Murder Is My Beat
Cast & Crew
Edgar G. Ulmer
Early one morning, homicide detective Bert Rawley sneaks up to a cabin in a California auto court and apprehends his best friend, policeman Ray Patrick inside. Ray, a well-respected detective, apologizes and explains why he ran away with convicted killer Eden Lane: Months earlier, in Los Angeles, Ray receives a call to investigate the murder of businessman Fred Deane. Deane's face and hands are burned beyond recognition, and Miss Farrell, the landlady who found him, intimates that Deane's girl friend, Eden, was involved. Ray goes to the nightclub where Eden works as a singer, and there meets her roommate, photographer Patsy Flint. The cunning Patsy tries to hinder Ray's investigation, but upon examining their apartment, he discovers that Eden has fled on a nothern-bound bus. Ray soon learns that Eden disembarked at Merced and, after driving there, finds her at Deane's moutain lodge. Due to a snowstorm, Ray and Eden are trapped overnight, and as they talk, Ray is uncertain that the quiet, unassuming Eden could have committed murder, although she admits to her burgeoning affair with Deane, and that she struck him with a heavy figurine during an argument. Eden left the apartment before Deane regained consciousness, and fears that he may have fallen into the fireplace and died. After a speedy trial, during which little information about Deane is produced, Eden is found guilty. Ray is assigned to escort Eden to prison, and during their train ride, he is again impressed by Eden's demeanor. While they are stopped briefly at Lindaville, Eden is shocked to see Deane standing on the platform, and Ray, persuaded by her insistence that she is innocent of the crime for which she has been convicted, jumps off the train with her. Determined to solve the mystery, Ray agrees to stay in Lindaville for one week, but orders Eden not to escape. They then check into the auto court, and the following day, while he is driving through town, Ray is surprised to see Patsy walking by. Sneaking into her hotel room, Ray discovers $5,000 hidden in her suitcase and takes the money. The next day, Ray is baffled that there is no report of the theft and realizes that Patsy could not have come by the money honestly, or else she would have reported it missing. Desperate for a lead, Ray plays a hunch and visits the Abbott Ceramics factory, which is owned by Abbott and his socially prominent wife Beatrice. Ray spots a photograph of a factory banquet and decides to steal it on the "long chance" that Deane is in it. Ray hides in a closet and takes the photo late that night, but is attacked by an unseen assailant. He manages to escape and return to the motel, but Eden does not recognize anyone in the picture. Ray is discouraged, as he has fallen in love with Eden, but when he offers to run away with her, she urges him to keep investigating. Ray spends the next day fruitlessly searching for clues, and when he returns home, discovers that Eden has vanished. With his story completed, Ray begs Bert for another twenty-four hours to continue his search, and Bert reluctantly acquiesces. They then follow Patsy to a church service, after which she returns to her hotel. Later, when the detectives check Patsy's room, they discover that she has been murdered. Finding an unsigned note inside Patsy's hymnal, which instructed her to meet the writer at a later time, Bert and Ray go to the ceramics factory, where they find Abbott working. Noticing that Abbott's ring matches the bruise on Ray's face, Bert accuses him of attacking Ray. When the men assert that, according to Abbott's bank records, he recently withdrew $5,000, the exact sum found in Patsy's suitcase, he denies their charges that Patsy was blackmailing him. Bert and Ray leave when Beatrice arrives, but overhear her upbraiding her husband for damaging her family's reputation. Soon after, Bert learns that Eden surrendered in an attempt to clear Ray of charges of collusion. Ray then telephones Miss Farrell, asking her to come to Lindaville. Miss Farrell arrives on the same train boarded by Abbott and his wife, who are leaving on vacation, but is able to identify Abbott as Deane. Bert and Ray jump aboard, and while Beatrice sees them and hides in the corridor, Abbott admits to the detectives that he is Deane and that he met Eden during a business trip to Los Angeles. Abbott explains that he began seeing Eden and became so infatuated with her that he hired a private detective named Mike to follow her. Upon receiving a blackmailing letter, Abbott assumed that Eden had learned his true identity, but when he confronted her about it, she denied it and in the heat of the moment, struck him over the head. After regaining consciousness, Abbott killed the private detective and burned his body to prevent further blackmail attempts. To Abbott's surprise, Patsy was the real blackmailer, and when she arrived in Lindaville, she demanded money. Abbott paid her, and was prepared to give her more money after she was robbed, but swears that he did not kill her. When the detectives show him the note in Patsy's hymnal, Abbott recognizes the handwriting as Beatrice's and, realizing that Beatrice must have killed Patsy to keep her quiet, runs out of the compartment just as she throws herself off the train to her death. Later, in Los Angeles, Bert informs Ray that although he will not be prosecuted, his days as a policeman are over. Ray is greatly cheered, however, when Eden arrives and Bert accompanies them to the marriage bureau.
Edgar G. Ulmer
Henry W. Harvey Sr.
Fred H. Feitshans Jr.
Harry H. Reif
Robert Wm. Roderick
Harold E. Wellman
Murder is My Beat
Director Edgar G. Ulmer is beloved by many fans of classic cinema for his ability to inject great style into the lowest-budgeted of films, never more so than in his film noir masterpiece Detour (1945). But the Austrian-born filmmaker made other noirs, too, notably Ruthless (1948), Strange Illusion (1945) and his final noir effort, Murder Is My Beat (1955). In this low-budget, B effort for Allied Artists, police detective Ray Patrick (Paul Langton) investigates the murder of a man whose body was found sticking into a fireplace, his face and hands burned beyond recognition. Patrick tracks the man's girlfriend, nightclub singer Eden Lane (Barbara Payton), to the snowbound cabin where she has been hiding, and arrests her for the crime. She asserts, however, that she fought with the man but did not kill him. Later, after Lane has been found guilty, Patrick is assigned to accompany her on a train to prison; during the ride, she claims to glimpse on a passing train platform the man she's accused of having murdered. Patrick believes her, and, putting his career in jeopardy, jumps off the train with her in order to dig deeper into the situation. But is Eden Lane telling the truth, or is she simply another manipulative film-noir dame toying with the emotions of her latest chump?
