He Walked by Night (1948) Poster

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Fascinating to look at
Glenn Andreiev26 November 2001
HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) has such a raw, bare-bones feel to it, a real "you are there" aura. A cheerless loner (Cold as an ice bomb Richard Basehart) kills a policeman. The search of the killer begins. This little B-film has so many unforgetable scenes, they drive in one after the other. (The police picking up every vagrant in the city searching for the cop killer, the look on the targeted cop's wife's face when she gets the bad news) My favorite scene is one that does not move the plot along, but creates such an uncomfortable mood. In it, Basehart tries to fish a bullet out of his arm at his sink as his dog yaps and whines in the background.

Well worth catching.
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10/10
One of the most influential, yet overlooked, movies of all time.
yarborough11 October 2001
Most hardcore film buffs probably don't know that "He Walked By Night" is one of the most influential and important movies ever made. Literally. It is an accurate account of the 1947 manhunt for the most cunning criminal in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department. "He Walked By Night" is a turning point in the detective movie, displaying the real-life police procedures used in searching for a criminal, which include teamwork and technology, and showing far more realistic characters than other flicks did. Other movies of this era showed phony, daring detectives engaging in shoot-em-ups with criminals while wooing a woman. "He Walked By Night" captures reality in a stark and startling way, with excellent black-and-white photography from John Alton. Though Scott Brady was probably too young (24) as the lead detective in this movie, his realistic performance is a welcomed relief from the over-the-top camp performances from actors in other detective movies, such as Dick Powell's in "Murder My Sweet" and Alan Ladd's in every one of his detective movies.

The realistic technique of this movie was so innovative, that Jack Webb (who has his first good-sized role in this movie) used this technique in making his 1940s radio show "Dragnet." When he brought "Dragnet" to television in 1951, the style of the show influenced countless other shows, launching realistic police drama in television. This realistic style is very noticeable in TV shows today, such as "Law and Order," and "NYPD Blue."

As influential as "He Walked By Night" was, it is also a finely acted, finely directed, well-written, and intense police movie. It is being re-released on DVD under "The Great Cops Movies," so don't miss it.
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The Noir Blueprint For "Dragnet"!
jimddddd2 September 2001
Based on a true 1946 Hollywood Police Department case, "He Walked By Night" is an early attempt at a "police procedural" film. It has a semi-documentary look combined with many of the conventions of film noir (thanks partly to cinematographer John Alton). Many of the outside scenes were filmed in or around actual locations. Richard Basehart plays a loner who is well-versed in electronic technology, guns, and police procedures. He's able to stay one step ahead of the cops because his paranoia and attention to detail keep him in a constant state of alert. It's also helpful that he listens in with his police-band radio. For a time he confounds the Hollywood cops because he changes his modus operandi. He begins as a break-in artist who steals electronic equipment, but when he kills a suspicious young policeman and loses some of his tools, he turns to armed robbery of liquor stores. Nobody can find him because he travels through Los Angeles in its underground storm drains, where he has hidden stashes of guns and other survival equipment. We also follow the cops as they make use of whatever little information they're able to gather on Basehart's character, and slowly they do close in after several missed opportunities and track the killer into the storm drains, where the play of light and shadow really takes over. One of the cops in "He Walked By Night" is played by Jack Webb, and there's no question he got the inspiration for 'Dragnet" from this film. For starters, "He Walked By Night" begins with a sky pan of Los Angeles and scenes of everyday Hollywood while the narrator gives a kind of "this is the city" speech. The police scenes are often very quotidian (sometimes to the point of being overly detailed), with cops tossing in small talk like "how's the missus? glad to hear it" before they ask other questions. Much of the pacing, attitude and overall feel of "Dragnet," which began as a radio show a year after this film and then moved to TV in 1952, is already here. The final scene in Los Angeles' storm drains ("seven hundred miles of hidden highways," according to the narrator) provides probably this film's most memorable images. Its set-up and execution are remarkably similar to Orson Wells being chased through the sewers of Vienna in Carol Reed's "The Third Man," which was filmed a year later and likely inspired by "He Walked By Night." And who knows, it might also have given a few ideas to the makers of "Them" a couple of years later when they revisited the L.A. storm drains with their giant ants. Ultimately, Basehart's character remains an enigma. We never learn that much about him. "He Walked By Night" isn't a great film, but it's an enjoyable look at postwar police work and primitive forensics.
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8/10
Doing It By the Numbers
bkoganbing4 August 2006
Richard Basehart shoots down an LAPD officer one night after the offduty patrolman stops him for some suspicious activity. The officer who paid with his life had every reason to be suspicious, Basehart was attempting to break into an electronics store.

