Joseph Cotten, Wendell Corey, and Rhonda Fleming in The Killer Is Loose (1956)


(director: Budd Boetticher; screenwriters: Harold Medford; from The Saturday Evening Post published story by John and Ward Hawkins; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: George Gittens; cast: Joseph Cotten (Sam Wagner), Rhonda Fleming (Lila Wagner), Wendell Corey (Leon ‘Foggy’ Poole), Alan Hale Jr. (Denny), Michael Pate (Chris Gillespie), Virginia Christine (Mary Gillespie), John Larch (Otto Flanders); Runtime: 73; United Artists; 1956)

“A typical 1950s noir.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A typical 1950s noir, distinguished by its rapid pace and taut script, that delves mainly into the character of the villain — making him out to be someone who went over-the-edge when he couldn’t take being ridiculed as a failure, anymore.

Foggy Poole (Wendell Corey), being nearly blind and wearing thick glasses for his myopia, assumes the role of a victim in society, visually manifesting a pathos based on this physical handicap. This seemingly harmless bank teller is the inside man in a bank heist who when fingered by the other robbers refuses to surrender peacefully and fires through the door of his apartment, wounding a police officer. When the police crash through the door, officer Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten) accidentally shoots the robber’s innocent wife. At his court sentencing the myopic robber, vows revenge against Sam. This deep seeded feeling for vengeance has to do with the loss of his wife; she is the only one in the world whom he loves, and he feels his life cannot be lived without her.

In prison Foggy convinces the authorities that he is a model prisoner after 3 years of incarceration, and as a reward he is made a trustee and sent to an honor farm to serve out the rest of his sentence. Hell-bent on revenge, he escapes by murdering the guard and then murdering a local farmer for his money. Sam is warned of the escape as his wife Lila (Rhonda) reacts with fear for her husband’s safety, at the same time, questioning herself why she married a cop. Sam, as a precaution, does not tell her that this nut is really after her.

In search of food, the killer shows up at his former Army sergeant’s house and kills his former tormentor, whom he served under as a corporal and was a subject to constant ridicule. Foggy then steals the robe of his sergeant’s wife to dress up as a woman and go after Lila.

A trap for Foggy is set by the police, as the killer eludes all roadblocks and enters the city where Sam lives. The police are camped out on Sam’s block, using him for bait. While Sam, in order to protect Lila, has her stay with friends without telling her why. But there is some kind of misunderstanding about this and Lila takes the bus home walking from the bus stop to her house, as the killer follows her.

The suburban atmosphere and the no-nonsense style of telling the story add to the blandness of the story and the failure to elicit anything out of the ordinary to the build-up of the suspense that comes with the climax. The result is a watchable film which could be seen for the sense of nostalgia of the 1950s it evokes, a time when it was more receptive for noir to work as well as it does.

My favorite moment is when a policeman’s wife tells her son to not sit so close to the TV, it could spoil his eyes. Everyone growing up in the early days of TV must have heard that one!