Cast & Crew
In November, 1947, a dizzy, sweating Sheila Bennet returns to New York City from Cuba. She checks into a cheap hotel and phones her husband, Matt Krane, who warns her to stay away from their apartment in case it is under surveillance by treasury agents. Unknown to Sheila, Matt is having an affair with her sister Francie and does not want her to discover them together. Feeling increasingly ill, Sheila goes in search of a doctor and, when she collapses on the street, a policeman takes her to a health center. While waiting for a doctor, she talks to Walda Kowalski, a young girl who is there for a checkup. Dr. Ben Wood finds nothing seriously wrong with Sheila, who has given him a false name, and sends her away with some cold medicine. When Sheila then pays Matt a surprise visit, Francie pretends that she is just visiting and, after she leaves, Matt questions Sheila carefully about the stolen diamonds that she sent from Cuba. While he waits anxiously for the package, Sheila continues to grow sicker. At the hospital, Ben is puzzled by Walda's new symptoms, and eventually, identifies her disease as smallpox, a diagnosis that is confirmed when he learns that Walda was never vaccinated against it. Quickly, Ben vaccinates the rest of the hospital staff, and health officers from the New York Department of Health start to vaccinate everyone who might have had contact with the girl. Despite their efforts, one out of three of those who contract the disease die, Walda among them. Now, Ben and his colleagues try to determine how Walda contracted the disease in the first place. Meanwhile, Matt receives the package of diamonds and, leaving Sheila behind, tries to fence the jewels, but is told that he must wait until the hunt for the diamonds dies down. When Sheila figures out Matt's double-cross, she searches for him and continues to spread the disease she is carrying. Sheila learns about Matt's affair with Francie and hurries to her sister's apartment, where she discovers that Francie has killed herself. She then goes to a flophouse that is managed by her brother Sid, stopping at a public drinking fountain on the way. As more and more cases of smallpox develop, the Health Department decides the only solution is to vaccinate the entire city. Meanwhile, treasury agents are pursuing Sheila, whom they believe will lead them to the stolen diamonds. Eventually, the Health Department doctors and the treasury agents realize that they are looking for the same woman. They trace her to Sid's, but he spots the police and helps Sheila escape. When the city runs out of vaccine, the mayor exhorts drug manufacturers to produce more immediately. Then, one night, Sheila appears at the clinic. When Ben tries to get her to stay, she shoots him. He manages to call the police, but Sheila flees to a convent, determined to stay alive until she finds Matt. When Matt returns and murders the fence, he finds Sheila waiting with a gun. She telephones the police, intending to turn him in for the murder of the fence, but collapses before they arrive. Matt tries to escape and falls to his death. Before Sheila dies, Ben questions her about her illness and, using this new information, is able to control the epidemic.
Carl Benton Reid
Mary Alan Hokanson
Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1 - BAD GIRLS OF FILM NOIR, Volume 1 From Sony Pictures
Sony's 2-disc set Bad Girls of Film Noir Volume 1 shows Columbia filling marquees with name stars in titles promising sex and murder, even when little of either is on display. The "Bad Girl" name does fit, as each movie features a bona fide noir icon: Evelyn Keyes, Lizabeth Scott and Gloria Grahame. The films chosen also demonstrate how noir thrillers formerly concerned with psychological states and existential dilemmas, were broadened to promote progressive social ideas ... in a manner unthreatening to the status quo.
1950's The Killer that Stalked New York looks suspiciously like an attempt to replay Elia Kazan's arresting noir from earlier in the same year, Panic in the Streets. In both pictures a criminal carries a deadly disease into an American metropolis, forcing the police and health experts to find the malignant carrier. Diamond smuggler Sheila Bennet (Evelyn Keyes) is the luckless vessel for smallpox, infecting everyone she meets: a mailman, a cute child, a randy nightclub owner (Jim Backus) and jewel thief Matt Krane, her duplicitous husband (Charles Korvin). Sheila has personal problems with a disapproving brother (Whit Bissell) and a vindictive landlady and is crushed to discover that she has been betrayed not only by Matt but also by her own sister, Francie (Lola Albright). One out of three who contract the disease dies a horrible death. The trail of extremely sick people is traced by a dedicated doctor and nurse (William Bishop & Dorothy Malone). Before the cops and the medical authorities finally compare notes and locate the source, Sheila has forced the mayor to begin a crash program to immunize the entire population of the city.
