Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott, and Jack Webb in Dark City (1950)



(director: William Dieterle; screenwriters: Ketti Frings/John M. Lucas/Lawrence B. Marcus/story by Mr. Marcus; cinematographer: Victor Milner; editor: Warren Low; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Charlton Heston (Danny Haley), Lizabeth Scott (Fran Garland), Viveca Lindfors (Victoria Winant), Henry Morgan (Soldier), Dean Jagger (Capt. Garvey), Don DeFore (Arthur Winant), Jack Webb (Augie), Ed Begley, Sr. (Barney), Walter Sande (Swede), Mike Mazurki (Sidney Winant), Jay Morley (Capt. MacDonald); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal B. Wallis; Paramount; 1950)

“The dark mood is set by Victor Milner’s excellent B&W photography.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran director William Dieterle (“The Devil and Daniel Webster”) has been dealt a bad hand by the weak script, but the talented cast play out the hand as best they could. Charlton Heston, in his first major Hollywood starring role (his prior role as Antony was in a minor film–David Bradley’s Julius Caesar), goes against future good-guy hero type by playing Danny Haley, a small-time criminal who is embittered after the war because his British wife dumped him and now the once potentially promising Cornell grad makes his living running an illegal bookie joint and hustling card games.

The film opens with Danny’s bookie joint busted by the Vice Squad, led by Captain Garvey (Dean Jagger), and Danny though escaping arrest is left without a source of income. When a stranger from Los Angeles, Arthur Winant (Don DeFore), strikes up a conversation with Danny in his hangout bar, he gets hustled into a poker game with Danny’s bookie partners Soldier (Henry Morgan), Barney (Ed Begley, Sr.) and Augie (Jack Webb). Arthur loses in the unfair game his money and $5,000 that wasn’t his money, handing over to the gamblers a cashier’s check for that amount. That night the disgraced ex-soldier and family man hangs himself in his hotel room.

Soon Barney is found strangled to death, but the killer placed a rope around his neck to make it look like a suicide. The gutless Augie and the perplexed Danny fear that they are targeted next as they learn Arthur has a homicidal psychopathic brother named Sidney, who always protected his younger sibling. Not knowing what Sidney looks like, the two fearing they’re next fly to L.A. to see Arthur’s widow to get a photograph of Sidney. Soldier, an ex-pug, who did not participate in the crooked game, goes to Las Vegas and gets a job in a casino run by his old-time boxing friend Swede.

Sidney’s hunt for the men was so uninteresting that the film has to be diverted to a romance story. It focuses on Danny not making a commitment to hometown husky-voiced lounge singer Fran Garland (Lizabeth Scott), who has thrown herself on him to no avail. But after meeting Mrs. Winant (Viveca Lindfors) and seeing how earnest she is in trying to support her young son despite left broke by her hubby’s death, Danny goes through an amazing character change (too much for me to believe) where he goes to Las Vegas to get enough money to pay back the widow and is joined there by Fran. Danny turns his life around by now realizing not all women are bad, and offers Fran his love. But he still has to deal with that loony Sidney coming after him.

The dark mood is set by Victor Milner’s excellent B&W photography. Heston’s finely tuned nuanced performance, as a guy gone bad but who can be saved by love, gives the melodrama enough film noir qualities to get over but not enough to relieve it of its tedium.

Jack Webb and Henry Morgan later became cop partners in the hit TV show Dragnet.