Questioned as a murder suspect, solid (but drunk) citizen Al Willis attacks his police questioners, is beaten, and swears vengeance against them. Next night, Lieut. Parks is murdered; Willis is the only suspect in the eyes of tough Chief Conroy, who pursues him doggedly despite lack of evidence. The obsessed Conroy is dismissed from the force, but continues to harass Willis, who flees to a sleazy town on the Mexican border. Of course, Conroy follows. But which is crazy, Conroy or Willis?Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sterling Hayden was the image of male masculinity in such films as "The Asphalt Jungle," "The Killing," and "The Godfather." Tall at 6 foot 5 inches, well built, ruggedly handsome in the true sense, Hayden rarely cracked a smile or betrayed a tender emotion. He had screen presence, and that strong image serves him well in 1954's "Naked Alibi." Hayden is Chief of Detectives Joe Conroy, who has been accused of police brutality, an easily believable offense. When Al Willis, a local baker, is pulled in and roughed up by his subordinates, Hayden looks on impassively. Played by Gene Barry, Willis has a devoted wife and a child; his arrest is evidently wrongful, and he is released. When the policeman who roughed up Willis is shot later that night, Hayden immediately hones in on Willis as guilty.
With a screenplay by Laurence Roman from a story by J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater, "Naked Alibi" plays with the audience. When the police come to arrest Willis after the fatal shooting, he runs, but is caught and brought in again. However, without evidence and under pressure from above, Hayden is forced to release Willis one more time. When two more officers are killed in a bomb blast, Hayden tails and harasses the sympathetic Willis, who seems intent on managing his bakery, tending his family, and remaining a model citizen. However, when Hayden is caught in a photo assaulting Willis, he is fired from the force. Undaunted and convinced by gut instinct of Willis's guilt, Hayden follows Willis, when he unexpectedly leaves town and goes to sleazy Border Town, where, in El Perico, a local dive, pouty singer Gloria Grahame appears on the scene as Marianna, and, to coin a phrase, the plot thickens and starts to boil.
The action unfolds against the deep shadows and dramatic lighting of Russell Metty's cinematography, which provides some stunning black and white images. Surprisingly produced by Ross Hunter, the man usually behind lush Lana Turner weepies, "Naked Alibi" is well paced by director Jerry Hopper, who went on to become a prolific director on television. However, the film belongs to Sterling Hayden. Tough and brutal, Hayden is central to the film's success, although Gloria Grahame is also excellent, and Gene Barry is appropriately ambiguous in the pivotal role of Willis. As a bonus, fans of "The Rifleman" will be pleased to spot Chuck Connors in a small role as a police captain. While not at the heights of the best Sterling Hayden classics, "Naked Alibi" is nonetheless a crackling police pursuit drama that engages and entertains.
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