The script by Harry Essex has been redirected into a feature-length public service message. A stentorian narrator (Reed Hadley) breaks in frequently to explain how Sheila is spreading death by actions as simple as using a water fountain in a children's park. The real-life threat in th actual 1947 incident on which the film is based was quickly stopped because the carrier was identified and quarantined early. Yet a gigantic immunization program was put into effect, just as shown in the movie. As in many films from this period about political threats, the voice-of-doom narration promotes the idea that an epidemic may strike anywhere, at any time. Because Sheila remains unaware of her killer status, the interior drama of her situation is not allowed a chance to develop. Instead, the impersonal narrator treats her only as a menace to be eliminated.
The beautiful Evelyn Keyes breaks out in a sweat but never takes on severe, disfiguring smallpox symptoms. The Energizer Bunny of disease carriers, she keeps right on ticking even after many of her casual contacts have perished. With so much time given over to Public Health scare tactics, the film shortchanges the personal side of the story. Noir perennial Art Smith has a good bit as an "ethical" fence, but the talented Lola Albright, after a promising scene, is dropped from the picture without even a farewell.
Earl McAvoy's good direction is lost in an editorial puzzle of stock shot montages. Even the finale is fudged, with downtown L.A. standing in for New York City when Sheila Bennet is cornered atop a tall building.
1951's Two of a Kind could well have started life as a radio play. The stock characters and pat ironies of its storyline are instantly forgettable, and the mostly talented cast marks time. Despite an instance of perverse self-mutilation and the presence of not one but two potential "bad girls", there's really nothing very noir here. Henry Levin's direction is anonymous but Burnett Guffey, the camera talent behind Columbia's best films noir, gives the film a fine polish.
Ambitious schemer Brandy Kirby (Lizabeth Scott) connives with crooked lawyer Vincent Mailer (Alexander Knox) to cheat a rich, elderly couple, the McIntyre's (Griff Barnett & Virginia Brissac) out of a fortune. The McIntyres have been searching all their lives for their son, lost at the age of three in Chicago. After extensive research, Brandy locates the perfect shill to pass off as the grown McIntyre boy: Lefty Farrell (Edmond O'Brien), a shady gambler raised in a Chicago orphanage. The plan is to arrange a "coincidental" family reunion by introducing Lefty to the McIntyres' niece, Kathy (Terry Moore). But Lefty must first have two joints of one finger amputated: the lost boy had already sustained such an injury in an accident.
The rather lightweight Two of a Kind generates sparks early on as noir icon Lizabeth Scott seduces the suspicious Lefty into taking part in a highly unlikely con game. The problem is that the film insists that they become a conventional hero and heroine. Little tension develops because we know all will turn out fine. Any noir possibilities evaporate with the introduction of Terry Moore's flighty niece, an eccentric who reforms "bad men" through romantic means. The character is more suited for a screwball comedy and Ms. Moore's acting is wholly inadequate. Although the con escalates into a murder attempt, the film wraps up as an inconsequential farce. The only really memorable moment comes when Lefty nonchalantly allows his little finger to be crushed in a car door, and then strolls into a medical clinic as if to have a splinter removed. He impresses the cool blonde Brandy by barely registering the pain. If Two of a Kind were a serious noir this odd, masochistic moment might have offered an insight into a twisted relationship. As it plays now, we wonder if Japanese audiences considered the unlucky gambler Lefty to be some sort of American yakuza.
