Well worth catching.
He Walked by Night (1948)
User ReviewsReview this title
Well worth catching.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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")