The shooting sets off a manhunt that takes more than a month. Captain Roy Roberts and Detective Scott Brady lead the investigation which takes both men into some unexpected places in trying to track down the culprit.

This was Richard Basehart's breakthrough role in He Walked By Night. He plays a really diabolical stone cold killer in this one who apparently has no liking for humans. His only companion in the world is a dog.

This clever little noir thriller is done in the documentary style that seemed to be in vogue after World War II. I'm also sure that the final chase scene through the storm drain must have inspired Carol Reed to put it in The Third Man where the idea got more notice.

The lack of really big name stars gives this film a realistic approach. Look for Jack Webb in a supporting role as a police lab technician. I Don't doubt he got the idea for Dragnet from working on He Walked By Night.
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Here's a version of the real story
Pete12 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I've seen this film two or three times, and I keep wondering Why did "Roy" do any of the things he did? What was his motivation? Strangely, we aren't even offered a guess by anyone in the film.

Intrigued by the statement that the film is "based on a true story," I did some research. Apparently the real-life Roy was named Erwin Walker -- aka "Machine Gun" Walker. Honest.

Walker was indeed a World War II vet, a former Glendale PD radio dispatcher, and a brilliant student at Cal Tech. The true story is even better than the film: Walker wasn't killed by police, and managed to evade the death penalty with a plea of insanity. Better yet, he was subsequently released, and has lived, somewhere, among us.

You can read a first-person account of Walker here (as long as the link remains good): http://www.epinions.com/content_3817054340 .
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9/10
cold performance by Basehart makes this film
MartinHafer8 February 2006
While most remember Richard Basehart from VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, he did quite a few "small" pictures during the 40s and 50s and they were mostly excellent and well-written pictures. Aside from the marvelous Satan BUG (1965), this film is probably Basehart's best--and as far as HIS acting goes, his best. He is one of the most cold-hearted and scary villains I have ever seen. This is because he is NOT larger than life or obviously menacing. Instead, he looks like any other guy and can appear nice and harmless--only to steal or butcher without remorse. At the same time, the film is NOT overly explicit or gratuitous--it's just a wonderful portrait of a brilliant sociopath at work.
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7/10
Alton's Camera, Basehart's Acting Highlight This Noir
ccthemovieman-122 October 2006
Not as good as hyped, this film noir, however, is still interesting and suspenseful. It's full of good film noir photography with lots of nighttime shots with many shadows, not only outdoors but indoors and even in the Los Angeles sewer system! I recommended getting the Anthony Mann DVD pack so you get the best picture quality. With all that darkness, you need to see this on a good transfer.

Mann is an uncredited director for this film, or at least a co-director. John Alton, the cinematographer who worked with him on a couple of other film noirs, did the camera-work and he was one of the best.

Richard Basehart plays a convincing no-conscience killer. He as very interesting to watch all the way through. It also was entertaining to see a young Jack Webb play a forensics-type cop. This was his pre-Dragnet television show period but this was a good vehicle for his cop work. In fact, this movie even had a Dragnet feel to it with some kooky minor characters, such as the lady talking to the milkman/cop.

This movie dragged a big in the middle but overall was entertaining enough to recommend, especially to film noir fans. Just make sure you see this with a good print.
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"Dragnet" fan
Ripshin25 September 2004
So, I have this film to thank for the series "Dragnet."

Certainly, "Law & Order" also had its start with this wonderful "B" movie. The production is quite good, with excellent performances, and great location filming.

Many users have questioned this film's technique, implying it is hokey or cliché. That is certainly missing the point. THIS FILM STARTED the whole genre, in a way. And, keeping in mind that this was not produced by a major studio, I am quite satisfied with its quality.

"Film noir"? Perhaps......although it shares the look, more than the concept of that genre.

