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HOMICIDE (director: Felix Jacoves; screenwriter: William Sackheim/from Mr. Sackheim’s story “Night Beat”; cinematographer: J. Peverell Marley; editor: Thomas Reilly; music: William Lava/Nax Steiner (uncredited); cast: Robert Douglas (Lieutenant Michael Landers), Helen Westcott (Jo Ann Rice), Robert Alda (Andy), Monte Blue (George, the Sheriff ), Warren Douglas (Brad Clifton), John Harmon (Pete Kimmel), James Flavin (Detective Lieutenant Boylan), Richard Benedict (Nick Foster), Sarah Padden (Mrs. Webb), Esther Howard (Mrs. Brucker, Landlady), Ian Wolfe (Fritz, the Police Lab Technician), Cliff Clark (Police Captain Mooney); Runtime: 77; Warner Bros.; 1949)
“Because the star was so stiff, the film itself felt stiff.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An entertaining Warner Bros. B-film mystery programmer featuring British actor Robert Douglas cast as a bachelor Canadian, Homicide Detective Lieutenant Michael Landers, working for the LAPD. Writer William Sackheim based his Homicide screenplay on his own story “Night Beat.” It is glibly directed by Felix Jacoves, who keeps both the action going and the corny one-liners coming (my favorite aside being “you are making camels out of clouds”). The funniest part of the film is to hear the stiff middle-aged British star try to talk jive American lingo with his crisp British accent.

A drifter looking for work as a farm hand, stumbles across his would-be boss murdered in an orange grove. The two killers, Pete Kimmel and Nick Foster, intimidate him and pay him off handsomely to testify at an inquest that he witnessed the accident. He tells the DA that the farmer was drunk and accidentally died when he hit his head on the ground after falling off the tractor. They then get their other colleague, Andy (Alda), to give him a ride to LA, and he makes it look like the drifter hanged himself in a dinghy Los Angeles hotel. The landlady who found the body is charmingly played by Esther Howard, who relishes being called mother by the lead investigating detective.

Landers investigates this routine suicide and differs with his cynical homicide partner Boylan, as he has a hunch the ex-Navy man, Brad Clifton, was murdered because no sailor would tie such a poor knot to hang himself. He talks his chief (Clark) into letting him go on a leave of absence to vacation in the swank Glorietta Springs Hotel, in the heart of Southern California farm country, all because in his search of the adjacent abandoned hotel room — of a mystery stranger who checked in the same time as the drifter — there was a hotel matchbook from the Glorietta and a saccharin pill on the floor.

The cop poses as an insurance investigator looking for Brad Clifton and meets the shady barman Andy (it is later discovered he has diabetes). He also meets the attractive hotel cigarette girl, Jo Ann (Westcott). When he traces Clifton to the Webb farm, he encounters the local sheriff (Monte Blue) and tells him the farmer on the tractor was murdered. By observing that there are no skid marks on the crime scene tractor photo, he therefore concludes that the farmer couldn’t have fallen off a moving tractor as stated. Landers takes time out to romance the cigarette girl, finds out that the crime motive was illegal gambling. Kimmel and Foster are big-time gamblers who were running an illegal wire service using underground cable and that after the farmer discovered their cable running through his land and wouldn’t play ball with the thugs, he was killed.

The action scenes were more laughable than realistic, as the Canadian gets grazed by a bullet in his neck, gets knocked out in the desert, and doesn’t handle himself too well in a fistfight. Because the star was so stiff, the film itself felt stiff. But for what it attempted to do, it was satisfactory entertainment.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”