A poor and alienated young man (Farley Granger) who is driven to murder when a priest refuses to give is deceased mother an expensive funeral. The film explores the crippling poverty that has prevented the youth from marrying or providing his mother with enough comforts, and has led to his crime. Dana Andrews plays the compassionate assistant of the slain priest who brings about the tormented killer's repentance.Written by
The killing of a priest is the starting point for 'Boomerang!' (1947), which has Andrews as a cop. See more »
After the priest is found dead, the crucifix is still on the desk rather than being taken as evidence. Also the police fail to check the notepad, the significance of which is noticed by Andrews. See more »
Skid Row Rag
Music by Paul Sprosty See more »
Worth a Closer Look
An interesting but not very good movie. It's overlong and too often repetitive. Yet it's also one of the clearest examples of Hollywood's hybrid nature during the studio period. On one hand is the literary desire for hard-hitting social commentary, represented here by novelist Brady (thanks reviewer Songwarrior), and left-wing screenwriter Yordan (my opinion). On the other hand are the studios (including Goldwyn) deathly afraid of defying convention and of boycotting groups like the Catholic Legion of Decency. Here, the tension between these two social tendencies is on clear display.
Few movies of the period convey a clearer sense of economic entrapment than this one. No matter in what direction slum-dweller Martin (Granger) turns, he's thwarted by a lack of money and no prospects. Even the parish lacks sufficient wherewithal to help. Sure, the desire to give his dead mom a "proper send-off" seems extravagantly unrealistic. But behind his strident demand is a very democratic desire to be seen as the social equal of anyone else. His protest tellingly never gets beyond the symbolic stage of a "room full of flowers", but unpack it and you get years of frustration, privation, and a dead mother whose only consolation was a priest. Martin may not be very likable, but he is understandable.
Stradling's photography underscores that sense of hopelessness. The tenements are bare and dingy, the streets grimy and teeming, even the parish lodgings are spare and uninviting. Only the ornate funeral home presents a contrast, seeming to say that only in death will there be a change. At the same time, the scenes unfold one after the other like episodes in a twilight world of noir. If there's a single ray of actual sunshine, I missed it. No wonder Martin's going slowly nutzoid.
Nor, for that matter, are Martin's fellow slum dwellers any help. His neighbor Mr. Craig (Stewart) is a stickup man and practical adviser telling Martin to take what he can because that's the only way to survive. And when Martin yells in the hallway in some distress, the other neighbors look on mutely offering no help. Even the well-meaning old lady can't get her eye-witness identification right. There's no hint here of sentimentalizing the poor. Instead, it's a world of dis-spirited, atomized individuals giving Martin only cursory sympathy for his dead mother. Thus trapped in a hopeless environment, Martin's demand for flowers for mom becomes something much more meaningful.
Now, had the role of religion in this bleak panorama been left as it is without the wrap- around prologue and epilogue and without the omniscient narration, the result would have been much less compromised. For, without these later concessions, the priests come across more as "omsbudsmen" than anything else. In short, in its original version (without the wrap-around & narration), the movie portrays the priests as able to intercede with the cops and businessmen, etc. to make life more livable for their benighted flock, but most importantly the original screenplay does not connect them conventionally with the divine. So, the priests viewed in their purely societal role (apart from the soul-saving, divine mission), do perform a worthy assistance function. However, that limited role also lays them open to the charge that they are part of the problem and not the solution since, despite their help, they also do nothing to change the conditions in which Martin, for one, is trapped. They only make life better, not different. And when Father Kirkman tells Martin to "resign" himself to his poverty, a bleakly passive social philosophy is summed up, and much of Martin's unhappiness with the church is lent credence.
But, thanks to reviewer Piyork, we learn that original screenwriter Yordan and original director Robson were fired, and the wrap-around and narration added to "lighten" the mood (Film Noir Encyclopedia also lists two production dates). One can imagine the reaction of studio executives on seeing the original version for the first time. With its bleak atmospherics and generally unflattering portrayal of the police and the church, visions of boycott must have danced in their head. Thus what started out as a pessimistic expose of poverty and the church's role ends up making key concessions for popular consumption. Specifically, the church is now connected to the divine— Father Roth refers in the epilogue to: "the immortal soul", "faith is a part of the human soul", "I saw God in Martin Lynn", plus the key implication that apostate Martin is returning to his former faith. The cumulative result is to dilute the original message with an unmistakable supernatural overlay. At the same time, attention is redirected away from social ills to a timeless dimension. As a result, what emerges collapses into an awkward hybrid of noirish pessimism and religious optimism with the final comforting note going to the latter.
My gripe here is with Hollywood of the studio period, not with religion or Catholicism generally. Many thoughtful believers (I venture) would be challenged by the original version— that is, by its posing the question of what the actual role of the church (not only the Catholic) in ministering to the poor is? That is, is the church helping or hindering. But then, who's surprised that neither the studios nor the watchdog outfits wanted such fundamental questions troubling popular audiences, at least without conventional answers being supplied. And so another literary work gets processed into near-pablum by commercial Hollywood of the day.
Nonetheless, despite the crippling compromises, the novel's original intent still shines through, and if I were reviewer Songwarrior, I would be very proud of my dad.
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