I recommend this film.
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Werker at his best
cabotcove29 May 2000
Wryly directed understated film is an example of Alfred Werker's underrated genius at its best. Basehart is magnificent as a crook who gets in over his head. Scott Brady and Roy Roberts are equally good in their roles. And the redoubtable Whit Bissell is on hands for a key supporting role.
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8/10
Nightime in L.A.
jotix1008 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
As the story begins, a policeman on his way home sees a man lurking in the darkness, he becomes suspicious. To his amazement, the man surprises him pulling a gun and shoots him. The incident marks the beginning of a dragnet in which all police resources will concentrate in apprehending the criminal that killed one of their peers.

Roy Martin, as he calls himself, is a young man with an unusual ability for everything electric. He likes to put things together, then tries to interest Paul Reeves, a businessman with an important clientele to lease the things Martin brings him. All goes well until the time he makes a tactical mistake. He leaves an equipment for television that turns out to have been stolen from the same man that Reeves has called to peddle the item.

What the LAPD doesn't know is that Roy Martin has a way for evading the enemy. He has discovered the system under the Los Angeles streets for the heavy flash floods it experiences to make his getaway. He is a slippery man with superior intelligence to outsmart the police. Ultimately, the police gets a break that will put an end to Roy's crime spree.

Albert Werker directed the impressive "He Walked by Night", a 1948 film noir that went to be imitated by a lot of people in Hollywood. It also became the model of the television show "Dragnet" that came later, in which Jack Webb, who is prominently featured, explored some of the principles originated in the breakthrough film. Anthony Mann was also on board to help with the direction, and it shows, although he is not given credit for the work he did. Crane Wilbur and John Higgins wrote the screenplay in a semi-documentary style. It is a tribute to all the creators the film has survived long after it was first released. The best thing in the film is John Alton's black and white cinematography that captures the Los Angeles of that era in all its splendor.

Richard Basehart made a cool Roy Martin. This was Mr. Basehart's third picture and he showed a great potential as the criminal that was able to outsmart the police. The supporting players, Scott Brady, Whit Bissell, James Cardwell, and Roy Roberts, among them, do a good job under Mr. Werker's direction.
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8/10
Lone bandit evades police clutches.
Spikeopath31 August 2009
This is a true story...

It's known to the Police Department of one of our largest cities as the most difficult homicide case in its experience. Principally because of the diabolical cleverness, intelligence and cunning of a completely unknown killer.....The record is set down here factually-as it happened. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Cracking little noir picture this one. Richard Baseheart is Davis Morgan, a cold and calculated thief and murderer. He is not only unknown to the police, but also to the Los Angeles underworld. Something which made him a terrifying ghost on the streets. Based on the real life case of cop-killer come thief Erwin Walker, who in 1946 struck terror into the heart of LA, He Walked By Night zips along at a frenetic pace but maintains all the darkness requisites of the Film Noir genre. Directed by Alfred Walker (aided by one uncredited Anthony Mann) and also starring Jack Webb (who used the piece as inspiration for the popular "Dragnet" TV series), the picture has excellent use of shadows and a brilliant finale down in the Los Angeles drainage system. Where the sound of guns and running feet is just ferocious.

Baseheart is suitably chilling as a man coming unhinged by the day, whilst a home surgery sequence shows Baseheart to have had no small amount of ability. It's notable with Morgan's character that it's people he just doesn't like, there's a very telling scene with his dog that is sweet but at the same time saying so much about the man himself. This film reminded me very much of Edward Dmytryk's similarly fine 1952 film, The Sniper. So much so I'd say that as a double bill they be perfect for each other. With added plot worth in the form of early police forensics (check out the photo fit technique) and a largely unknown support cast adding a raw reality to proceedings, He Walked By Night comes highly recommended to fans of the Noir and Crime genres. 8/10
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10/10
Technical Adviser Marty Wynn and Miscellaneous Observations
pgstipe3 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Fascinating and insightful to read the comments posted by Sgt. Wynn's son Charles (see comment #42 by annwynn). Police technical advisers are commonplace nowadays, but Sgt. Wynn's participation was a novel idea in 1948. This straight shooting approach does nothing to diminish the compelling drama told in this story (accurate depiction of the case it's based on or not).