The previous picture may be borderline noir but the laughable drama Bad for Each Other has nothing whatsoever in common with the noir style. Horace McCoy contributed to this utterly unoriginal tale of medical ethics, along with the prolific Irving Wallace.
The pure soap plotline sees Army Medical Colonel Tom Owen (Charlton Heston) returning to his small Pennsylvania mining town to face a moral dilemma. Should he become a rich city practitioner, pushing pills at wealthy hypochondriacs? Or should he put his talent to work studying miner's diseases with his old mentor, the poor but dedicated Dr. Scobee (Rhys Williams)? Lured by Helen Curtis (Lizabeth Scott), a champagne socialite eager for more money to spend, Tom becomes an associate of a doctor with the richest clientele in the city. But Tom's ethical nurse Joan Lasher (Dianne Foster) objects when Tom willingly performs "ghost surgeries" for his partner, who has been coddling his customers so long that he's neglected his professional skills.
Tom directs his old army buddy Jim Crowley (Arthur Franz), now a socially minded young doctor, to help Dr. Scobee up at the mines, and Joan quits in disgust to join him. Seduced by Helen and his growing bank account, Tom doesn't see reason until a mine disaster strikes compels him to rush back to his hometown to help in the rescue efforts.
Bad for Each Other could be a story from a Women's Magazine of the fifties, minus the sexuality. The real entertainment value here is seeing Charlton Heston's consistent overacting. A supposedly experienced and principled Army doctor, Dr. Tom is easily steered toward the easy money. He shuns the True Path offered by Nurse Joan as if he were Moses just prior to enlightenment. All of Heston's gestures are big and broad -- he almost knocks people down when he makes a dramatic exit from a cocktail party.
The film promotes the somewhat insulting notion that wealthy people don't need medical care, and that a doctor from a mining town is betraying himself if he doesn't bury himself in poverty treating the poor. Dr. Tom's rare surgical skills will be going to waste in Coal Town. Why doesn't he continue his lucrative practice while using his money and influence to fund a clinic in his hometown and supervise its research efforts?
Irving Rapper can't do anything with Bad for Each Other, which over-uses stock shots of a mining disaster. Naturally, Arthur Franz's second-string ethical doctor should have checked his billing before going down in that rickety mine shaft. His abrupt exit opens a romantic opportunity for the humbled Dr. Tom.
Classic noirs about immigration problems deal with gangsters sneaking into the country, or other notorious adventurers trying to return to the land of their birth. 1953's The Glass Wall is a rather forced attempt to express a Big Liberal Message, in this case to create sympathy for Displaced Persons who want U.S. citizenship. The well-intentioned issue picture marks an attempt to import Italian star Vittorio Gassman (Bitter Rice) for American audiences. The film's trailer urges us to welcome this new personality -- his wife Shelley Winters loves him!
Hungarian refugee Peter Kaban (Gassman) smuggles himself to America, only to be stopped at the New York docks by the immigration authorities. Kaban tells skeptical investigator Bailey (Douglas Spencer) that he saved the life of a wounded American G.I. named Tom, and thereby qualifies for immigrant status under an article of the law. As he has no proof, Peter is told he'll be returned to Europe, where he claims he'll be murdered by the new Hungarian regime.
Peter jumps ship, breaking a rib in the process, and searches Manhattan for "Tom", who identified himself as a clarinetist in a New York nightclub. Hunted by the authorities, Peter stumbles through Time Square until he's befriended by Maggie Summers (Gloria Grahame), an unemployed factory worker on the edge of desperation. Peter's picture has made the evening papers; little does he know that Tom (Jerry Paris) is in town and has seen it. But Tom puts off informing the authorities because he's fixated on an audition for a top swing band.
