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When a young FBI agent assigned to guard the Lakeview Laboratory of Nuclear Physics, a top secret research facility devoted to the development of the atom bomb, is murdered, Daniel O'Hara, the senior government agent assigned to the project, launches an intense manhunt for his killer. Suspecting that Anton Radchek, an illegal alien, may be involved in the crime, Dan and several other agents trail Radchek to a San Francisco rooming house. Despite constant surveillance by FBI operatives, Radchek is murdered, and Dan's only clue to his killer is a phone call Radchek made to a man named Igor Braun. At San Francisco FBI headquarters, Dan is introduced to Philip Grayson, an emissary from Scotland Yard on a special mission to track down an artist who has been exporting paintings to London, which, under ultra violet light, reveal a secret formula developed at the Lakeview laboratory. When Dan notices that the painting is signed by Igor Braun, the two agents join forces to find the location depicted in the painting. Tracing Braun to an apartment in the city, Dan and Grayson slip in one day while Braun is out to lunch and discover that he is just completing another painting in which is embedded a secret formula. After Braun crates the artwork for shipping, Dan and Grayson learn that it is destined for London. His mission completed in San Francisco, Braun flies to Los Angeles and then drives to an art shop in Lakeview owned by Adolph Mizner, the leader of a communist spy ring. Following Braun, Dan and Grayson then confer with Dr. Frederick Townsend, the director of the Lakeview project. When Townsend identifies the formula as having been developed within the last week, the agents realize one of the five scientists working on the project is a traitor. Through a two-way mirror, the agents observe the scientists--Toni Neva, Ritter Van Stolb, William Forrest, Romer Allen and Townsend--at one of their Friday meetings. The following Monday, Braun sends another painting to London, prompting Dan to surmise that the formula was smuggled out through the plant laundry. Posing as a worker, Grayson infiltrates the laundry and observes Toni drop off a load of clothes from which the clerk extracts a handkerchief, which he then slips into a box of men's shirts. After Krebs, one of the spies, picks up the box, Grayson knocks him unconscious, steals the box and finds a formula inscribed on the handkerchief. Upon regaining consciousness, Krebs returns to Braun's headquarters and recalls that Grayson, a new employee, has just started working at the laundry. Hurrying to Grayson's rooming house, the spies begin to brutalize Grayson and his landlady when Dan arrives. After plucking the handkerchief from Dan's briefcase, Braun orders one of his men to eliminate the agents and leaves the room. Dan and Grayson then overpower their captor, but in the fray, the landlady is killed. Convinced that the handkerchief incriminates Toni and her lover, Van Stolb, the agents question Toni, who protests her innocence. The next day, Van Stolb's body is discovered, a victim of apparent suicide. When a closer investigation reveals that Van Stolb has been murdered, the agents realize that the spies were trying to frame him and decide to flush out the true traitor by forcing him to deliver the formula personally. While following Allen, one of the three remaining scientists, Dan is shot at and forced over a cliff by Krebs. Grayson speeds to rescue Dan from his burning vehicle, and they alert the police about Allen. With the help of the police, the agents locate Allen and Braun closeted in a small house. After a blazing shootout, the agents arrest Allen, the scion of a prominent Boston family, as the traitor. When Allen proclaims his loyalty to his country, Dan forces open his palm, revealing an imprint of the secret formula.
Philip Van Zandt
Howard J. Negley
C. Ken Lobben
James E. Newcom
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV on DVD
The aptly titled So Dark The Night is an atypical, ambitious picture from the creative Joseph H. Lewis, who had already scored big with Columbia's sleeper success My Name is Julia Ross. Its leading player is actor Steven Geray, a very non-leading man type perhaps being rewarded for his fine supporting turn in Charles Vidor's Gilda. It's Geray's only starring role but he's excellent as a master detective.
Reteaming with cameraman Burnett Guffey, Lewis makes a minor masterpiece from a script by the mostly underachieving writers Martin Berkeley and Aubrey Wisberg. Inspector Henri Cassin (Geray) is an eccentric but brilliant sleuth sent to a French countryside Inn for a fortnight's rest. There he meets young Nanette Michaud (Micheline Cheirel), a small town girl engaged to local farmer Leon (Paul Marion). Nanette's advances overcome Henri's misgivings about taking a much younger wife, and he allows himself to be swept up by romance. But when their plans are interrupted by a series of murders Henri vows to catch the killer. Despite his inspired sleuthing, he soon runs out of leads.
