Well worth catching.
He Walked by Night (1948)
User ReviewsReview this title
Well worth catching.
The realistic technique of this movie was so innovative, that Jack Webb (who has his first good-sized role in this movie) used this technique in making his 1940s radio show "Dragnet." When he brought "Dragnet" to television in 1951, the style of the show influenced countless other shows, launching realistic police drama in television. This realistic style is very noticeable in TV shows today, such as "Law and Order," and "NYPD Blue."
As influential as "He Walked By Night" was, it is also a finely acted, finely directed, well-written, and intense police movie. It is being re-released on DVD under "The Great Cops Movies," so don't miss it.
The shooting sets off a manhunt that takes more than a month. Captain Roy Roberts and Detective Scott Brady lead the investigation which takes both men into some unexpected places in trying to track down the culprit.
This was Richard Basehart's breakthrough role in He Walked By Night. He plays a really diabolical stone cold killer in this one who apparently has no liking for humans. His only companion in the world is a dog.
This clever little noir thriller is done in the documentary style that seemed to be in vogue after World War II. I'm also sure that the final chase scene through the storm drain must have inspired Carol Reed to put it in The Third Man where the idea got more notice.
The lack of really big name stars gives this film a realistic approach. Look for Jack Webb in a supporting role as a police lab technician. I Don't doubt he got the idea for Dragnet from working on He Walked By Night.
Intrigued by the statement that the film is "based on a true story," I did some research. Apparently the real-life Roy was named Erwin Walker -- aka "Machine Gun" Walker. Honest.
Walker was indeed a World War II vet, a former Glendale PD radio dispatcher, and a brilliant student at Cal Tech. The true story is even better than the film: Walker wasn't killed by police, and managed to evade the death penalty with a plea of insanity. Better yet, he was subsequently released, and has lived, somewhere, among us.
You can read a first-person account of Walker here (as long as the link remains good): http://www.epinions.com/content_3817054340 .
Mann is an uncredited director for this film, or at least a co-director. John Alton, the cinematographer who worked with him on a couple of other film noirs, did the camera-work and he was one of the best.
Richard Basehart plays a convincing no-conscience killer. He as very interesting to watch all the way through. It also was entertaining to see a young Jack Webb play a forensics-type cop. This was his pre-Dragnet television show period but this was a good vehicle for his cop work. In fact, this movie even had a Dragnet feel to it with some kooky minor characters, such as the lady talking to the milkman/cop.
This movie dragged a big in the middle but overall was entertaining enough to recommend, especially to film noir fans. Just make sure you see this with a good print.
Roy Martin, as he calls himself, is a young man with an unusual ability for everything electric. He likes to put things together, then tries to interest Paul Reeves, a businessman with an important clientele to lease the things Martin brings him. All goes well until the time he makes a tactical mistake. He leaves an equipment for television that turns out to have been stolen from the same man that Reeves has called to peddle the item.
What the LAPD doesn't know is that Roy Martin has a way for evading the enemy. He has discovered the system under the Los Angeles streets for the heavy flash floods it experiences to make his getaway. He is a slippery man with superior intelligence to outsmart the police. Ultimately, the police gets a break that will put an end to Roy's crime spree.
Albert Werker directed the impressive "He Walked by Night", a 1948 film noir that went to be imitated by a lot of people in Hollywood. It also became the model of the television show "Dragnet" that came later, in which Jack Webb, who is prominently featured, explored some of the principles originated in the breakthrough film. Anthony Mann was also on board to help with the direction, and it shows, although he is not given credit for the work he did. Crane Wilbur and John Higgins wrote the screenplay in a semi-documentary style. It is a tribute to all the creators the film has survived long after it was first released. The best thing in the film is John Alton's black and white cinematography that captures the Los Angeles of that era in all its splendor.
Richard Basehart made a cool Roy Martin. This was Mr. Basehart's third picture and he showed a great potential as the criminal that was able to outsmart the police. The supporting players, Scott Brady, Whit Bissell, James Cardwell, and Roy Roberts, among them, do a good job under Mr. Werker's direction.
Certainly, "Law & Order" also had its start with this wonderful "B" movie. The production is quite good, with excellent performances, and great location filming.
Many users have questioned this film's technique, implying it is hokey or cliché. That is certainly missing the point. THIS FILM STARTED the whole genre, in a way. And, keeping in mind that this was not produced by a major studio, I am quite satisfied with its quality.
"Film noir"? Perhaps......although it shares the look, more than the concept of that genre.
I recommend this film.
It's 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 have been changed to protect the innocent.
