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SHIELD FOR MURDER (directors: Edmond O’Brien/Howard W. Koch; screenwriters: from the novel by William P. McGivern/Richard Alan Simmons/John C. Higgins; cinematographer: Gordon Avil; editor: John F. Schreyer; cast: Edmond O’Brien (Barney Nolan), Marla English (Patty Winters), John Agar (Mark Brewster), Emile Meyer (Capt. Gunnarson), Carolyn Jones (Girl At Bar), Claude Akin (Fat Michaels), David Hughes (Ernest Sternmueller), Richard H. Cutting (Manning), Herbert Butterfield (Cabot), Hugh Sanders (Packy Reed); Runtime: 80; United Artists; 1954)
“It punctures a lot of the idyllic dreams about living in suburbia.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Barney Nolan has been a tough-guy cop for 16 years rising to a lieutenant detective, but also has a history as a rogue cop. When he gets wind that a bookie is carrying $25,000 for a money bagman, he confronts him in an alley and shoots him in the back and steals the money. When his best friend on the force, Detective Mark Brewster (Agar), investigates, Nolan says the bookie ran. The cops close ranks behind one of their own in a wall of blue silence, even though they don’t like the embittered Nolan. The only one interested in finding out the truth is a veteran police reporter Cabot. The new captain of detectives, Capt. Gunnarson (Meyer), barks at Nolan for not using his head in the arrest, but refuses to act against him unless there’s evidence he did something wrong.

The only one Nolan feels comfortable with is his girlfriend, Patti Winters (Marla), whom he sees right after the shooting incident, where she begins work at a nightclub as a cigarette girl. Nolan disapproves of the job because she’s so scantily clad and gets her to quit, as he takes her to see a model home for their marriage. Nolan leaves Patti for a few moments to let the American Dream suburban home sink in, as it is equipped with all the modern conveniences at the time and she relishes sitting in the fancy dining room imagining herself as a hostess at dinner. During those few moments away from her, Nolan goes to the back of the house to bury the money.

Mark becomes suspicious of his friend, when he learns that two private eyes were hired by the bagman Packy Reed to look for his missing money. The private eyes get Nolan to see Packy, but Packy can’t get the tough cop to fork over the money even as he first sweet talks him and then threatens him.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

When a neighborhood mute (Hughes) signals in the police station he saw how the bookie was shot in the back, Nolan visits his home and kills him. When Mark visits the crime scene, he uncovers a note the victim wrote describing the murder. Faced with arresting his friend or ignoring the evidence, Mark tries to single-handedly arrest Nolan but is overtaken. There’s now an APB out on Nolan as a killer, and he goes underground to try and escape the country from both the police and Packy.

Trying to get a false passport from his underground contacts, Nolan gets involved in a shootout with Packy’s boys at a high school swimming pool and kills all of them but gets winged in the arm. Meanwhile, Mark gets it out of Patti that he might have stashed the money by the model house. The cops surround Nolan and kill him on the lawn while he’s clutching the bag of money and dressed in the uniform he wore as a patrolman. This signals how backward he’s gone in a career that turned dreadfully sour.

It was a well-executed, action-packed film noir, co-directed and acted by Edmond O’Brien. It punctures a lot of the idyllic dreams about living in suburbia, as the cop’s middle-class goals are made dirty. His downfall is seen as choosing violence over love and greed over a sense of duty. He’s a bad cop and a bad person who has hid behind his police shield, which he used to protect himself from the law. All the good he might have had in him is wasted.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”