SCENE OF THE CRIME
(director: Roy Rowland; screenwriters: Charles Schnee/from the short story “Smashing the Bookie Gang” by John Bartlow Martin; cinematographer: Paul Vogel; editor: Robert J. Kern; music: Andre Previn; cast: Van Johnson (Mike Conovan), Gloria de Haven (Lili), Tom Drake (C.C. Gordon), Arlene Dahl (Gloria Conovan), Leon Ames (Capt. A.C. Forster), John McIntire (Det. Fred Piper), Richard Benedict (Turk Kingby), Anthony Caruso (Tony Rutzo), Tom Powers (Umpire Menafoe), Tom Helmore (Norrie Lorfield), G. Pat Collins (Det. Monigan), William Haade (Lafe Douque), Norman Lloyd (Sleeper), Donald Woods (Herkimer), Jerome Cowan (Arthur Webson); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Rapf; MGM; 1949)
“One of the few film noirs attempted by MGM.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
One of the few film noirs attempted by MGM. It came when Dore Schary was the studio head and insisted on producing more realistic films. This is a transitional film from the 1930’s gangster film and a forerunner of the modern day TV cop show. It preaches the credo that “Crime Does Not Pay.” It is directed in a workman like efficiency by Roy Rowland (“Rogue Cop”) and is based on the short story “Smashing the Bookie Gang” by John Bartlow Martin, which was adapted to the screen by Charles Schnee.
Off-duty L.A. veteran Detective Monigan is gunned down by a thug with a mottled face and a twisted left hand in the street in front of a cigar store–a front for a bookie joint. Because $1,000 was discovered on the detective, he’s suspected by the police of being a dirty cop protecting the bookie joint. Hard-nosed detective, Lieutenant Mike Conovan (Van Johnson), recently removed Monigan to a desk job because he was too old to be part of his active field team–which also includes veteran Fred Piper (John McIntire). Captain Forster (Leon Ames) has replaced Monigan with gung-ho newcomer C. C. Gordon (Tom Drake), as he assigns Mike to head the murder investigation. Mike tells Ed, Monigan’s disgruntled son, that he will try and clear his father’s name.
Clues from a stoolie (Norman Lloyd) with a penchant for saying yuk-yuk lead to lowlife thugs, known as downstate ‘lobos,’ Turk and Lafe identified as knocking off a string of bookie joints for a new syndicate. When Mike can’t locate the two, he dates sexy nightclub showgal Lili (Gloria de Haven) with the intention of getting her to lead him to her boyfriend Turk. The danger of the job and all the hours he is away from her, makes Mike’s wife Gloria (Arlene Dahl) want to reconsider the marriage unless he quits.
Lafe is found asleep in a seedy hotel room on-the-run from the mob, when he awakens he gets into a classic gangster film fight with Mike and after the rough tussle is arrested. On the street, Lafe is gunned down by the mob shooting at him from a passing car. After some false leads, things come to a head when Lili calls police headquarters with a tip of where to find Turk. Piper takes the absent Mike’s place and is killed walking into a trap. The investigation intensifies, as Mike now knows Lili is doing Turk’s bidding. It leads to the cops trapping Turk and his boys in an armored car, and Mike acting heroically to ram a truck he commandeers into Turk’s car. All bases are covered when Mike puts the squeeze on Webson (Jerome Cowan), who fingered which bookie joints Turk was to rob.
Rowland fills the film with dialogue that sticks out for better or worse. Piper says “To be a good cop, you got to be a human being.” Lili utters “There’s a crime on every page to fit me.” Turk responds to his loyal moll, Lili, by saying “I hate a tramp … ya always gotta tell ’em, ‘I love you baby,’ … a waste of time.” The snappiest line is said by Mike to Gloria: Put away the can opener, I won’t be home for dinner.”
It’s filmed Dragonet style, following ordinary police procedures in solving the case. The film had a violent conclusion, which underscores the dangers of being an urban cop. It portrayed the hard-working policemen in a sympathetic light and showed how they are often misunderstood by the public and betrayed at times by reporters who are eager to grab the headlines and run with them even though they don’t have all the facts. Mike comes out as a good cop, but is disillusioned by his low pay and all the pressures from home, the job and its politics, and from an unappreciative public.
REVIEWED ON 10/13/2004 GRADE: B-