So Dark The Night sees Joseph H. Lewis directing at his peak powers, making the most of a not extravagant budget: a patch of the San Fernando Valley becomes a credible substitute for rural France. Lewis's camera is always on the movie. He introduces characters with fast details, like feet on a sidewalk, and fingers on clothesline. "Wagon Wheel Joe's" predilection for foreground objects is in full force in many shots composed with dramatic depth indicators. Lewis does a fine job of distributing suspicion between several cast members. Is the killer the unhappy maid? (Helen Freeman) The angry father? (Eugene Borden) The hunchback? (Brother Theodore)
Concentrating on Steven Geray's marvelous performance, Lewis contrasts the man's gentle decency with his dogged determination to identify the murderer, complete with Sherlock Holmes- style clues and theories. Meanwhile, the director adds expressionist touches -- deeper camera angles, strange pauses -- to indicate something unsuspected is amiss. A surprise revelation is accompanied by a radical lighting effect cued by emotion alone. The film presents visual hints of "memory sensations", but no tiresome formal flashback to explain the mystery. A doctor's final theory reminds us of the finish of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. A definite film noir for its dark mood and stress on psychological chaos, So Dark The Night is a bold departure from the Hollywood norm.
A front-rank noir, 1947's Johnny O'Clock is the first directing job by the talented Robert Rossen, who would proceed to the classic Body and Soul and earn the Best Picture Oscar for 1949, All the King's Men. The title character is none other than Dick Powell, who here tempers the tough-guy hardboiled talk as he negotiates a path through various intrigues, including murder. The movie also features a trio of notable noir beauties, each in fine form.
Womanizing Johnny O'Clock (Dick Powell) lives a risky life. His partner in a swank nightclub is Pete Marchettis (Thomas Gomez), and a crooked, ambitious detective is trying his best to elbow Johnny out. Worse, Pete's wife Nelle (Ellen Drew) still has a yen for Johnny, and recklessly displays her affections. One murder leads to the apparent suicide of Harriet Hobson (Nina Foch), the club's hatcheck girl. When Harriet's sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes) arrives, Johnny finds himself seriously falling for her. Meanwhile, Detective inspector Koch (Lee J. Cobb) is sizing up Johnny as a main suspect in the deaths, and Pete Marchettis finds evidence that Nelle and Johnny are a secret item. No matter how Johnny looks at it, he's in a solid frame. His only choice is to try and get Nancy free of the trouble.
Suave and unflappable, Dick Powell's Johnny does daily business with crooks and knows better than to be totally honest with anyone. Catching a poker dealer stealing money, Johnny lets him stay on with the reasoning that the next man hired might be smarter with his thievery. Johnny's personal assistant Charlie (John Kellogg) is an ex-con who otherwise wouldn't have a job; we can't tell if Johnny has a soft heart or likes having somebody willing to break the law for him. Johnny makes a strong contrast with his partner Marchettis, an unschooled brute frustrated that he can't hold on to Nelle, his trophy wife. Given his poor standing with the police, Johnny is surprised that the intelligent and caring Nancy should choose to stick with him. Women are O'Clock's stumbling block, but also his salvation. The film builds to a suspenseful finish.
Johnny O'Clock benefits from fine low-key B&W cinematography by Burnett Guffey, a true noir stylist. Guffey and director Rossen manage a moody tone even in bright cafes and swank sitting rooms. Evelyn Keyes never looked lovelier and Ellen Drew is irresistibly seductive. Nina Foch's role is much smaller, yet she makes a sympathetic impression. In his second film appearance, actor Jeff Chandler has a nice bit as a gambler from out of town.
Columbia must have liked the title Walk A Crooked Mile as they later released a noir entitled Drive a Crooked Road. But it plays like a re-run of Fox's wartime classic The House on 92nd Street, in which FBI agents infiltrate a Nazi spy ring and discover that they are smuggling top scientific secrets. Now Russian spies are stealing newer formulas out of the high-security Lakeview Laboratory by hiding them in oil paintings. F.B.I agent Dan O'Hara (Dennis O'Keefe) and Scotland Yard 'exchange agent' Scotty Grayson (Louis Hayward) infiltrate the spy network. They barely escape from the murderous Krebs (Raymond Burr), before sorting the innocent from the guilty back at the lab.
The film affects a semi-documentary style that's constantly on the movie, hopping from city to city and from surveillance stakeouts to places as mundane as a laundry service. Director Gordon Douglas gets good footage on the streets of San Francisco. He also manages an exciting FBI shoot-out of the kind that never happened in real Cold War confrontations. The scene reminds us of John Dillinger's mob caught in the fishing lodge in the 1935 Cagney movie G-Men.
