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Watching "A Killer is Loose" it's not hard to see how Budd Boetticher
garnered a reputation as one of the top B movie directors. With the
limited resources allotted to the makers of B movies, not to mention
the casting of often second rate actors, a lot of skill went into
creating the few B movies which have endured.
Boetticher gets good performances from leads Joseph Cotton and Wendell Corey (not strictly B movie actors) as well a surprisingly convincing Rhonda Fleming. The work of veteran cinematographer Lucien Ballard contributes much to the success of this taut, well written thriller.
While not a classic, its remains a fine example of its genre and worth a look.
Although Andrew Sarris italicized it in the list of Boetticher's films in The American Cinema (meaning he recognized it as one of the more notable films on the list), I've never run across any critical comment on this film. Nevertheless, it's a real discovery-- imagine Cape Fear with Wally Cox in the Mitchum role and you get some idea. Corey (who usually played stiff bureaucrats and cops himself) gets the role of his life as a mild-mannered clerk turned crook who becomes unhinged and escapes with the plan to kill the cop who sent him up. What's creepy about him is that, like Norman Bates, he never even raises his voice-- and like Norman Bates, eventually he winds up in a dress (oh, it seems logical enough as a disguise, but it introduces an unmistakable air of sexual confusion and perversity into the violent climax that catapults the film into Fullerian ranks of psychosexual luridness). And if you want to know what Brian dePalma's been trying to do all these years with movies like Blow Out and Snake Eyes, just watch how effortlessly Boetticher plays out the climax over walkie-talkies (a sequence to rival Touch of Evil).
For those of you who are fans of the TV show Monk, The Killer Is Loose
just might be a film to see. The film belongs to Wendell Corey in the
Now I'm not saying that Corey's character is anything like the lovable, multi-phobic Adrian Monk. For one thing, Monk is on the right side of the law. But in the way that Monk was so fanatically attached to his late wife who was killed it strikes a similar note in me when I watched this film and Wendell Corey's performance.
The film begins with a bank holdup in which teller Corey tries to stop the bandits and is pistol-whipped. These guys however left a number of clues that point to an inside man. Police detectives Joseph Cotten and Michael Pate put a tap on all suspects. The tap points the finger at Corey as the inside man.
But in trying to take him, Pate is wounded and then Cotten fires through the closed door. When they open the door it's Corey's wife that is dead and Corey numbly and meekly surrenders to the police.
At his sentence Corey vows vengeance and later on much into his sentence he's given the honor farm for good behavior and kills a guard in his escape. He told cell-mates he was going to kill Rhonda Fleming who is Cotten's wife in retaliation.
The key scene in the film is when he holds his former army sergeant John Larch and his wife Dee Thompson as hostages while he figures how to get to Cotten. While they were in the service Larch did not really hold Corey in high regard in any case. He starts talking about his past and basically that he'd been an amiable screw-up, never really amounting to anything. The one person in his life, the one good thing he had was his marriage. His wife apparently was a lot like Trudy Monk, able to put up with a lot of insecurities. Like Monk, his whole world was shattered when she was killed.
Corey is a frighteningly ordinary man which makes his psychotic behavior all the more frightening.
Director Budd Boetticher, known primarily for those Randolph Scott westerns, gets a good performance out of the cast. But the film is dominated by Wendell Corey. It's a really good B noir film and shouldn't be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Boetticher made "Killer is Loose" the same year as his seminal and exciting Western "Seven Men From Now", the beginning of an impressive series of Westerns with Randolph Scott. In "Killer is Loose", a relatively minor effort, one gets the impression that Boetticher is merely doing routine job, which is to say there is nothing genuinely personal or elating about it.
Nonetheless, in its own ways "Killer is Loose" works and remains fascinating, sometimes terrifying film noir that packs a wallop thanks to its skill and compactness. The film anticipates Hitchcock's "Psycho" in its focus on the psycho killer on loose, brilliantly played by Wendell Corey. Joseph Cotten does a competent job playing the concerned cop. Rhonda Fleming, however, is surprisingly less satisfying than her other roles, like, for instance, the one she played so convincingly in Tourneur's "Out of the Past" and Lang's "While the City Sleeps". But I liked the way she handled the moment when the killer is stalking and walking behind her as she heads home and at the same time the police are watching them. The Walking and Talking sequence is brilliantly directed by Boetticher despite its abruptness. Overall, "Killer is Loose" is a good noir, but not one of Boetticher's best.