This film is among the best of the documentary style dramas of it's time with A-list voice over specialist Reed Hadley providing the narration. The brief travelogue guide and the tour of Los Angeles Police Headquarters in the opening segment little prepare you for the shocking murder of Officer Robert Rawlins.

As a retired police officer, I can assure you that no dispatched call creates quite the adrenalin surge than that of an officer involved shooting. Like a "Broken Arrow" transmission in the military, all cops break off their current assignment to respond, just like in the film. The film doesn't glorify the drudgery of detective work, on the contrary, it shows that only tireless followup will often lead one to their suspect.

This film is among those that piqued my interest in becoming an officer. I too commuted to work and back in uniform (to avoid dressing twice everyday) but Officer Rawlins' ambush was always in the back of my mind and I employed tactics accordingly (always address suspects or suspicious persons from outside your vehicle for instance).

It is a bygone era when it was cooler to be a cop than a criminal. Modern films glorify acts of mindless violence and copycat crimes are commonplace. He Walked By Night not only shows the gritty side of policing, it rightly shows that the job can not be done without the help of citizen involvement. If only all sketch artists were as handy with their pencils as Jack Webb/Lee is with his slides. There is little doubt that the use of deadly force in the capture of Roy Morgan is justified and there is no glamour or glory in his death.

Two bits of humor in the closing sequence are the apparent length of the battle lantern's cords as they stretch the length of the sewer system and speed in which the detectives/officers don their gas masks before the final confrontation.

He Walked By Night to me remains the definitive model upon which all other such police dramas are inspired. Alfred Werker's pacing and John Alton's cinematography are flawless. I think this film is a fitting tribute to Sgt. Marty Wynn and all the cops of his era. I recommend it to everyone.
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Definitely the progenitor of Dragnet
Nozz11 March 2001
As related on http://www.adam-12.com/webb.htm ...

  • quote -


In 1949, Jack landed the role of Lt. Lee Jones in the film

"He walked by Night." After meeting LAPD Sgt. Marty Wynn,

a technical advisor for the show, Jack got the idea to develop

Dragnet after being invited to review LAPD case files.

  • end quote -


Several elements associated with _Dragnet_ appear already in _He Walked_: not only the stolid narration but also the devotion of time to routine and even futile work, the interviewing of oddballs, the explication of technology, and the incidental chit-chat about the family.

One interesting point is that we never get to find out the killer's motive: even at the expense of the audience's aesthetic satisfaction, the killer's point of view is denied to us. The only lessons we can learn from the movie are the lessons that the police learn.
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7/10
Tense, Realistic & Visually Strong
seymourblack-14 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"He Walked By Night" is a low budget crime drama which tells the true story of an exceptionally resourceful cop killer and the way in which he was pursued by the LAPD. The methods used by the police and the killer couldn't be more different, as the LAPD place a high value on adhering to standard procedures whereas their quarry uses his considerable ingenuity and expert knowledge of electronics to outwit his pursuers. This all makes for a fascinating cat and mouse game which is compelling to watch and becomes increasingly intense as it moves towards its exciting and visually impressive climax.

In the early hours of a summer morning, Roy Martin (Richard Basehart) is trying to break into an electronics store when he sees a police patrol car approaching and casually walks away. The police car follows him and when he's asked to produce some identification, Martin pulls out a gun and shoots the police officer at point blank range. Detective Sergeants Marty Brennan (Scott Brady) and Chuck Jones (James Cardwell) are assigned to the case by Police Captain Breen (Roy Roberts) but their initial efforts to identify the killer draw a blank because there are no leads to follow.

Martin regularly sells electronic equipment to a dealer called Paul Reeves (Whit Bissell) who becomes suspicious after one of his customers recognises a television projector (which Martin had supplied) as one that had been stolen from him. After Reeves reports the matter to the police, Brennan and Jones wait in the dealer's office with the intention of arresting Martin but his eventual arrival culminates in a shootout which ends with both Martin and Detective Jones having been shot. Jones is seriously injured and Martin goes home and successfully operates on himself to remove the bullet.

The LAPD are determined to hunt down Martin but he continues to keep one step ahead of them by regularly changing his appearance and listening in to their radio communications until Detective Jones has a hunch which enables the police to positively confirm the identity of the killer. This piece of knowledge together with information that they subsequently find about Martin's previous employment, soon enables them to continue their manhunt with greater speed and success than had previously been possible.