Cracking little noir picture this one. Richard Baseheart is Davis Morgan, a cold and calculated thief and murderer. He is not only unknown to the police, but also to the Los Angeles underworld. Something which made him a terrifying ghost on the streets. Based on the real life case of cop-killer come thief Erwin Walker, who in 1946 struck terror into the heart of LA, He Walked By Night zips along at a frenetic pace but maintains all the darkness requisites of the Film Noir genre. Directed by Alfred Walker (aided by one uncredited Anthony Mann) and also starring Jack Webb (who used the piece as inspiration for the popular "Dragnet" TV series), the picture has excellent use of shadows and a brilliant finale down in the Los Angeles drainage system. Where the sound of guns and running feet is just ferocious.
Baseheart is suitably chilling as a man coming unhinged by the day, whilst a home surgery sequence shows Baseheart to have had no small amount of ability. It's notable with Morgan's character that it's people he just doesn't like, there's a very telling scene with his dog that is sweet but at the same time saying so much about the man himself. This film reminded me very much of Edward Dmytryk's similarly fine 1952 film, The Sniper. So much so I'd say that as a double bill they be perfect for each other. With added plot worth in the form of early police forensics (check out the photo fit technique) and a largely unknown support cast adding a raw reality to proceedings, He Walked By Night comes highly recommended to fans of the Noir and Crime genres. 8/10
- quote -
In 1949, Jack landed the role of Lt. Lee Jones in the film
"He walked by Night." After meeting LAPD Sgt. Marty Wynn,
a technical advisor for the show, Jack got the idea to develop
Dragnet after being invited to review LAPD case files.
- end quote -
Several elements associated with _Dragnet_ appear already in _He Walked_: not only the stolid narration but also the devotion of time to routine and even futile work, the interviewing of oddballs, the explication of technology, and the incidental chit-chat about the family.
One interesting point is that we never get to find out the killer's motive: even at the expense of the audience's aesthetic satisfaction, the killer's point of view is denied to us. The only lessons we can learn from the movie are the lessons that the police learn.
This film is among the best of the documentary style dramas of it's time with A-list voice over specialist Reed Hadley providing the narration. The brief travelogue guide and the tour of Los Angeles Police Headquarters in the opening segment little prepare you for the shocking murder of Officer Robert Rawlins.
As a retired police officer, I can assure you that no dispatched call creates quite the adrenalin surge than that of an officer involved shooting. Like a "Broken Arrow" transmission in the military, all cops break off their current assignment to respond, just like in the film. The film doesn't glorify the drudgery of detective work, on the contrary, it shows that only tireless followup will often lead one to their suspect.
This film is among those that piqued my interest in becoming an officer. I too commuted to work and back in uniform (to avoid dressing twice everyday) but Officer Rawlins' ambush was always in the back of my mind and I employed tactics accordingly (always address suspects or suspicious persons from outside your vehicle for instance).
It is a bygone era when it was cooler to be a cop than a criminal. Modern films glorify acts of mindless violence and copycat crimes are commonplace. He Walked By Night not only shows the gritty side of policing, it rightly shows that the job can not be done without the help of citizen involvement. If only all sketch artists were as handy with their pencils as Jack Webb/Lee is with his slides. There is little doubt that the use of deadly force in the capture of Roy Morgan is justified and there is no glamour or glory in his death.
Two bits of humor in the closing sequence are the apparent length of the battle lantern's cords as they stretch the length of the sewer system and speed in which the detectives/officers don their gas masks before the final confrontation.
He Walked By Night to me remains the definitive model upon which all other such police dramas are inspired. Alfred Werker's pacing and John Alton's cinematography are flawless. I think this film is a fitting tribute to Sgt. Marty Wynn and all the cops of his era. I recommend it to everyone.
Richard Basehart, who portrays criminal Roy Martin in this film, really owns the movie. He shines as a relentless sociopath whose only tender spot seems to be for his own dog. Because he doesn't associate with known criminals and lives quietly, he is exceptionally hard to track down. Basehart actually has very few lines, but he is great at expressing his state of mind through his gestures and facial expressions. The film's excellent cinematography surrounds Basehart's character with cold, deterministic pools of light and darkness so that he really does seem like some type of shadow of evil that has descended upon the city. The killer in the film was actually based on real-life criminal Erwin Walker. However, wanting to concentrate on both the crime solving techniques involved and the habits of the criminal, this interesting and lengthy backstory was omitted to keep the film tight and fast paced.
