30 Days of Noir #14: Shoot to Kill (dir by William Berke)


The 1947 film, Shoot to Kill (also known as Police Reporter), opens with both a bang and a crash.

The police are chasing a car down one dark and lonely road.  When that car crashes, the police are shocked to discover who was inside of it.  Two men and one woman, all well-dressed.  The men are both dead but the woman is merely unconscious.  The police identify one of the men as being the notorious gangster, Dixie Logan (Robert Kent).  It makes sense that Logan would be fleeing the police but what about his two passengers, newly elected District Attorney Lawrence Dale (Edmund MacDonald) and Dale’s wife, Marian (Luana Walters)?

The police may not be able to get any answers but fortunately, there’s a reporter around!  Mitch Mitchell (Russell Wade) is a crime reporter and, seeing as how he knew both Lawrence and Marian, he seems like the perfect person to get some answers.  (In fact, it was Mitch who first suggested that Lawrence should hire Marian as his administrative assistant, therefore setting in motion the whirlwind romance that would end with them married.)  Mitch goes to see Marian in her hospital room and he asks her what happened.

It’s flashback time!  Yes, this is one of those films where almost the entire film is a flashback.  That, in itself, is not surprising.  Some of the best film noirs of all time were just extended flashbacks.  (D.O.A, Double Indemnity, and Sunset Boulevard, to name just a few examples.)  What sets Shoot to Kill apart is the fact that, occasionally, we even get characters having a second flashback while already in someone else’s flashback.  We’re through the the film noir looking glass here, people.

Lawrence Dale, we’re told, was elected district attorney because he managed to secure the conviction of notorious gangster Dixie Logan, despite Logan’s insistence that he was no longer involved in the rackets.  However, what we soon discover is that not only was Logan actually innocent but Dale specifically prosecuted him as a favor to some of Dale’s rival gangsters.  That’s right, Lawrence Dale was on the take!  It also turns out that Marian has some secrets of her own.  When she first showed up at Dale’s office, she was doing more than just looking for a job.  As for her marriage to Dale …. well, I really can’t tell you what the twist is here because it would spoil the entire film.

Shoot To Kill may clock in at just 64 minutes but it manages to pack a lot of twists and turns into just an hour.  In fact, I’d argue that it probably tries to do a little bit too much.  At times, the film is a bit difficult to follow and a few inconsistent performances don’t help matters.  For instance, Russell Wade is likable as the crime reporter but he still doesn’t exactly have a dynamic screen presence.  Much better cast are Luana Walters and Edmund MacDonald, who both do a good job as, respectively, a femme fatale and a sap.  At the very least, history nerds like me will be amused by the fact that Edmund MacDonald was obviously made up to resemble Thomas E. Dewey, the former Manhattan District Attorney who twice lost the U.S. presidency.

The best thing about Shoot To Kill is the look of the movie.  Filmed in grainy black-and-white and full of dark shadows, crooked camera angles, and men in fedoras lighting cigarettes in alleys, Shoot to Kill looks the way that a film noir is supposed to look.

Regardless of whether it was the filmmaker’s original intention, Shoot To Kill plays out like a low-budget, black-and-white fever dream.  It’s definitely a flawed film but, for lovers of film noir, still worth a look.

Netflix Noir #4: The Mugger (dir by William Berke)


The Mugger 2

For my final Netflix Noir, I watched The Mugger, a film from 1958.

The Mugger is a police procedural.  Taking place in an unnamed city, it stars Kent Smith as Dr. Pete Graham.  Pete’s both a psychiatrist and a cop and, needless to say, he has a lot to deal with.

For one thing, his girlfriend, Claire (Nan Martin) is also a cop.  In fact, she’s apparently the only female cop on the entire force!  (“Woman cops?” another detective is heard to say, “Do we really need them?”)  Claire spends most her time working undercover on the dance hall circuit.  Pete wants to get married.  Claire wants to solve a few more cases before making that commitment.  Pete says that’s okay, as long as her plans “include me, a home, and children.”

Pete has also been forcefully recruited to counsel a Jeannie (Sandra Church), the sister-in-law of a local taxi driver.  As the driver explains it, Jeannie is “about 18 and is she built!”  Pete replies, “You shouldn’t get excited about a kid who wants to have a good time,” which seems like an unusually progressive attitude for a cop in the 1950s.  Still, Pete agrees to try to encourage Jeannie to be a little bit less rebellious.  Jeannie, by the way, is my favorite character in the film because she is never in a good mood and she gets to dismiss her older sister’s concerns by saying, “Maybe she’s getting a little old, a little jealous.”

It also turns out that Jeannie’s neighbor, Nick Greco (George Maharis), has a crush on her and apparently, just hangs out in her house all day.  While this seemed rather creepy to me, the film seemed to suggest that this was just normal 50s behavior.  Apparently, since nobody bothered to lock their doors back then, it was also totally appropriate to just hide in someone’s house and listen in on private conversations.

Peter’s other big problem is that there’s a mugger who is robbing women and cutting their cheek with a knife.  I have to give the film some credit here because it doesn’t shy away from discussing the sexual subtext to these attacks, which I imagine was quite daring for a film in the 50s.  Pete comes up with a detailed profile of the attacker, the sort of thing that would make the cast of Criminal Minds jealous.  Claire goes undercover to catch the mugger and there’s a great scene where a drunk sailor tries to harass her and she threatens to shoot him in the knee caps.  Again, this is not the sort of thing that we typically associate with a 50s film…

Which is not to say that The Mugger is not clearly a product of its time.  For one thing, just check out the police force in this city, which is all white, all middle-aged, and — with the exception of Claire — all male.  As well, this is one of those old movies where any woman who walks down a street will be leered at by every guy she passes, including the film’s heroes.  One of the reasons why it was so great to see Claire threaten to cripple that soldier was because it came after 50 minutes of watching Pete and every other man in the film do a double take whenever she entered a room.

Clocking in at a little over 70 minutes and obviously low-budget, The Mugger is an undeniably obscure film.  Checking with the imdb, I discovered only two reviews that had been previously written for this film and one of them was in Turkish!  When I went onto YouTube to look for a trailer, I found nothing.  The Mugger is forgotten and hardly a lost classic but I still enjoyed watching it.  What can I say?  I love my history and, if nothing else, The Mugger is definitely a time capsule.

Watch it on Netflix while you can!

The Mugger