Roy Martin's story is told in typical docu-noir style complete with the obligatory solemn narration (by Reed Hadley) and some acting which, by today's standards, is rather stiff and formal. Richard Basehart, however, is exceptionally good in his role as the psychopathic loner and World War 11 veteran who's cold, calculating and extremely ruthless. He's a particularly interesting character as he's both intelligent and highly skilled in some areas but also paranoid and a man of few words.

It's widely acknowledged that Jack Webb (who appears in this movie as a laboratory technician) was inspired by the experience to create his own very popular radio and TV show "Dragnet" which also emphasised the value of methodical police work.

"He Walked By Night" looks very realistic and is often suspenseful but its most impressive feature is John Alton's incredible cinematography which enhances the look of the whole movie considerably and contributes to the claustrophobic feel of certain passages. His use of low key lighting, deep focus photography and interesting camera angles is inspired, effective and dramatic and at times, bathes the screen in compositions which create a rather disconcerting atmosphere.
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10/10
A Year Before a Better Remembered Use of Urban Sewers in a Thriller
theowinthrop15 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Only a year separates Richard Basehart's fleeing through the sewers of Los Angeles with Orson's Welles' similar flight through those of Vienna. Yet although the flight of Basehart's Roy Martin has precedence over Welles' Harry Lime, and both are terrific thrillers, more people are acquainted with THE THIRD MAN than with HE WALKED BY NIGHT. It's probably due to the "exotic" nature of post-war Vienna, with such touches as the zither music, and the scenes in the ruins (and the classic moment in the Prater's ferris wheel). Also the last flight of Harry Lime has overtones regarding why Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) kills his old friend - is it to save him from the humiliation of a trial? That does not happen in the Basehart film.

It's unfair, for HE WALKED BY NIGHT is a tidy and tense little thriller and police procedural. Told like a documentary, it follows Basehart's criminal career wherein he seems always one step ahead of the police. The film begins when he commits a murder in a robbery (he shoots a policeman) and flees leaving a remarkable set of skeleton keys and picks behind him. The Los Angeles police led by Roy Roberts start looking into whatever clues they have and realize they don't have really much. But Roberts has assistance from the crime lab (Jack Webb, in a prescient - pre-DRAGNET role), and detective Scott Brady as well as others looking into every aspect of the case. But despite some minor advances (they can see how clever the criminal is in the lack of fingerprints and traces) they are not getting anywhere.

They get an opening when an electronics firm headed by Whit Bissell discovers that the devices that have been leased out for one Roy Martin are actually stolen items. Bissell is forced to work with the police, and a stake-out ends with Basehart shooting another cop (crippling him) and being shot himself). But Basehart (in a somewhat over-the-top sequence) removes the bullet at his home.

That's his secret. Basehart plays the perfect loner. Except for his pet dog nobody gets close to this killer. In fact it is the only flaw in the story that nothing about the reason for Basehart's anti-social point of view is ever given. On the other hand, there is no psychiatric gobbledy-gook that we have to swallow to "understand" the poor man. For he is totally amoral, and vicious, and one can properly dislike him throughout the movie.

But he is smart. He is an electronics whiz, and he has two radios on the police frequency to keep track of what they are up to. He also is clever enough to alter the method of his robberies (this before the use of profiling by police) to confuse the cops. Finally he discovers a perfect way to avoid notice by the police: he uses the sewers of Los Angeles as a private highway around that wide city.

The film shows how Roberts, Brady, Webb, and the other police gradually manage to get a picture of Basehart from the witnesses (one that Bissell recognizes) and then to zero in on his probable background. It is a film showing police procedural for what it really is - the pounding of city streets asking questions and questions and questions. Sometimes a break comes through, but frequently there is more that confuses the issue (when Brady - in disguise as a milkman - goes to spy on Basehart towards the end of the film, he meets a neighbor who says something evil is going on in the neighborhood, but turns out to be insane about a landlady). It is a film noir that works quite well, and should be better known. But it was not written by a great English author like Graham Green, nor was it directed by Sir Carol Reed. The more colorful film using that great climax in the sewers was still to come. Unfairly that was not the end to this irony. The best known film about the city of Los Angeles with a great fight sequence in the sewers is THEM, the science fiction film of seven years later. HE WALKED BY NIGHT deserves better renown, but it is hard to believe it ever will get it.
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9/10
Brilliant Cinematography, Tense Action Sequences
ZenVortex20 September 2008
WOW !!! If you want to see brilliant, exemplary film noir cinematography, this seminal movie has it all. Powerful, beautifully composed shots, a masterpiece similar in style to the Third Man, which was filmed a year later.