A desperate man on the run is a recurring noir theme, and Peter Kaban is definitely under a great deal of strain. But The Glass Wall is too interested in making grand humanistic gestures to realize that it undercuts its own premise. Millions of foreigners seek the opportunity of a better life in the U.S.A. but simple reason indicates that few can be allowed in. Peter Kaban is held up as a deserving individual who qualifies under a law extending possible immigration to "those who fought with our troops" in key areas of the war. I doubt that such a law applied to thousands of partisans and others who gave aid to our troops, and in fact it sounds like a loophole designed to sweep "special cases" through Ellis Island red tape, most likely individuals nominated by the Pentagon. To be thoroughly cynical, what's to prevent a foreigner and a G.I. from inventing an incident that would qualify?
The Glass Wall ends with a big dramatic scene at the new United Nations building, to emphasize the theme of humanitarianism across national boundaries. Yet we can't help feel that Peter is just a special case really representing only himself. Gloria Grahame's sympathetic working girl comes to his aid, along with a Hungarian-American stripper (Robin Raymond) who takes him home to momma. Character actor Joe Turkel has a nice bit as the stripper's streetwise brother.
Peter's fate ultimately lies in Tom's hands. The musician's girlfriend Nancy (Ann Robinson) doesn't see why he should make the effort, but the grateful ex-G.I. wants to repay Peter for saving his life. The sentiment that "we're all in this together" doesn't change a thing -- policing immigration is a necessary function.
Although film boasts that it was filmed on location in New York, many scenes are accomplished through rear projection. Mr. Gassman stumbles through Times Square in footage filmed from a hidden truck, but it's obvious that doubles for the main cast members are used in the finale at the U.N.. Alfred Hitchcock was refused permission to shoot at the U.N. for North by NorthWest; perhaps this is the film that precipitated the filming ban.
Vittorio Gassman plays the entire picture with the same pained look on his face. Three films later, he was back in Italy to stay. Gloria Grahame is quite good as the penniless Maggie, trying to steal a coat from an automat. The coat belongs to the young actress Kathleen Freeman, who is identified in the cast crawl as "Fat Woman". So much for the film's overall sensitivity.
Each of the films in Sony's Bad Girls of Film Noir Volume 1 is a spotless B&W transfer with solid audio and English subtitles. Original trailers are also included for each title. An unusual extra is The Payoff, a 1956 Ford Television Theater drama written by Blake Edwards and starring Howard Duff as a private eye picking up a mystery envelope for dangerous Janet Blair. It plays like a warm-up for Edwards' TV show Peter Gunn. Accompanying Two of a Kind is a new career interview with actress Terry Moore. A second volume of "Bad Girls of Film Noir" is being released concurrently, featuring Night Editor, One Girl's Confession, Women's Prison and Over-Exposed.
For more information about Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1, visit Sony Pictures. To order Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1 - BAD GIRLS OF FILM NOIR, Volume 1 From Sony Pictures
The Killer That Stalked New York
The film develops a steady, escalating sense of tension from the very first scene as Sheila arrives in New York City's crowded Pennsylvania station, aware she is being followed by a Treasury agent. Already feverish and weak from the disease, she manages to elude her pursuer and slip incognito into Matt's apartment where she holes up and tries to get well. In the meantime, her contagious condition has already infected numerous people and when Dr. Ben Wood (William Bishop) discovers that smallpox is the cause, he tries to prevent a major epidemic by involving city officials and the Health Department. As they frantically race against time to quarantine victims and vaccinate local residents without creating a widespread panic, Sheila once again takes to the streets, this time in search of Matt who has taken the diamonds and run off with her sister Francie (Lola Albright). As Sheila, armed with a gun, closes in on her two-timing lover, the police and city officials follow in close pursuit, hoping to stop her before she can further infect anyone.