Wendell Corey is superb in this. He's scary in the title role. In some ways,
the costume or prop department deserves a lot of credit, because the glasses
he wears makes him seem bland yet steady and menacing.
Joseph Cotten and Rhonda Fleming are not convincing cast as a cop and pregnant wife. Ms. Fleming seems ready to burst out of some of her costumes; but not in areas where babies are carried.
Both are good, though. John Larch and Dee J. Thompson are a c couple in the killer's path who are extremely hard to find sympathetic -- as unappealing the script calls for them to be.
Everyone is good in this frightening noir.
"The Killer is Loose" is a 1956 B film directed by Budd Boetticher, and
it's pretty good. It stars Wendell Corey as Leon Poole, a man who is
working in a bank when a robbery occurs. It doesn't take long for the
police to determine that he's the inside man. They go to his house to
arrest him, and he refuses to answer the door, shooting through it. The
police break in, the lights are off, and Detective Wagner (Joseph
Cotten) sees a form emerging from the bedroom and shoots, killing
Poole's wife. When Poole is sentenced, he promises to pay Wagner back
for killing her.
I've never understood what happened to Joseph Cotten's career, but by the '50s, he was appearing in B movies after being part of so many important films in the '40s. He's good in this, as is the beautiful Rhonda Fleming, who plays his wife. Corey is excellent as Poole, a disturbed man with a flat affect; he never knew any happiness until he got married and goes crazy when his wife is taken from him.
"The Killer Is Loose" is one of those films that survives on one
performance. As the psychotic criminal, Wendell Corey offers the best
characterization of his entire career. Hes horrifying and relentless
yet pathetic. Its one of the screen's great madman portrayals and its a
shame its stuck in a typical detective thriller. If there had been more
focus on Corey's character instead of the dull leads, "The Killer Is
Loose" could've been a masterpiece, as good as any other serial killer
film. In its current form, its an entertaining b-picture but nothing
Maybe I'm being a little too tough on this. Its a nicely gritty and quickly-paced thriller, almost a film-noir at times (theres a bit too much light and focus on heroes for it to be an actual noir in my mind). Its directed with skill (if in a strictly workmanlike fashion) by Budd Boetticher. Joseph Cotten and Rhonda Fleming do what they can with such bland protagonists, but both are completely overshadowed by Corey. Hes terrific, much better than the film itself. "The Killer Is Loose" is worth watching just for his compelling portrayal. (6/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Budd Boetticher is usually thought of as the guy who directed several
engaging, no-nonsense Westerns in the 1950s. Here, he directs an engaging,
no-nonsense crime drama.
The writers put some effort into the script. Someone projects a head shot of Leon "Foggy" Poole on a screen and describes Wendell Corey's face in some anatomical detail, and correctly too. "Darwinian extensions" might be an out-of-date point but somebody went to the trouble of looking them up. At the same time, though, the writers wasted effort on the cliche of the cop's wife wanting a more secure life and leaving him because she hates the kind of work he does. I can't count the times this hoary conflict has been shoehorned into a plot. "Heat", a recent movie comes to mind, but there was "Bullit" before that and I don't know how many others. We won't count the number of times the same conflict crops up between a military man and his spouse. I don't mean to go on about the weaknesses of the script but a certain idiocy is written into Rhonda Fleming's wife. She is removed from her home because, as she is told, a trap is being laid there for Corey, who is expected to come there gunning for her. So she leaves her refuge and where does she go? She rushes home just in time to cross paths with Corey.
And what a home. It sparkles inside and out. You could eat off the kitchen floor. It's the kind of house you wouldn't want to set foot in for fear of leaving a footprint. It's a nice ranch-type house. And the neighborhood is a nice ranch-type neighborhood. The lawns are all mowed, the hedges all trimmed, the trees all pruned, and the streets entirely free of kids, dogs, porch potatoes, pedestrians, garbage cans, rubbish, or any sign of human passion. It's the middle-class equivalent of the Prison Honor Farm that Corey finally escapes from.