This is a breakthrough film embodying all the elements of the noir visual style and the modern police drama. Stark black and white for maximum dramatic impact. A cold, calculating villain. Tense action sequences from beginning to end.

However, this is NOT classic noir. There is no femme fatale, no flawed hero, no moral ambiguity, no sharp dialog. Nevertheless, this is a truly great film that inspired an entire genre, including the X-files. A classic, not to be missed.
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7/10
HE WALKED BY NIGHT (Alfred L. Werker and, uncredited, Anthony Mann, 1948) ***
MARIO GAUCI28 September 2007
One wonders what Werker's contribution to this title is – as it just feels like a Mann film through and through. with its semi-documentary approach likening it to the latter's T-MEN (1947) in particular. On its own, the film is said to have served as a virtual template for the DRAGNET TV series (whose creator, Jack Webb, appears here as a police lab technician).

Richard Basehart's characterization of the coldly calculating criminal was possibly the most compelling to be depicted on the screen since the time of Fritz Lang's M (1931). His resourcefulness and devious nature clearly foreshadowed the more obviously maniacal villains of much later films, such as Scorpio in DIRTY HARRY (1971; as in that picture, the hero's sidekick eventually ends up in a wheelchair) and even Hannibal Lecter. Incidentally, the episode of the criminal operating on himself when wounded has since become a cliché (this was probably the first such instance in cinema) – but the numerous shootouts were similarly potent.

Also influential is the use of storm drains as both a haven and a conveniently invisible means of travel for the killer – the most notable example, of course, being THE THIRD MAN (1949). Terse and suspenseful, the film is given an added sheen by virtue of John Alton's peerless cinematography (evident in the MGM DVD I watched, but not the various Public Domain prints in circulation; see the DVD Beaver comparison for confirmation).
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8/10
JACK WEBB USED DNA IN 1948!
whpratt125 July 2003
This film was full of veteran actors, Richard Basehart,(Roy Martin/Roy Morgan; Scott Brady(Sgt.Marty Brennan) brother of former film star,Lawrence Tierney "Dillinger". Jack Webb, was very young and thin in this picture, he was married to Julie London who starred in the film,"The Red House" with Edward G. Robinson. Jack Webb used all the equipment they had in the 1948's and even had some good CSI theories as a Crime Lab expert. This 1948 keeps you spellbound and keeps you guessing throughout the entire picture. The black and white film makes it even more chilling and mysterious. View it if you can, you won't be sorry!
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9/10
excellent
rhepler-126 April 2005
Probably most "film noir" buffs would not rate this movie as excellent, but I felt it was excellent for that era. This movie was definitely unpredictable and full of suspense from the beginning. I always got a kick out of Jack Webb's eccentricities in the "Dragnet" series, but oddly enough, they were absent in his performance in this movie. Richard Basehart was a perfect choice for the character he portrayed. Back then, they didn't usually cast a man with such good looks as a cold-blooded killer, but his talent as an actor made it work. The sewer scenes were also done very well for a time when the directing was limited by poor lighting and unsophisticated cameras.
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7/10
Not influenced by Carol Reed
chuck davis29 January 2005
Watching this movie, which is very good if dated, I thought of The Third Man, too. But it was made BEFORE the Carol Reed film, so can hardly be said to have borrowed heavily from it. In fact, I wondered if Reed had been influenced by Werker! The Third Man is an incomparably better film, one of my Desert Island movies. But He Walked By Night was a competent and at times really interesting flick. The scene where the robbery victims collaborate on building the villain's face was excellent.