Murder Is My Beat is no Detour, but it does create interest, mainly through its voiceover-driven flashback via the perspective of Ray Patrick, as he relates his story to a fellow cop who has been hunting him down. Patrick's descent from a by-the-book cop to a man who takes the law into his own hands bears similarities to character motifs in other Ulmer pictures, such as Detour, though in this case the script doesn't allow for the same level of nightmarish intensity. The story itself contains more than a few plot holes and convenient coincidences, strung together by an often-elliptical editing style. Whether this is all by design or just a side effect of the low budget, it does manage to create an eerily atmospheric tone, one with just enough doom and fatalism to bring the movie into noir territory. (Ulmer biographer Noah Isenberg has written that the cryptic editing makes the film feel "almost unfinished.")
This was Ulmer's first film back in Hollywood after several pictures in Europe. Isenberg later wrote that "Ulmer especially embraced the opportunity to work again in America, which by then, despite some of the recent political turmoil, he regarded as his true home." The screenplay, by Englishman Aubrey Wisberg (who also produced), was originally entitled The Long Chance, and was changed to Murder Is My Business before a final change to Murder Is My Beat. Wisberg was a prolific maker of B films in Hollywood in the 1940s and '50s, and had co-written a previous Ulmer picture, The Man from Planet X (1951).
Barbara Payton's biographer, John O'Dowd, has written that the character of Eden Lane is one whom the actress "may have seen as a kindred spirit to her own jaded soul." Payton's life, career, and looks had declined rapidly since she'd starred opposite James Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950). Heavy drinking, drug use, partying, and salacious scandals were to blame. Most famously, she was engaged to actor Franchot Tone in 1951 while simultaneously carrying on an affair with actor Tom Neal (the star of Detour), and even occasionally announcing that Neal was actually her fiancé. Finally, in September 1951, the two men got into a fistfight over her; inevitably, Neal won, knocking Tone senseless and sending him to the hospital. Payton eventually married Tone, but less than two months later she left him to take up again with Neal. She later said of Neal: "He had a chemical buzz for me that sent red peppers down my thighs." Through all this, she made a few more films, including one with Neal -- The Great Jesse James Raid (1953).
But after that, nothing came along until Murder Is My Beat. Payton was grateful for the opportunity. In her ghost-written memoir, I Am Not Ashamed, she declared, "It was wonderful to be working again, even though it was a small-budget picture. I felt it was the beginning of a new and brighter career. Then the roof fell in." During production, she claimed, the money fell through, and $75,000 was needed to finish the film. According to the memoir, she found a friend at a brokerage company (identified only as "Mr. Shellout") who agreed to raise the money if she would spend a week with him at Lake Arrowhead. She agreed to the deal.
Payton clearly looks tired on screen, as if her spirit has been broken, and she looks far older than her 27 years. But the effect actually helps her performance and is appropriate to the character. The audience is purposefully left in the dark until the end as to her guilt or innocence, and her sad, understated, hesitant style comes off as suitably ambiguous. Perhaps it was a conscious acting choice, but her actual appearance and demeanor certainly seem to have played a part.
In any case, Ulmer was certainly talented enough to have been aware of this and used Payton's condition. Film historians Robert Porfirio and Alain Silver later wrote, "Ulmer extracts the maximum narrative tension from the viewer's uncertainty over Eden Lane's guilt, an uncertainty reinforced by Payton's portrayal of Eden in a 'neutral' manner... Payton's performance permits the suggestion of instability beneath the surface calm of Eden's visage."
Murder Is My Beat opened in many cities at the bottom of a double bill with the Randolph Scott western Rage at Dawn (1955). Those critics who reviewed the film (many outlets, including The New York Times, did not) were quite mixed in their assessment. Trade paper Variety called it "a shoddily made melodrama, scarcely meriting fill-in playdates or the Allied Artists releasing label... The writing has no logic and motivations remain cloaked in obscurity." But the Los Angeles Times found it a "suspenseful, ingenious whodunit," and The Hollywood Reporter deemed it a "good production...that will bolster any twin bill," specifically praising Payton's performance and Ulmer's pacing.
But the film did nothing for Payton's career. Few took notice of it, and she never made another. Instead, her life continued to spiral down into further scandals and especially drinking problems until she died of liver failure in 1967, at the age of 39.
By Jeremy Arnold
Noah Isenberg, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins
John O'Dowd, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story
Barbara Payton, I Am Not Ashamed
Robert Polito, essay in O.K. You Mugs: Writers on Movie Actors
Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, editors, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style
Murder is My Beat
The working titles of this film were The Long Chance and Murder Is My Business. Although Hollywood Reporter news items include Nestor Paiva, Roscoe Ates, Robert Forrest, Marjorie Stapp and Charles Victor in the cast, Paiva and Ates were not in the completed film and the appearance of the other actors has not been confirmed. According to the pressbook, portions of the picture were filmed on location in California's Sierra Mountains. Exteriors of many Los Angeles neighborhoods were seen in the film, including several shots of the Wilton Historic District and St. Brendan's Church. Murder Is My Beat was the first production of Masthead Productions, which was formed in early April 1954 by Aubrey Wisberg, Edgar Ulmer and Ilse Lahn.