The performances. Cotten is his usual self, which is to say, okay. Rhonda Fleming looks like a pretty woman who once went to Beverly Hills High. But Wendel Corey is quite good. I can't say much for his real personality, a minister's son, he was a rabid moralist. But he's got "Foggy Poole" down pat. He always looks vaguely puzzled at the things that are happening to him, even at the things he himself does, as if he has trouble juggling ideas in his head because there is only room there for one idea at a time. He's slow and methodical in everything he does. And his actions are organized around only one goal at any given moment. First, he is devoted to his wife. She means everything to him. When she is accidentally killed, his goal becomes one of Biblical revenge. He's by far the most complex character in the movie, not entirely unsympathetic. (But I can't figure out what the heck he was involved in that robbery for.) John Larch, a likable and reliable actor, is present in what amounts to hardly more than a bit part. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with bit parts. It all depends on the part that gets bit.
There's not much violence in the movie, just three shootings. But the middle shooting was a true shocker at the time. Corey blasts Larch with a.357 magnum, the mention of which was enough of a novelty at the time of snub-nosed .38s that remarks about "all that ordinance" could be made twice. It would be another 13 years or so before "Dirty Harry" would win the phallic sweepstakes.
The photography by Lucien Ballard is crisp and captures a rainy day nicely. The score adds nothing to the film.
I recommend this one. It has too many original features to dismiss.
Very tight movie until the end. At that point it becomes completely illogical to drive a dramatic finish. However, it is still very enjoyable. Very different from todays crime movies. It's clear that the code is at hand with the separate beds for Cotten and Flemming and very little up close violence.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
That's not a rip on Joseph Cotten, who solid as a mildly henpecked cop
whose wife's primary nag is to ask him to quit police work. But after
the end of the movie, I didn't remember the last name of Cotten's
character (Wagner). Or the name of his regrettably still living wife
(who cares?) at all. What I remembered was Leon "Foggy" Poole.
First, to correct something I saw in a couple other comments, the cops did not kill Mrs. Poole through the door. After Leon calls out the cliché "you're not gonna take me" and shoots from the apartment wounding an officer, the cops then break in guns firing.. but it's Mrs. Poole in the middle of the room while Leon is over in a corner. If the police had taken a split second to look where they were shooting, they would have gotten the right person. Which is what sends Leon over the edge
But Corey as Poole is, even as a killer, a sympathetic character. In the apartment after the shooting he seems more dazed than crazed as he asks Wagner "Don't you see how wrong it was to do that?" The movie then jumps to Poole's trial, where he gives the calmest revenge threat I've ever seen. This IMHO is what makes Poole so memorable... he's so matter-of-fact about what he's doing. No hysterics or foaming at the mouth. At Otto's house when Otto's wife asks why Poole had to come there, he replies, "I had to come somewhere" as if holding your former sergeant's wife at gunpoint after breaking out of jail and killing 2 people happened every day.
Later on after killing Otto he asks the room at large, "what else could I do?" after Otto essentially talked himself into getting shot by reminding Poole how much stronger/faster/fresher he was. By trying to talk Poole into giving up, Otto instead ensured his own death... A great bit of irony.
This movie's only real weakness is that that Rhonda Fleming lives through it. Some movies would simply be better if the villain had won, and this is one of them. The idea that Poole, who had doubtless been fixating on Wagner's wife throughout his trial, wouldn't recognize her when she walks by him on her way home is ridiculous. The only explanation for this is that at this time (1956), production codes would not allow the criminal to get away with it. However, they could have at least had Poole kill the wife then get gunned by Wagner. Then maybe a dying Poole could tell Wagner, holding the body of his wife, something like "now you know". Instead, after a great 70 or so minutes, the so-called climax left me going "oh please" followed by "that's it?"
But the first 65+ minutes of this movie more than make up for the last 5. If you get a chance to see this movie, do it, and just rewrite the ending in your head :)
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