In the Post-World War II, in Los Angeles, a criminal shots and kills a police officer in the middle of the night. Without any lead, the chief of the LAPD assigns Sgt. Chuck Jones and Sgt. Marty Brennan to investigate the murder and find the murderer.
When the dealer of electronics devices Paul Reeves is caught selling a stolen projector, the police finds the identity of the criminal, Roy Martin, and connects him to other unsolved robberies. Using the witnesses of his heists, they draw their face, but the true identity of the smart and intelligent criminal is not disclosed.
The perseverance of Sgt. Marty Brennan in his investigation gives a clue where he might live.
Richard Basehart ... Roy Martin / Roy Morgan
Scott Brady ... Sgt. Marty Brennan
Roy Roberts ... Capt. Breen
Whit Bissell ... Paul Reeves
James Cardwell ... Sgt. Chuck Jones (as Jimmy Cardwell)
Jack Webb ... Lee
Director: Alfred L. Werker / Anthony Mann (uncredited)
Most hardcore film buffs probably don't know that "He Walked By Night" is one of the most influential and important movies ever made. Literally. It is an accurate account of the 1947 manhunt for the most cunning criminal in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department. "He Walked By Night" is a turning point in the detective movie, displaying the real-life police procedures used in searching for a criminal, which include teamwork and technology, and showing far more realistic characters than other flicks did. Other movies of this era showed phony, daring detectives engaging in shoot-em-ups with criminals while wooing a woman. "He Walked By Night" captures reality in a stark and startling way, with excellent black-and-white photography from John Alton. Though Scott Brady was probably too young (24) as the lead detective in this movie, his realistic performance is a welcomed relief from the over-the-top camp performances from actors in other detective movies, such as Dick Powell's in "Murder My Sweet" and Alan Ladd's in every one of his detective movies.
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.
Not as good as hyped, this film noir, however, is still interesting and suspenseful. It's full of good film noir photography with lots of nighttime shots with many shadows, not only outdoors but indoors and even in the Los Angeles sewer system! I recommended getting the Anthony Mann DVD pack so you get the best picture quality. With all that darkness, you need to see this on a good transfer.
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.
One wonders what Werker's contribution to this title is – as it just feels like a Mann film through and through. with its semi-documentary approach likening it to the latter's T-MEN (1947) in particular. On its own, the film is said to have served as a virtual template for the DRAGNET TV series (whose creator, Jack Webb, appears here as a police lab technician).
Richard Basehart's characterization of the coldly calculating criminal was possibly the most compelling to be depicted on the screen since the time of Fritz Lang's M (1931). His resourcefulness and devious nature clearly foreshadowed the more obviously maniacal villains of much later films, such as Scorpio in DIRTY HARRY (1971; as in that picture, the hero's sidekick eventually ends up in a wheelchair) and even Hannibal Lecter. Incidentally, the episode of the criminal operating on himself when wounded has since become a clich? (this was probably the first such instance in cinema) – but the numerous shootouts were similarly potent.
Also influential is the use of storm drains as both a haven and a conveniently invisible means of travel for the killer – the most notable example, of course, being THE THIRD MAN (1949). Terse and suspenseful, the film is given an added sheen by virtue of John Alton's peerless cinematography
# Part of the film was directed (uncredited) by Anthony Mann.
# Technical advisor for the film was Sgt. Marty Wynn of the Los Angeles Police Dept. During the course of shooting, he fell into conversation with actor Jack Webb, then the star of radio's "Jeff Regan, Private Investigator." Wynn suggested that Webb do a radio series based on actual police files. Thus was born the idea for "Dragnet," which debuted on NBC radio about four months after this film was released.
# This film served as something of a template for "Dragnet," which debuted on radio the following year, right down to the "this is the city" style opening narration, and the fact that a disclaimer appears at the beginning informing the audience that the names have been changed to protect the innocent.