Another enjoyable aspect was spotting so many familiar faces. I caught a very brief glimpse of Kenneth Tobey and half a dozen other performers whose faces, if not their names, were very familiar . . . like the nutty lady talking to "milkman" Scott Brady.
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Interesting, tentacular noir
Robert J. Maxwell25 June 2003
You rarely see a movie with so many connections to other movies and television programs. On the surface it is a police procedural. But there is a chace through the tunnels leading to the LA River that echoes the better-done chase through Vienna's Cloaca Maximus in "The Third Man." The bobbing flashlights, the hand grasping the sewer grating and finding it blocked from outside, they're all here. (I forget which movie was released first.) Then too these are the same tunnels that housed the ants in "Them." Jack Webb, a police technician here, got the idea for "Dragnet" during the shooting. If Allan Ladd had a weakness for cats in "This Gun for Hire," Richard Basehart as the hunted murderer has a dog that he treats lovingly and that, in turn, warns Basehart when trouble is afoot. Reed Hadley narrated almost every documentary-style movie that appeared in the late 1940s, as he does here. Richard Basehart and Roy Roberts, like Webb, went on to careers in television.

The trouble begins when Basehart is walking alone on a night-time street in Los Angeles. He stops in front of a radio store but then, seeing a police car approach, walks on. The police car stops and the officer begins questioning him -- "What are you doing here?", and "I'll have to see some identification." Since I have lived in Southern California cities I must point out that Basehart wasn't doing anything criminal -- except that he was WALKING. In the cities of Southern California, like L.A. and San Diego, it's sometimes possible to stand on the sidewalk of a residential area and look straight down the street to its vanishing point without seeing a soul. No pedestrians. No kids playing. Nothing. Everyone drives a car; no one walks. A pedestrian is suspect because he is a pedestrian. I was stopped by police dozens of times on city sidewalks. My landlord was taken to the local police station for walking his dog at night.

Of course that's neither here nor there, and yet, if walking weren't so deviant an activity, there would have been no questioning of Basehart and no subsequent homicide, not to mention minor tsuris. The performances are profient. The script is adequate to its purpose. The locations are well chosen. Basehart lives in one of those courts, a dozen or so single-story duplex cottages built around a central garden. It's the only way to live in L.A. You are forced to see your neighbors daily, perhaps even forced to greet them. The city as a whole is so thoroughly dehumanized that other kinds of settlements are as quiet as morgues and just as much fun. The photography too is outstanding. After dark the scenes are shot with strategically placed bright lights, night-for-night. And there must have been some tricky problems in lighting the tunnel sequences, although they were handled successfully, though with nowhere near the panache of "The Third Man." The score is by the numbers and adds little.

If there's any problem with the flick it lies in the way the director(s) handled the script. The script sticks closely to exposition. One guy does this. Another guy does that. Someone says something illuminating. But it's played rather flatly, in a kind of cinematic monotone. Nobody has any quirks. The masculine banter between the cops doesn't ring true. There is no humor anywhere in the story. No one shouts, laughs, or even raises his voice. Everyone seems to speak and act in carefully measured ways, a spoonful at a time. Even when Basehart is banging Whit Bissel around, slapping his repeatedly, knocking him to the floor, and kicking him -- it's all done as if the actors were keeping one eye on their marks.

This isn't a lethal criticism. The movie isn't entirely lifeless. It's just that an occasional rant would have rent its smooth texture. It's still an interesting movie. I've enjoyed seeing it over several viewings.
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One of the defining films of the film noir genre
KingDaddy454 July 2001
I disagree strongly with gnrz review. This film is one of the greatest examples of film noir, expertly acted and finely directed. (It's funny that Gnrz finds the plot far-fetched; it's based on an actual incident.) Anyway, Richard Basehart was probably at his very best playing the psychopathic antisocial killer. The supporting players are just as good, all veterans of radio and TV shows of the '20's-'60's. Jack Webb did a great job of directing, making good use of shadows and dramatic lighting effects which would come to define the film noir genre. (Webb also appears briefly as a lab tech). Webb was probably best known at the time for his Dragnet radio show, which he brought to tv a few years after HWBN. And who could forget the finale, set in the LA sewer system (re-used for the 1956 sci-fi classic THEM!)? All in all, a four-star film. Do yourself a favor and catch this one on tape or TV. Even if you don't think of it as highly as I do you'll still probably dig it somewhat.
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5/10
Alas, I'm in the minority here
blanche-218 January 2006
After reading some of the comments, I understand the importance of "He Walked by Night," but I'm afraid I was bored by it. It was done documentary-style and certainly has some interesting aspects to it: it has a noir feel to it, it shows 1948 routine police work, it's based on a true story, it shows what's under Los Angeles, there are glass milk bottles, and before he started playing bald and paunchy policemen, Scott Brady was a hunk.

