very simple. It starts with a bank robbery, and in short measure the cops (led by Detective Sam Wagner, played by Cotten) learn that it was the classic Inside Job. The trail leads them to the home of bank employee Leon Poole (Wendell Corey), who panics and tries to hole himself up in his apartment, along with his wife.

Wagner and his partner, Det. Chris Gillespie (Michael Pate) yell at Poole to give up, lest them come in shooting. Poole responds by firing through the door, clipping Gillespie:
Wagner and Gillespie retaliate, and Wagner shoots at the first person he sees--which turns out to be Poole's wife. She dies in Poole's arms, and he looks at Wagner with a face of murderous rage.

At the trial, Poole is sentenced to a long prison stretch, and he gets a glimpse of Wagner's wife Lila (Rhonda Fleming). He promises to get out one day, and kill her as revenge. This, naturally, unnerves Lila, but Wagner, Gillespie, and Gillespie's wife Mary (Virginia Christine) say it's all part of the job. Mary kids Lila, welcoming her "to the club":
Years pass, and Poole comes up for parole. He has been a "model prisoner", so his time in the Big House is downgraded to a minimum security prison, where Poole and other prisoners will work outside. Poole, mild-mannered, gratefully accepts.

But we see that Poole has been biding his time--as soon as he gets an opportunity, he kills a nearby guard (using the broken blade from a trowel--kinda nasty, though of course we don't see it), steals a truck, and takes off.

Word makes it out fairly quickly, and Det. Wagner is told that Poole is most likely going to try and make good on his promise: to kill Wagner's wife.
Wagner has to decide whether to be honest with his wife or tell her, risking scaring her to death. Meanwhile, the police (including the Skipper himself, Alan Hale Jr.) try and track Poole down, but he proves to be fairly clever and elusive.

Eventually Poole sneaks his way into another home, near the Wagner's, and demands food from the woman who lives there. When her husband comes home and discovers what's happening, he tries to calm Poole down, and gets shot for his efforts:
This scene features the man getting shot as he holds a milk bottle, and the exploding bottle is what signifies the impact. John Frankenheimer did this similar bit in The Manchurian Candidate, and that's sort of a celebrated scene, so it was kinda cool to see a proto version of that here, a good half-decade earlier.

Poole eventually sort of stumbles across Lila (one of a series of coincidences that makes his film a bit hard to swallow at times), dressing almost in drag(!) to stalk her out in the open, while Wagner and his fellow cops watch from across the street.

The film ends as you'd expect, but with a weird note: Wagner holds his wife to comfort her, and while his face is turned away from the character we hear some ADR, and to my ears it's clearly not Joseph Cotten's voice! As the last line of the movie it made me chuckle, probably not what they were intending.

The Killer is Loose is not a great film--the tension is a little too slack at times, and even at 73 minutes there were times where I felt like it dragged a little. Some of the characters do things that are hard to believe, but the performances are solid (especially Corey), there's some nice shots, and the whole thing goes down pretty easy.

If you're a fan of film noir but aren't an expert and have seen every entry in the genre, you might not have ever even heard of The Killer is Loose. You can find it on Netflix WI and it's definitely worth a look.


Robert M. Lindsey said...

I've recently seen a couple pictures with Rhonda Fleming, and she's quite the looker. For your next noir fix, you might like Cry Danger better, it's got Rhonda Fleming and Dick Powell. I found it to be very entertaining even though it's not a perfect movie.

rob! said...

I've never seen Cry Danger, thanks for the rec!

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