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He Walked by Night  /  Open Secret

He Walked by Night
March 10, 2017 - 7:30 pm
Archive director Jan-Christopher Horak, film preservationist Miki Shannon.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation.

He Walked by Night  (1948)

Inspired by the true story of Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker's shocking Los Angeles crime spree throughout 1945 and 1946, He Walked By Night is a superbly crafted documentary-style noir thriller released by Eagle-Lion Films and produced by Bryan Foy (eldest son of Eddie Foy and part of the famous “Seven Little Foys”).  Known as the “Keeper of the B's” during his previous stints at Warner Bros. and Fox, Foy's team (led by director Alfred Werker and an uncredited Anthony Mann) imbued the production with impressive creativity despite the Poverty Row studio's budgetary limitations.  Critical praise was unanimous, with Variety praising the “high-tension crime meller, supercharged with violence but sprung with finesse.”

The film's swiftly efficient parallel narrative structure is divided between the methodical LAPD team led by veteran character actor Roy Roberts and rugged newcomer Scott Brady (younger brother of crime film favorite Lawrence Tierney), and their psychotically-cunning cop killer target (skillfully portrayed by recently discovered stage star, Richard Basehart).  Jack Webb, in his first credited film role, plays a forensic technician.  The onset friendship that developed between Webb and the film's technical advisor, LAPD Sergeant Marty Wynn, is widely credited as the birth of Dragnet and the modern day pulp-TV police procedural.

Cinematographer John Alton is perhaps the film's greatest asset.  In a 2009 Noir City Sentinel interview, the film's script supervisor Arnold Laven stated: “When Alton came to work for Eagle-Lion, nobody had ever heard of him.  When he left for MGM everyone knew who he was.”  Laven also noted that Alton worked with a trimmed down production team (much to the displeasure of the Hollywood unions) allowing for greater creative control by the director.  Alton's expressionistic imagery and use of low-key lighting is particularly well-showcased during the dramatic finale photographed on location in the storm drains of Los Angeles.  —Todd Wiener

35mm, b/w, 79 min.  Director: Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann (uncredited).  Production: Eagle-Lion Films, Inc.  Distribution: Eagle-Lion Films, Inc.  Produced by: Robert B. Kane.  Screenwriter: John C. Higgins, Crane Wilbur.  Cinematography: John Alton.  Art Direction: Edward Ilou.  Music: Leonid Raab.  Cast: Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell, James Cardwell.

Restored from the 35mm nitrate camera negative and a 35mm nitrate fine grain master.  Laboratory services by Fotokem, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., Simon Daniel Sound.  Special thanks to: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., George Willeman, Kevin Sikes.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute

Open Secret  (1948)

In the back room of a seedy, small town bar, a group of men pronounce someone guilty of an unknown crime.  A “lost” film noir, Open Secret teeters between gritty murder mystery and exposé of social injustice.  John Ireland and his new bride, Jane Randolph, arrive as houseguests of an old army buddy only to have him turn up missing.  As the newlyweds investigate their friend's disappearance they realize that he and his town are hiding deep-rooted prejudices.  Discovering hate literature calling for “100% white Americans to organize,” Ireland comments, “Some people believe this stuff.”  A neighborhood woman advises them not to patronize Strauss' camera shop.  “Let him move somewhere else with his own sort,” she sneers.

Unlike Gentleman's Agreement and Crossfire (both released one year earlier), the “open secret” is never mentioned except in a brief shot of the word “Jew” scribbled on a storefront.  When their friend is found dead, Ireland and Randolph are themselves thrust in harm's way by accidental possession of evidence that can convict leading townspeople of, not only discrimination, but murder.  Speaking of the thwarted ringleader, heroic cop Sheldon Leonard (in a change of pace from his usual gangster roles) observes, “He was playing Hitler—but in the wrong precinct.”

Though he had left Europe in the 1920s to work in the film factories of Hollywood and Mexico, it is not surprising that Austrian-born director John Reinhardt (Chicago Calling, High Tide) would have embraced the subject of anti-Semitism, as did other anti-Nazi émigré directors arriving in America after the Anschluss.  Herschel Burke Gilbert's brooding original score would continue to fight for truth and justice as the music track for the first season of TV's The Adventures of Superman (1952).  —Miki Shannon

35mm, b/w, 68 min.  Director: John Reinhardt.  Production: Harry Brandt Productions, Marathon Pictures.  Distribution: Eagle Lion.  Producer: Frank Satenstein.  Screenwriter: Henry Blankfort, Max Wilk.  Cinematographer: George Robinson.  Art Direction: George Van Marter.  Editor: Jason H. Bernie.  Music: Herschel Burke Gilbert.  Cast: John Ireland, Jane Randolph, Roman Bohnen, Sheldon Leonard, George Tyne.

Restored from 35mm nitrate dupe picture and track negatives.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, Simon Daniel Sound, DJ Audio, Inc.