13 March 2015

DVD Review - He Walked By Night (1948)

Film Noir
Simply Home Entertainment
Rating: PG
Alfred L. Werker, Anthony Mann
Cast: Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell, Jack Webb
Release: 16th March 2015
Buy: He Walked By Night [DVD]

He Walked by Night is a fairly standard procedural noir fare but has enough style to move it up a level. It was directed by Alfred L. Werker even though Anthony Mann finished the film. It’s very loosely inspired by the real life Erwin "Machine-Gun" Walker who committed a similar strings of crimes as depicted in the finished film.

Richard Basehart plays the killer Roy Morgan, who in the beginning shoots and kills a police officer. This is after the police officer questions him because he is acting suspicious outside an electronics store. The rest of the film is basically the police trying to find this mystery man.

The film’s big set piece is it’s climax, in an L.A storm drainage system. It’s very similar to the climactic scene in Carol Reed’s masterpiece The Third Man and begs the question, did Graham Greene or Carol Reed see He Walked by Night? It’s very possible. The film’s director of photography was John Alton, who also shot one of the textbook examples of classic noir The Big Combo and numerous others; his use of light and shadow is partly what brings He Walked by Night up from being a fairly standard film to a solid one.

I would certainly not say He Walked by Night would be the best starting point for a budding fan of noir; there are dozens you should see before. Despite my reservations it has a strong lead performance by Basehart who plays a psychopathic killer very well. Overall, the film has a brutal nihilism that many of the best noirs do, but due to the standard of storytelling it misses it’s mark in becoming a classic.


Ian Schultz

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