Erwin Walker was a brilliant student at the California Institute of Technology, a radio dispatcher for the police department in his native Glendale, and something of a hero as a lieutenant in charge of a radar unit on Okinawa during World War II. Walker returned from overseas duty deeply disturbed, and set out on a crime spree of more than a dozen holdups and burglaries to raise money for construction of a "death ray machine" that he thought would somehow make another war impossible. Twice Walker shot his way out of police traps, escaping through the labyrinth of storm drain pipes under Los Angeles and eventually killing a police officer. He was sentenced to death, but was later found to be insane by prison psychiatrists, and his execution was postponed indefinitely. California governor Pat Brown commuted his sentence to life in 1961, and in 1971 Walker was granted a new trial due to his original confession having been found to be coerced. Remarkably, he was acquitted at the second trial, changed his name, married, and took a job as a chemist somewhere in Southern California, never to be heard from publicly again.
Thus, just or unjust, the inspiration for this movie had quite a different outcome than the villain in the film. Of course, in 1948, nobody would have dared write such a screenplay and have expected to ever work in Hollywood again.
I had always considered Cagney's portrayal of Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949) to be the first real off-the-wall psycho killer in a major film. But I now think that distinction should probably go to Basehart's portrayal of Erwin Walker in this movie. It's obviously a matter of opinion, but I can't think of a killer this menacing in a film prior to 1948.
But wait, he's not against the plug-in kind of machinery. Martin's a closet genius at modifying the most sophisticated electronics, an untrained innovator with just that kind of intelligence. Does he do it for money-- it's hard to tell. We do know he's not above presenting someone else's work as his own. However, that demeaning aspect may simply be the script complying with Production Code requirements. Businessman Whit Bissell would like to partner up with the mystery man's skills, offering a research laboratory in return. But when Martin refuses with a knowing smile, we know he's got his own drummer. And, we also know that anyone who gets in the way of that drummer turns the science whiz into a cold-blooded killer.
At first I thought it a mistake that the screenplay didn't fill in more of Martin's personal story, something that might get a handle on his extreme behavior. But on second thought, better to leave him a mystery man of rare and unfeeling talents. That way, we're free to speculate on a background instead of having to settle for some half-baked Freudianism circa 1948. The character strikes me as someone who has chosen to live outside normal bounds as a challenge to his ingenuity and resourcefulness, both of which he possesses in spades.
And it's that, I think, which makes him an unusual crime figure. Time and again, he uses those qualities to defeat the relentless machinery of law enforcement, shown in its many scientific and professional phases. Basehart the actor manages a number of subtle shadings conveying a depth of character not shown by the impersonal forces of law and order. Not that the screenplay doesn't try to humanize the cops-- that's the point of the convalescent hospital scene and the crime lab joshing. Rather, for the professionals, it's a job. For Martin, however, it's something deeper, more interesting, but not necessarily admirable.
The movie itself has an uncredited Anthony Mann written all over it, especially the scenes with Basehart. Director Mann, cameraman John Alton, and scripters Higgins and Essex are responsible, I expect, for pointing away from the rather dull procedures onto the noirish atmosphere of outlaw alienation. Of course, bit player Jack Webb saw how popular such procedures could be for a TV audience and spun them off into one of the 1950's most successful series. But it's the underground man Roy Martin, alone with his mutt dog and inner demons that makes up one of noir's most fascinating crime figures. And on a final note of irony, notice how close Martin comes to a last minute escape were it not for that diabolical god of the noir universe-- the Hand of Fate.
The trouble begins when Basehart is walking alone on a night-time street in Los Angeles. He stops in front of a radio store but then, seeing a police car approach, walks on. The police car stops and the officer begins questioning him -- "What are you doing here?", and "I'll have to see some identification." Since I have lived in Southern California cities I must point out that Basehart wasn't doing anything criminal -- except that he was WALKING. In the cities of Southern California, like L.A. and San Diego, it's sometimes possible to stand on the sidewalk of a residential area and look straight down the street to its vanishing point without seeing a soul. No pedestrians. No kids playing. Nothing. Everyone drives a car; no one walks. A pedestrian is suspect because he is a pedestrian. I was stopped by police dozens of times on city sidewalks. My landlord was taken to the local police station for walking his dog at night.