The film's star is a very young Richard Basehart as a diabolical burglar who thinks nothing of murdering one cop and paralyzing another. The fascinating thing is that one of his escape routes is underneath the L.A. streets, where there are a system of tunnels to keep the city from flooding during the rains. These are captured beautifully in the movie. Jack Webb has a small role in this, and according to one of the other posters, this film gave him the idea for Dragnet. I'm afraid I wasn't a big fan of Dragnet's either.

I have to go along with Bette Davis on this one. Realism is fine, but good drama is larger than life. This was too real and too dull for me, but if you're a fan of crime drama, this is for you.
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Corrected facts about "He Walked by Night"
annwynn19 June 2006
These comments are being submitted by Sgt. Mary Wynn's oldest son, Charles S. Wynn. I do have several additions and corrections regarding your comments about my father. The Walker case was one of several outstanding cases that was investigated by Sgt. Wynn and partners. Over the years, my brother and I would sit and listen to these stories being retold by the officers who worked the case.

Comment #1 I can never recall him being referred to as "Tough Guy." Comment #2 The movie, "He Walked by Night" was produced by the Eagle Lion Studio. My father was contacted and asked if he would give the technical direction. While doing so, he met a down-and-out actor named Jack Webb. Webb had a ten minute part as a lab technician in the movie and was not depicted as a detective. During one of their conversations, Wynn mentioned to Webb, "It's a shame they don't have a radio show that depicts the actual policeman and the work that he does." At that time, the lead detective show was "Sam Spade."

They derived the title, "He Walked by Night," to the fact that he committed most of his crimes at night. The film, itself, was not accurate. The use of the storm drains in the City of L. A. was strictly Hollywood. When Walker was captured he was located in a rented bungalow located on Argyle St. in L. A. Three officers, Donohoe, Wynn and Rombo, entered this location at 2:30 A.M. surprising Walker while he slept. A physical confrontation took place. Walker was armed with a machine gun at which time he succeeded in getting the clip into the weapon. Donohoe yelled, "Shoot him, Marty! He's got the gun!" Wynn took him down, striking him numerous times over the head with the butt of his 38 revolver. Walker, still struggling and in possession of the gun, Wynn then put the gun to Walker's back and fired twice. It was noted that when Wynn examined his gun, he had cracked the grip of the pistol. When Walker was placed in the ambulance, he asked Wynn, "Do you have any kids?" Wynn said, "Yes, I have two boys." Walker replied, "You're lucky because you came close to not seeing your kids again." At that time, he told Wynn, "they will never execute for this crime and I will live to see the day where I will kill you." In 1959, Walker succeeded in escaping from Atascadero. Three days later he was captured. Wynn was forced to strap his 38 again after two years of retirement.

If you desire any more information regard Sgt. Marty Wynn or the film, please contact me at this e-address.
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7/10
Dated Police Story
Claudio Carvalho29 April 2007
In the Post-World War II, in Los Angeles, a criminal shots and kills a police officer in the middle of the night. Without any lead, the chief of the LAPD assigns Sgt. Chuck Jones (Jimmy Cardwell) and Sgt. Marty Brennan (Scott Brady) to investigate the murder and find the murderer. When the dealer of electronics devices Paul Reeves (Whit Bissell) is caught selling a stolen projector, the police finds the identity of the criminal, Roy Martin (Richard Basehart), and connects him to other unsolved robberies. Using the witnesses of his heists, they draw their face, but the true identity of the smart and intelligent criminal is not disclosed. The perseverance of Sgt. Marty Brennan in his investigation gives a clue where he might live.

"He Walked By Night" presents a police story based on a true event like a narrated documentary. The story shows the state-of-art technology of the LAPD in 1948, therefore it is absolutely dated. I do not understand why this movie is tagged as "film-noir" since it does not present the elements of this genre: sordid characters, femme-fatale, and amoral story. The cinematography in black and white is very beautiful in this good police story. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "O Demônio da Noite" ("The Demon of the Night")
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