The 1957 film Footsteps in the Night opens in a small motel apartment in Los Angeles.
Jazz blares from a record player. Playing cards are spread across a table. A cigarette burns in an ashtray while a stack of poker chips sits undisturbed nearby. When the apartment’s resident, Henry Johnson (Douglas Dick) steps into the room, he nearly stumbles over the dead body that’s lying in the middle of the floor.
Henry looks down at the body. Is he shocked? Is he scared? Is he regretful? Is he guilty? It’s impossible to tell from his somewhat perturbed but mostly blank facial expression. He takes in the scene and then promptly turns out the lights.
The dead man is Henry’s neighbor, Fred Horner (Robert Shaye). When the police arrive, Detectives Andy Doyle (Bill Elliott) and Mike Duncan (Don Haggerty) immediately deduce that someone murdered Fred in the middle of a poker game. Since everyone says that Henry was not only a degenerate gambler but that he also frequently got into arguments with Fred, Henry becomes the number one suspect. Not helping Henry’s case is the fact that he’s disappeared and his girlfriend, Mary Raiken (Eleanore Train), won’t reveal where he’s hiding.
It seems like an open-and-shut case but Doyle has his doubts. The case against Henry is almost too perfect and Doyle wonders if maybe they’re overlooking something. As Doyle and Duncan continue to investigate, they discover that Fred Horner was an angry and misanthropic man. They also discover that there’s a salesman named Bradbury (James Flavin) who is staying at an adjacent hotel and who bears a strong resemblance to the dead man….
Clocking in at just 62 minutes, Footsteps in the Night is a fast-paced police procedural with elements of film noir tossed in for good measure. While I was doing some research for this review, I discovered that Footsteps in the Night was actually the fifth and final film in which Bill Elliott played Detective Andy Doyle. Before taking on the role of Doyle, Elliott appeared in several westerns and he plays Doyle much like an ideal frontier sheriff. He’s a no-nonsense lawman who solves cases with common sense and doesn’t have much time for wild speculation. Dan Haggerty backs him up as the equally no-nonsense Mike Duncan. As opposed to the modern tendency to celebrate cops who “break the rules,” Footsteps in the Night emphasizes the professional, by-the-book attitude of Doyle and Duncan. If you were ever murdered, Duncan and Doyle are the type of cops that you would want assigned to the case.
As for their number one suspect, Henry may claim to have just been an innocent bystander but his gambling addiction makes him less than trustworthy in the eyes of many cops. It’s only when Doyle and Duncan start to dig into the case that they discover just how cruelly Fred manipulated Henry’s addiction. In the best tradition of many murder mysteries, Footsteps in the Night not only leaves you wondering who the murderer may have been but also whether or not the victim may have gotten what he deserved.
Footsteps in the Night is a good police procedural. I look forward to watching and reviewing the other four films in which Bill Elliott played Detective Doyle as well.