The frequently repeated message is that only dedicated F.B.I. agents can save us from the communist conspiracy menacing us from all sides. One loyal immigrant woman sacrifices her life to protect our heroes, as she'd do anything to help America crush the evil she witnessed back in Eastern Europe. The movie also considers scientists as potential enemies. One is an outright traitor and another (Carl Esmond) is blackmailed into espionage work. Curiously, the movie seems to find a woman who did the physical smuggling (Louise Allbritton) innocent because her motive was love. Walk A Crooked Mile's impersonal semi-docu style, with narration constantly explaining everything, prevents us from getting too involved in the characters.
The poetically named Between Midnight And Dawn is really just a straightforward police story. The original title Prowl Car better describes a pro-police storyline that sees two cops on the graveyard shift take on a dangerous underworld figure. Director Gordon Douglas delivers a handsomely assembled thriller, filmed on permanently wet nighttime streets. But the script's idea of a compelling conflict is to make one cop a softie and the other a cynic about criminals and women.
Policemen Dan Purvis (Edmond O'Brien) and Rocky Barnes (Mark Stevens) go after the slimy racketeer Ritchie Garris (Donald Buka) while romancing Kate Mallory (Gale Storm) the dispatcher whose voice they hear on their squad car radio. Kate's cop father was killed on the job, so she avoids romantic attachments with them. But her mother purposely rents an apartment to the eager Romeos. Intuiting that a gang war is beginning, Dan and Rocky are able to arrest Garris and make the charge stick. But one jailbreak later, the gangster takes bloody retribution, and threatens innocent citizens. Only Danny is in a position to stop him.
The story plays as if it were written in 1935. The police force is predominantly Irish in makeup. The cops marry cops' daughters and an independent girl who wants to break the pattern is humored and harassed until she gives in. The sexism is complete when Kate's meddling mother refuses to let her make her own choices. Dan is secretly angry when Kate chooses the handsome Rocky, but tries to be magnanimous.
The attitude toward organized crime is equally dated. Two lowly patrolmen on the night shift are the spearheads of a major anti- organized crime bust, without really reporting to anyone. What's more, they parade their favorite girl in front of the gangsters, oblivious to the obvious notion that the criminal might strike back at them through her. Interestingly, the woman most threatened is Garris's own girlfriend Terry Romaine (Gale Robbins).
A fresh pace, lively acting (Edmond O'Brien could get any film up on its feet) and sharply directed action make Walk A Crooked Mile an exciting show, even if little or no noir content is evident. The only real concession to postwar thriller conventions is an uptick in violence. The final confrontation sees the rotten Ritchie Garris dangle a young girl from a high window, and threaten to drop her unless the cops back off.
Walk East On Beacon! is a second anti-communist spy drama, released near the end of the cycle in 1952. None of Hollywood's twenty or so contributions to Cold War propaganda were big successes. This one was sourced from an article by J. Edgar Hoover himself, and shapes up as a semi-documentary account of yet another spy ring using an overly complicated system to steal atomic secrets. The noted atom spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg found it so easy to spirit secret formulas away from the U.S. that the aggressive government prosecution of their case can be attributed to a need to cover up gross deficiencies in the F.B.I.'s security policies. Hoover's account of a different case makes it look as if the F.B.I. has battalions of crack agents in reserve, ready to watch and track hundreds of suspects on a 24-hour basis. The story also stresses the importance of informing on one's friends and relatives in the name of National Security.
F.B.I. operative James Belden (George Murphy) handles a major spy investigation mostly by telephone. An anonymous phone tip soon leads agents to a Soviet spy ring. The ruthless mastermind Alex Laschenkov (Karel Stepanek) secretly directs dozens of deep-cover agents, two of whom steal information that leads the gang to math genius Dr. Albert Kafer (Finlay Currie) of a secret government scientific think tank. They motivate the old man into coughing up secrets relating to a special project called Falcon, by kidnapping his son Samuel in Berlin. The loyal Kafer instead informs the F.B.I., putting in motion a slow process to identify and capture all of Laschenko's many embedded spies.
Columbia's film hews closely to the semi-documentary form but director Alfred Werker isn't as adept as was Gordon Douglas at instilling ordinary street scenes with drama and tension. With its many locations and dozens of characters (some with double identities), the film's twisting plot must have left many audiences behind. Characters are seen just once or twice and disappear, but their names keep popping up later. One of two deep-cover husband and wife teams runs a florist shop, and an undertaker is also useful because he has a small printing press. There are far too many characters to keep straight.
British actor Finlay Currie's brave old professor becomes an unlikely double agent for our side. He takes a personal risk to deal personally with Vincent Foss (Jack Manning), a thuggish taxi driver working as a courier-spy. Foss turns out to be an anguished fellow coerced into spying "because of his foolish earlier associations with student radicalism". His own wife informs on him, as do many people in J. Edgar's version of events. Hoover's 'true' story also manages to finish with a standard action scene as the Navy helps nail the atom spies on the high seas.