Of course that's neither here nor there, and yet, if walking weren't so deviant an activity, there would have been no questioning of Basehart and no subsequent homicide, not to mention minor tsuris. The performances are profient. The script is adequate to its purpose. The locations are well chosen. Basehart lives in one of those courts, a dozen or so single-story duplex cottages built around a central garden. It's the only way to live in L.A. You are forced to see your neighbors daily, perhaps even forced to greet them. The city as a whole is so thoroughly dehumanized that other kinds of settlements are as quiet as morgues and just as much fun. The photography too is outstanding. After dark the scenes are shot with strategically placed bright lights, night-for-night. And there must have been some tricky problems in lighting the tunnel sequences, although they were handled successfully, though with nowhere near the panache of "The Third Man." The score is by the numbers and adds little.
If there's any problem with the flick it lies in the way the director(s) handled the script. The script sticks closely to exposition. One guy does this. Another guy does that. Someone says something illuminating. But it's played rather flatly, in a kind of cinematic monotone. Nobody has any quirks. The masculine banter between the cops doesn't ring true. There is no humor anywhere in the story. No one shouts, laughs, or even raises his voice. Everyone seems to speak and act in carefully measured ways, a spoonful at a time. Even when Basehart is banging Whit Bissel around, slapping his repeatedly, knocking him to the floor, and kicking him -- it's all done as if the actors were keeping one eye on their marks.
This isn't a lethal criticism. The movie isn't entirely lifeless. It's just that an occasional rant would have rent its smooth texture. It's still an interesting movie. I've enjoyed seeing it over several viewings.
Comment #1 I can never recall him being referred to as "Tough Guy." Comment #2 The movie, "He Walked by Night" was produced by the Eagle Lion Studio. My father was contacted and asked if he would give the technical direction. While doing so, he met a down-and-out actor named Jack Webb. Webb had a ten minute part as a lab technician in the movie and was not depicted as a detective. During one of their conversations, Wynn mentioned to Webb, "It's a shame they don't have a radio show that depicts the actual policeman and the work that he does." At that time, the lead detective show was "Sam Spade."
They derived the title, "He Walked by Night," to the fact that he committed most of his crimes at night. The film, itself, was not accurate. The use of the storm drains in the City of L. A. was strictly Hollywood. When Walker was captured he was located in a rented bungalow located on Argyle St. in L. A. Three officers, Donohoe, Wynn and Rombo, entered this location at 2:30 A.M. surprising Walker while he slept. A physical confrontation took place. Walker was armed with a machine gun at which time he succeeded in getting the clip into the weapon. Donohoe yelled, "Shoot him, Marty! He's got the gun!" Wynn took him down, striking him numerous times over the head with the butt of his 38 revolver. Walker, still struggling and in possession of the gun, Wynn then put the gun to Walker's back and fired twice. It was noted that when Wynn examined his gun, he had cracked the grip of the pistol. When Walker was placed in the ambulance, he asked Wynn, "Do you have any kids?" Wynn said, "Yes, I have two boys." Walker replied, "You're lucky because you came close to not seeing your kids again." At that time, he told Wynn, "they will never execute for this crime and I will live to see the day where I will kill you." In 1959, Walker succeeded in escaping from Atascadero. Three days later he was captured. Wynn was forced to strap his 38 again after two years of retirement.
If you desire any more information regard Sgt. Marty Wynn or the film, please contact me at this e-address.
"He Walked by Night" unfolds with several long shots of a Los Angeles city map. "Racket Squad" actor Reed Hadley delivers the prototypical description of L.A. that would open each "Dragnet" episode over similar shots. Afterward, Mann takes us first to the Hollywood Police Division where we learn that "He Walked By Night" is "the case history of a killer." The scene shifts to a dark, quiet. tree-lined street late one evening in Hollywood. An immaculately dressed Roy Martin (Richard Basehart of "Moby Dick") is prowling dark streets and casing an electronics shop. Equipped with lock-picking tools, he is about to commit burglary when an off-duty cop heading home, Office Robert Rawlins (John McGuire of "Flamingo Road"), spots him. Rawlins pulls over and questions him. When he asks to see some identification, Rawlins isn't prepared for the reception that he receives. Martin produces a gun from his suit and blasts away. Swiftly, the killer scrambles to his car, while Rawlins struggles to fire shots at him. In a desperate bid to stop Martin, Rawlins guns his sedan. Swerves it across the street and smashes into Martin's stolen car before he can get it cranked. Witnesses provide the authorities with a description, but Martin shaves off the pencil-thin mustache and begins on his next criminal endeavor. Later, we learn that Rawlins has died from his gunshot wounds.
