Monday, May 21, 2018

Shoot To Kill (1947)

Today's noir, 1947's 'Shoot To Kill', was also released under the name 'Police Reporter', as can be seen by the poster image to the left. There were tons of 40s & 50s crime programmers with titles containing the word 'reporter', 'investigator', 'inspector', 'federal agent' and so on... And often these crime movies would follow the crime busting government agency docu-noir mold. This one however, does not, and is a straight up noir.

The movie starts off fast, with a car chase ending in a crash. There is only one survivor, Marian Langdon (Luana Walters). But what puzzles the police is the identities of the two deceased men in the car. What were Marian's husband D.A. Lawrence Dale (Edmund MacDonald), and escaped convict Dixie Logan (Robert Kent) doing in the same car and why were they running away from the cops? At the hospital, crime reporter George 'Mitch' Mitchell (Russell Wade) tries to get the scoop from Marian, who explains everything to him... Starting with the court case where Dale, still an assistant D.A., successfully prosecuted Logan, despite Logan claming innocence all the way through. Soon after Marian becomes Dale's secretary, with some help from Mitch, and they eventually fall in love... But nothing is what it seems. Dale is working his way up the ladder by keeping close relationships with the local rackteers, and Marian also isn't quite the charming young lady she pretends to be. She has an agenda of her own, as Dale finds out on their wedding night, making his volatile relationship with those gangsters even more difficult... And then Logan manages to escape prison as well!


The cast, and the slightly outrageous plotline, should already give you an idea that 'Shoot To Kill' is a decidedly B-effort. Not that that means it is bad, I find these B-noirs often have their own charm, and they are almost invariably well-made, as is the case here. Director William Berke was a veteran B director, in many genres, but westerns seemed to have been his forté. As proven with this movie however, he was just as adept at delivering a solid crime movie. He also directed a few other obscure noir-ish movies such as 'Highway 13', 'F.B.I. Girl' and 'Roaring City'. But it's really the cinematography by Benjamin H. Kline that makes 'Shoot To Kill' stand out. Kline's primarily known for lensing the classic B-noir 'Detour', but he also shows flair and skill here. He manages to elevate this movie a notch by making great use of shadows, close-ups and darkness. Given that this movie was apparently made in under a week, some of the set-ups are quite remarkable, and show the craftsmanship of the cast & crew.

The movie's main stars, Russell Wade and Luana Walters, weren't the biggest leading stars, not even in B terms. Wade's biggest moment, or at least the one I imagine he's mostly remembered for, was opposite Boris Karloff in 1945's 'The Body Snatcher'. He's not exactly a charismatic or talented actor and he's unremarkable in this movie. Except for how he comes across. With a hat he comes across as a rugged John Payne like guy, without it he's got more a friendly Hugh Beaumont like face. He never quite made it as leading man in B-movies, quitting the business only a year after completing this movie. The leading lady of this movie, Luana Walters, had been a starlet in B westerns and lighter fare prior to this movie, but her career was already on the decline. She's billed here as Susan Walters, I presume in a failed attempt to give her career a new boost. It's a shame, as she gives a solid performance here, both as the sweet and genteel Marian as well as the more conniving one. Her career's downwards trajectory also wasn't helped by her husband's early death in 1945 which led to her becoming an alcoholic. She died too young at the age of 50.


Robert Kent, appearing under his real name Douglas Blackley here, is convincing as Logan, playing him with a lot of pent up anger. But whether it was under his real name or his acting name, his career was unremarkable. His noir credentials include programmers like 'Federal Agent At Large' and 'Big Town After Dark', decent time-wasters in their own right but unlikely to end up in any top 10 list. Unfortunately he too ended up an alcoholic. Edmund MacDonald ('Detour', Fritz Lang's 'Hangmen Also Die!') was also a B-actor, but unlike the others he managed to carve out a niche for himself. His oily looks made him perfect for playing anything from slick cads to more menacing, sleazy characters. He's perfectly cast as the ambitious and crooked D.A. here, altho his looks do give away from the start he's not beyond bending the law, heh... A stroke cut his career short, he died a few years later at only 43 years old.

The movie's screenplay was written by Edwin V. Westrate, an author mostly remembered for his military related books. But his handful of screenplays had nothing to do with that, and 'Shoot To Kill' is a particularly twisty affair. There are plenty of twists and doublecrosses in the script, and there's even a flashback within a flashback. To be fair, the latter has nothing on 1946's 'The Locket' which has a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, and it pulls it off convincingly! But still, the screenplay is a notch above the usual straight-forward B fare for these kinds of programmers. It doesn't all quite add up tho, and there is also a severe lack of what I would consider hard-boiled or quotable dialogue, which is something I do look for in my noirs. The dialogue is quite stilted at times, clearly this was not Westrate's strongest point when it came to writing. Which also explains the lack of quotes in this review, I simply couldn't find one interesting or witty enough to use for this piece.


The movie wasn't exactly hailed as a classic back in the day, as can be read in this brief review from the NY Times from 1947: 'an all-around amateurish job of movie-making'. I definitely wouldn't go that far tho. Yes, it's certainly not a hidden gem, but it's fast-paced, it's got some stand-out visuals and all in all is a perfectly fine way to spend a lost hour or so on. In short, a solid B-noir.

6+/10

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