Obscure trivia hounds take note: future director George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and his wife Louisa Horton play husband & wife traitors, but have only a few seconds of screen time together. Director Alfred Werker is credited on the superb docu-noir He Walked by Night. He actually left that film early to work on a film for producer Louis de Rochemont, who produced Walk East On Beacon! as well.
The title, by the way, is part of Dr. Kafer's instructions when he's sent on foot to turn over documents to the Soviet blackmailers.
The TCM Vault Collection's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD set gives each title a separate disc. As with most all Sony transfers, the films are immaculate and have beefy, clear audio. The only drawback is that TCM discs normally do not carry subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired. The viewing public for these 60 year-old movies skews a little older than that for contemporary films, and many older folk need the subs.
TCM's good extras include galleries of film stills and posters and occasional text essays. Martin Scorsese offers a relaxed video introduction for the collection, while Eddie Muller's essay dodges definitions of film noir by encouraging that we debate the status of films not immediately recognized as part of the style. Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV presents two top-notch thrillers, a good police drama and two unusual Cold War relics. Fans of the noir style will definitely want it.
By Glenn Erickson
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV on DVD
Walk a Crooked Mile
Made at a time in America when the House Un-American Activities Committee was investigating the government and Hollywood for communist infiltrators, Walk a Crooked Mile (1948) presents an unnerving scenario featuring Russian spies and a major security breach within a top secret U.S. facility that played to the paranoia of audiences at the time. A low-budget programmer helmed by Gordon Douglas, who was still honing his craft at Warner Bros. as a B-movie workhorse, this brisk, efficient little entertainment not only worked as morale-building propaganda for the FBI and Scotland Yard but also had an immediacy that earlier crime dramas lacked due to its semi-documentary style.
The film that served as the prototype for Walk a Crooked Mile, Walk East on Beacon , Down Three Dark Streets  and many others like them was Henry Hathaway's trendsetting The House on 92nd Street  which was based on a true story and documented the efforts of some FBI agents to apprehend a ring of Nazi spies intent on stealing the A-bomb formula. Shot on the real New York City locations where the events occurred, The House on 92nd Street also used a voiceover narration by Reed Hadley which gives the movie the feel of an official FBI report. Douglas would ape this same formula expertly for Walk a Crooked Mile, even using Reed Hadley again as the narrator and shooting on actual San Francisco locations. You'll also notice Raymond Burr in a minor supporting role. In this early phase of his career he was quickly becoming typecast as the heavy in such film noirs as Desperate , Raw Deal  and Pitfall .
Walk a Crooked Mile was an enjoyable, unpretentious time-filler for its intended audience though some critics expressed concern over the film's premise. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times noted, "we have coolly accepted the fact that the latest beetle-browed villains of the movies are Russian spies. But it does seem a little alarming that the screen should now come forth with dark and disturbing reflections upon our own atomic men. And, in view of the current agitation over the attempted "purge" of scientists, it seems odd that the FBI should warrant the use of its name in such a film - especially a film that is so specious and irresponsible as this little job. No use to speak of the action or the acting. It's strictly routine. But the plot is deliberately sensational." Variety, on the other hand, reported more favorably on Walk a Crooked Mile and its view reflected the majority consensus: "George Bruce has loaded his script with nifty twists that add an air of reality to the meller doings in the Bertram Millhauser story. Dialog is good and situations believably developed, even the highly contrived melodramatic finale."
Producer: Edward Small, Grant Whytock
Director: Gordon Douglas
Screenplay: George Bruce, Bertram Millhauser
Cinematography: Edward Colman, George Robinson
Art Direction: Rudolph Sternad
Music: Paul Sawtell
Film Editing: James E. Newcom
Cast: Louis Hayward (Philip Scotty Grayson), Dennis O'Keefe (Daniel F. O'Hara), Louise Allbritton (Dr. Toni Neva), Carl Esmond (Dr. Ritter von Stolb), Onslow Stevens (Igor Braun), Raymond Burr (Krebs).
by Jeff Stafford
Walk a Crooked Mile
The working title of this film was FBI Meets Scotland Yard. The film opens with an offscreen narrator explaining that "This picture is meant to acquaint the people of the United States with the problems of our Federal Agents, to whom is entrusted the safeguarding of our nation's top secrets-and with the character of our enemies, who walk their crooked miles along the highways and byways of Free America." According to the Variety review, some scenes were shot in San Francisco.