The Killer That Stalked New York was completed just after the general release of Panic in the Streets (1950), a major 20th-Century-Fox production from director Elia Kazan that featured a similar plot; a criminal (Jack Palance) infected with the deadly bubonic plague is running loose in the streets of New Orleans and the police have 48 hours to catch him before an epidemic breaks out. Due to the critical and box office success of the latter film, Columbia Pictures decided to shelve The Killer That Stalked New York for six months so that it wouldn't suffer in comparison. They needn't have bothered since most critics and moviegoers at the time considered The Killer That Stalked New York little more than a typical B-movie. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times dismissed it, writing "...unfortunately, the script of Harry Essex, based on a factual magazine piece ["Smallpox, the Killer That Stalks New York" by Milton Lehman in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan Magazine], has a bad tendency to ramble...And the performances of the principal characters, while adequate, have little punch...a potentially but not sufficiently intriguing film."
Clearly undervalued during its original release, The Killer That Stalked New York, directed by Earl McEvoy, is a highly atmospheric and taut little film noir that benefits greatly from the documentary-like approach that cinematographer Joseph Biroc brings to the film, utilizing real New York City locations. Originally Lew Ayres was slated to play Dr. Wood after producer Allen Miner first bought the film rights but the casting changed when the project was sold to Columbia and producer Robert Cohn took over.
As the vengeful angel of death, Evelyn Keyes makes a compelling and tragic heroine and had already established herself in the film noir genre with The Face Behind the Mask (1941) and Johnny O'Clock (1947). Her greatest achievements in the genre lay ahead, however, with her unforgettable performance in Joseph Losey's The Prowler (1951) and Phil Karlson's 99 River Street (1953). At the time she made The Killer That Stalked New York, Keyes was involved in an affair with actor Kirk Douglas, a situation that created tension between her and studio mogul Harry Cohn. Because of his personal dislike of Douglas, Cohn forbade Keyes to invite him to the set and it resulted in the actress buying out her Columbia contract and going independent after completing the film.
Among the other cast members you'll recognize in The Killer That Stalked New York are Dorothy Malone as the nurse who first treats the smallpox carrier, Carl Benton Reid as a city commissioner, Connie Gilchrist as a nosy landlady, Richard Egan as a cop, character actor Whit Bissell as a flophouse manager, and Jim Backus (the voice of cartoon character Mr. Magoo) in the uncharacteristic role of a predatory bar owner who tries to force himself on Sheila - with fatal results.
Producer: Robert Cohn
Director: Earl McEvoy
Screenplay: Harry Essex (screenplay and adaptation); Milton Lehman (Colliers Magazine article)
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Art Direction: Walter Holscher
Music: Hans Salter
Film Editing: Jerome Thoms
Cast: Evelyn Keyes (Sheila Bennet), Charles Korvin (Matt Krane), William Bishop (Dr. Ben Wood), Dorothy Malone (Alice Lorie), Lola Albright (Francie Bennet), Barry Kelley (Treasury Agent Johnson), Carl Benton Reid (Health Commissioner Ellis), Ludwig Donath (Dr. Cooper), Art Smith (Anthony Moss), Whit Bissell (Sid Bennet), Roy Roberts (Mayor of New York), Connie Gilchrist (Belle, the landlady), Dan Riss (Skrip), Harry Shannon (police officer Houlihan).
by Jeff Stafford
Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister by Evelyn Keyes
The Killer That Stalked New York
The film ends with the following written statement: "To the men and women of public health-the first line of defense between mankind and disease. We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the departments of health and hospitals of New York and Los Angeles." The film was reviewed by Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety as Frightened City. It was inspired by a 1946 smallpox scare, in which millions of New Yorkers were given free vaccinations without causing a panic. According to a July 30, 1948 Los Angeles Examiner news item, producer Allen Miner bought Milton Lehman's story intending to star Lew Ayres in the role of the doctor. In 1948, Miner sold the rights to the story to Columbia for $40,000, according to a July 5, 1949 Los Angeles Times news item. The Variety review reports that Columbia postponed the release of this film for over six months until the end of the run of Fox's similarly themed picture, Panic in the Streets (see below).