30 Days of Noir #3: Footsteps in the Night (dir by Jean Yarbough)

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.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Yankee Doodle Dandy (dir by Michael Curtiz)


So, today, I got off work so that I could vote in Texas’s Super Tuesday primary.  After I cast my vote (and don’t ask me who I voted for because it’s a secret ballot for a reason!), I came home and I turned on the TV and I discovered that, as a result of spending February recording countless films off of Lifetime and TCM, I only had 9 hours of space left on my DVR.  As a result, the DVR was threatening to erase my recordings of Bend It Like Beckham, Jesus Christ Superstar, American Anthem, an episode of The Bachelor from 2011, and the entire series of Saved By The Bell: The College Years.

“Acgk!” I exclaimed in terror.

So, I immediately sat down and started the process of cleaning out the DVR.  I started things out by watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, a film from 1942.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biopic of a songwriter, signer, and dancer named George M. Cohan.  I have to admit, that when the film started, I had absolutely no idea who George M. Cohan was.  Imagine my surprise as I watched the film and I discovered that Cohan had written all of the old-fashioned patriotic songs that are played by the Richardson Symphony Orchestra whenever I go to see the 4th of July fireworks show at Breckenridge Park.  He wrote You’re A Grand Old Flag, The Yankee Doodle Boy, and Over There.  Though I may not have heard of him, Cohan was an American institution during the first half of the 20th Century.  Even if I hadn’t read that on Wikipedia, I would have been able to guess from watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, which, at times, seems to be making a case for sainthood.

And that’s not meant to be a complaint!  74 years after it was originally released, Yankee Doodle Dandy is still a terrifically entertaining film.  It opens with George (played by James Cagney) accepting a Congressional Gold Medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  (We only see Roosevelt from behind and needless to say, the President did not play himself.  Instead, Captain Jack Young sat in a chair while FDR’s voice was provided by impressionist Art Gilmore.)  Cohan proceeds to tell Roosevelt his life story, starting with his birth on the 4th of July.  Cohan tells how he was born into a showbiz family and a major theme of the film is how Cohan took care of his family even after becoming famous.

The other major theme is patriotism.  As portrayed in this biopic, Cohan is perhaps the most patriotic man who ever lived.  That may sound corny but Cagney pulls it off.  When we see him sitting at the piano and coming up with the lyrics for another song extolling the greatness of America, we never doubt his sincerity.  In fact, he’s so sincere that he makes us believe as well.  Watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, I found myself regretting that I have to live in such an overwhelmingly cynical time.  If George M. Cohan was alive today, he’d punch out anyone who called this country “Murica.”

Yankee Doodle Dandy is an amazingly positive film.  There are a few scenes where Cohan has to deal with a few Broadway types who are jealous of his talent and his confidence but, otherwise, it’s pretty much one triumph after another for Cohan.  Normally, of course, there’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone talk about how great his life is but fortunately, Cohan is played by James Cagney and Cagney gives one of the best performance of all time in the role.

Cagney, of course, is best remembered for playing gangsters but he got his start as a dancer.  In Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cagney is so energetic and so happy and such a complete and totally showman that you can’t help but get caught up in his story.  When he says that, as a result of his success, things have never been better, you don’t resent him for it.  Instead, you’re happy for him because he’s amazingly talented and deserve the best!

Seriously, watch him below:

James Cagney won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance here.  Yankee Doodle Dandy was also nominated for best picture but lost to Mrs. Miniver.

I’m really glad that I watched Yankee Doodle Dandy today.  In this time of overwhelming negativity, it was just what I needed!