When he isn't committing crimes, Martin modifies his stolen equipment and then rents it out to Reeves Electronics Laboratory run by Paul Reeves (a bespectacled Whit Bissell) who urges Roy to join his firm. Roy brings in his television projection set and leaves before the original owner arrives. The owner identifies the equipment and calls the police. At this point, Captain Breen (Roy Roberts of "My Darling Clementine") assigns Sgt. Marty Brennan (Scott Brady of "Dollars") and Sgt. Chuck Jones (James Cardwell of "The Sullivans") to the case and they question Reeves. Martin calls up and Reeves tells him that he has sold his television projector. Jones gets Reeves to tell Martin that he has his dough ready and to come in that night and pick it up. Later, Martin surprises everybody that night and shoots Jones, paralyzing him and knocking Brennan unconscious. In the process, however, Martin is wounded by Jones. In a scene that predates "First Blood," Martin digs out the slug himself with sterilized doctor's tools. Meanwhile, the crime technician, Lee (Jack Webb of "Dragnet") gradually pieces together information about Martin until Brennan suggests that he use something that allows witnesses of Martin's robberies to create a picture of him. It seems that Martin has been on a robbery spree and uses the storm drainage system underneath Los Angeles to escape from the authorities.
Anyway, Captain Breen relieves Brennan from the case since the latter has made no headway in capturing Martin and Breen is feeling the heat from his own superiors. Later, during one of his visits with the recuperating Jones, Brennan learns that the Breen is trying to rattle him enough to come up with a fresh approach to the case. Brennan starts looking where he didn't beforein the surrounding police departments. Eventually, he uncovers Martin's secret and his real name Roy Morgan. Breen masquerades as a milk man and finds where Morgan lives. The long arm of the law assembles with cops, guns, and tear gas to flush Morgan out. Predictably, Morgan flees to the storm drainage system with the LAPD in hot pursuit. They don't aim to let him escape their clutches again! This tightly-knit thriller is pretty good, even by 1948 standards. The police are depicted like idiots during the first hour because they constantly underestimated the resourceful adversary who even keeps a shotgun stored in the underground drain system. John Alton creates a marvelous sense of atmosphere with images that highlight the area above the heads of the participants. The photography in the storm drainage system is terrific stuff! Scott Brady is good as the cop determined to bust Morgan, and his Sgt. Brennan's one characteristic that is emphasized is his shortage of matches for his cigarette habit.
With masterful use of light and shadows, from cinematographer John Alton, "He Walked by Night" is one of the most visually striking films of the 1940s. Basehart's psychotic star performance is also award-worthy; especially, after witnessing his character operate on himself, in close-up, to remove a bullet. The supporting cast is a treasure trove, among them: Roy Roberts as the determined police captain, Dorothy Adams as the loony lady on Brady's milk run, Whit Bissell as Basehart's bookish friend, Billy Mauch as the mugging head of a teen gang, and Jack Webb learning how to make "Dragnet" a west coast version of "The Naked City". And, that's not all; read the extended cast list on IMDb before watching, so you don't miss anyone!
********* He Walked by Night (1948) Alfred Werker, Anthony Mann ~ Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts
Basehart found his best role as the icy man on a mission. He was a rather strange looking actor to begin with which added to his menace. The rest of the cast are throw-aways, only background for Basehart's character. This is not to say that they do an inferior job but the viewer's interest is concentrated on Basehart and his skewed personality. (Of course, we all know what influence the film had on Jack Webb's career on the development of "Dragnet".) The film tends to move rather slowly at times but it all ends with one of the greatest chases in film history.....through the storm drains of Los Angeles with the already mentioned Alton touch.
This is a small film that is worth watching. It is a primer for the appreciation of black and white cinematography
The film is a matter-of-fact thriller, shot is gritty black and white, very dependent on narration for supplying us with questions on why this man would commit his evil crimes and how he could react with such little remorse for those he harmed. The narrative device also serves as a tool for explaining key elements in the plot. We get both sides:the point of view from both Martin and how he prepares & the law enforcement procedure at trying to get him. I believe a key to the film's success is the "boy-next-door" youthfulness of Basehart who doesn't have a face of a cold blooded killer until it twists in rage and we the unmasking of the true monster. But, the film is most importantly a study in how to catch a man who is so elusive that it takes much heartache and headache to catch him. The film's presentation is as cold as ice, like the killer, but is fascinating to see unfold over the duration.
The final chase through the sewers is very reminiscent of Carol Reed's "The Third Man", but was actually made a year prior to that famous film. "He Walked by Night" is a fine film brought to life by a good filmmaker.
Another enjoyable aspect was spotting so many familiar faces. I caught a very brief glimpse of Kenneth Tobey and half a dozen other performers whose faces, if not their names, were very familiar . . . like the nutty lady talking to "milkman" Scott Brady.