Clever but driven psychotic kills one blonde too often in transitional noir
Philip Abbott is killing blondes. He has strong hands and is calculating, but he also hears replayed an event from his youth that drives him to murder. Charles McGraw leads the police in pursuit, once Abbott makes a mistake that gives them a lead.
Meanwhile in another plot line, McGraw and his boss, Ted Knight (playing a serious role very unlike his part on the Mary Tyler Moore show), have to oversee a government convoy passage on the Illinois Toolway. The two plot lines eventually intersect, but before and during this intersection, Abbott eludes police in a good number of close calls that generate suspense.
The film is shot in sepia tones or with some sort of filter and maybe the TV prints have aged in such a way that in the old video tape of it or the old prints that are available, the colors are washed out and human faces appear very white. In an early shot of the Chicago elevated, people inside appear as silhouettes. The club lights are garish. Interiors are shadowy. It all adds to the atmosphere, even if some of it is unintentional.
The direction by Robert Altman is good. There are some excellent scenes all along the way that really make the movie, and they focus on the killer and his interactions with others. McGraw has a secondary and generally colorless role. The music by Johnny Williams leaves much to be desired. It is far too repetitive in every scene that shows the convoy rolling.
The actresses all did good jobs and added greatly to the movie, moreso than the police roles. They had more to work with. The brunette taken as a hostage, whose name I do not know, carried her share of the movie for quite a portion of it.
At the time, serial killer movies were uncommon. This was in that sense innovative and the script was unafraid to show him as normal in some respects, quite capable of devising plans to outwit his pursuers, and yet attracted to kill when a certain kind of quarry came his way and also when he wanted to escape capture.
I did not see either Andrew Duggan or Carroll O'Connor in the film. That is either an error, or else the 80 minute version is incomplete. My guess is that it's complete.
All in all, a decent movie with one foot in a seamy noir ambiance like that in Blast of Silence and Angel's Flight and another foot in the realm of the psychopath like A Kiss before Dying and Experiment in Terror. This being a TV movie, there was less to work with but the result was good for what it is.
UPDATE. I've now seen the original TV show where this movie came from. It's a 45 minute episode (not two parts) of the Kraft Suspense Theatre, and the title is "Once Upon a Savage Night". Although the announcer says it's in color, the copy I saw is black and white, and it looks good in black and white. Duggan and Carroll O'Connor definitely are not in this movie, which was expanded from the TV episode.
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