Apparently rejected by women all his life, a loner with a high-power rifle starts on a trail of murder. The police are baffled by the apparently random killings until their psychologist comes up with some ideas.
Adolphe Menjou ... Police Lt. Frank Kafka
Arthur Franz ... Edward 'Eddie' Miller
Gerald Mohr ... Police Sgt. Joe Ferris
Marie Windsor ... Jean Darr
Frank Faylen ... Police Insp. Anderson
Richard Kiley ... Dr. James G. Kent
Mabel Paige ... Landlady
Marlo Dwyer ... May Nelson
Geraldine Carr ... Checker
THE SNIPER is an atmospheric, well-produced minor Film Noir.
Arthur Franz gives a nicely shaded performance as a tortured soul who cannot control impulses to kill women. We gather his psychosis stems from maltreatment by his mother, but this is not delved into in any detail. There are several very effectively chilling scenes depicting the murders, fairly graphic for 1952. In one sequence, the killer chooses his victim after watching her interviewed on TV, when she announces her home address. Franz is particularly chilling here, we see him decide on his victim and then jump to the aftermath of the crime. Marie Windsor plays a relatively subdued character: a nice woman with a streetwise 'edge'. Several other character actors we all like to see fill out the rest of the film: Charles Lane, Jay Novello, Carl Benton Reid, Richard Kiley, Frank Faylen.
Best of all: the San Francisco locations. Roughly 60% of the picture was filmed on locations that are very well used. Films from this period ("Crime Wave" is a prime example) serve a non-entertainment purpose in their pervasive use of location material. With this much footage of SF in 1952, we can get a real sense of what the city looked like at the time.
Former Bad Boy of Music, George Antheil provides a sparingly used, but very expressive, late-Romantic-style score (main title is especially good)
For much of this film noir, it was almost more of a character study than a crime movie, since there was very little action and only some suspense in the final 10 minutes. However, I'm not complaining. I found the film got better and better as it went along and was an interesting story overall with an excellent cast. When the action did occur- the sniper's shots - they were shocking scenes, shocking in their suddenness.
I appreciated the fact they shot this on the streets in San Francisco, where the story takes place, instead of some Hollywood back-lot. That city, in particular, with its steep streets and bay-windowed houses, is fun to look at in any era. This happens to be very early 1950s. As with many noirs, the photography was notable, too. I liked a number of the camera angles used in this movie.
I also appreciated that cast. Arthur Franz is excellent in the lead role of the tormented killer, "Eddie Miller." Eddie knows right from the start that he's a sick man, that he can't help himself and that he needs him. (So, why didn't he turn himself in?) It was fun to see an older and sans-mustached Adolphe Menjou as the police lieutenant, and Humphrey Bogart- lookalike Gerald Mohr as a police sergeant. It was most fun, being a film noir buff, to see Marie Windsor. This "queen of noir," unfortunately, didn't have that big a role in here.
What really struck were some bizarre scenes, things I have never seen in these crime movies on the '30s through '50s. For example, there was an investigation of sniper suspects held at the police building in which three suspects at a time were grilled - in front of about a hundred cops. The grilling was more like taunting and insult-throwing by this sadistic cop in charge, who made fun of each guy. Man, if they tried that today, there would lawsuits up the wazoo (so to speak).
Then there was this James Dean-type teen who was on top of a city building with a rifle, right in the middle of this citywide sniper scare. The cops bravely bring him in without killing him and are yelled at for doing so, since the gun wasn't in serviceable order. Duh! The cops were supposed to just see a guy waving a gun on top of a rooftop and let him go, no questions asked?
A number of things in here stretched credibility, but there were some intelligent aspects, too. "Dr. Richard Kent," played by Richard Kiely, was a case in point. He was the police psychologist and gave strong speeches (the film got a little preachy at times) advocating what should be done with sex-crime offenders, some of it Liberal and some of it Conservative in nature. He made some good points. "Eddie" had sex problems, I guess, but I don't remember it being discussed in the film. Maybe I missed that. The film did miss that aspect: Eddie's background, which triggered all the violence.
The second half of this film is far better, because the killings increase and the suspense starts to mount. As it goes on, we get more of a feel of what motivates Eddie as we see his reactions to people and how he views things they say. I was surprised, frankly, that he didn't shoot his nasty female boss, since he only harmed women. She was the nastiest woman in the film, and nothing happened to her. What was Eddie thinking?
THE SNIPER reminds me of a more compact, more personal look at a psycho killer than THE NAKED CITY, which it resembles in style and content.
ARTHUR FRANZ gets his big break here, a starring role in a well-written thriller about a serial killer who wishes he could stop killing, if the police would only catch him. The final scene is a summation of that wish, but almost seems like a letdown after all the build-up to what we presume would be a bloody climax (if directed by someone like today's Martin Scorsese).
Franz's trouble is that he looks too much like any clean-cut, normal, handsome young man and his looks work against the grain of the role. He's intense when he has to be, but lacks the intenseness of a James Dean or even a Dane Clark as the man given to sudden outbursts of temper and a psyche that is screaming for help and attention. He's good, but never manages to be better than his material. Think of what someone like DANIEL CRAIG would do with this role today.
MARIE WINDSOR does a nice job as a glamorous night club pianist who has the young man (who works as an errand boy for the local cleaners) as a sort of friend she trusts. Her walk through an almost deserted looking San Francisco at night, down hilly streets on the way to her workplace, is photographed with noir precision and style, as is most of the film. Neat use of San Francisco's hilly environment is a constant point of interest throughout.
ADOLPHE MENJOU is not quite as colorful as Barry Fitzgerald was in THE NAKED CITY, playing a detective determined to catch the serial killer before he strikes again. MABEL PAIGE does a nice job as Franz's landlady who talks to her black and white cat as though it was her own dear child, and GERALD MOHR is briskly efficient as a psychiatrist who thinks the police are going about their search the wrong way.
Wonderfully photographed in B&W shadowy photography, it's a compact and efficient film noir that is perhaps a little too restrained in dealing with frank subject matter but nevertheless gets its points across with chilling clarity, thanks to a tight script and some good suspenseful footage.
Summing up: Stands on its own as a good thriller from the early '50s.
Before one word of dialog is uttered in THE SNIPER, we witness a troubled San Francisco youth, Eddie (Arthur Franz) aim a rifle at a kissing couple. The gun is empty, and Eddie breaks down crying as the unsuspecting couple smooch. From then on, this obscure 1952 classic follows Eddie as he goes on a systematic killing spree. We also follow detecives Adolphe Menjou and Richard Kiley rationalizze the insanity and finally close in on Eddie. This film is rich in classic scenes- Eddie, who we know is uncomfortable with women, confronting sexy Marie Windsor. The suspenseful scene where a smokestack painter points out Eddie, the rooftop sniper. Eddie screams at the man to shut up, but they are clearly a half mile away from each other. All this is done in one deep focus shot. My favorite scene is when the police line up and question local sex offenders (Cop to other cops, pointing to man in line up "This is a tough guy.... with small animals." Classic noir.