SNIPER, THE(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: Harry Brown/from an unpublished story by Edna and Ed Anhalt; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Aaron Stell; cast: Adolphe Menjou (Lieutenant Kafka), Arthur Franz (Eddie Miller), Gerald Mohr (Sgt. Ferris), Marie Windsor (Jean Darr), Frank Faylen (Inspector Anderson), Richard Kiley (Dr. James G. Kent), Mabel Paige (Landlady), Geraldine Carr (Cleaner Store Manager), Jay Novello (Pete), Marlo Dwyer (May Nelson); Runtime: 87; Columbia; 1952)
“The film’s message blaming society for the serial killer’s actions was not well received by the public.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Edward Dmytryk was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, here he returns after a few years in exile to make a Stanley Kramer produced realistic message drama. The film makes good use of the San Francisco streets to tell its serial-killer psycho story. The main problem is that the psycho, Eddie Miller (Franz), is a dull delivery truck driver for a cleaner and his killings of young brunette women because they remind him of the mother he hates, didn’t hold my interest. The film blames society for not giving him help for his mental problems, as all his attempts to get help are rebuffed.
Eddie will end up killing five as a sniper, using his Army M-1 carbine to kill from the rooftops.
The film opens with Eddie calling the shrink he had while serving 18 months in a prison psycho ward for bashing a woman over the head. He feels that uncontrollable inner rage coming over him again. But the vacationing shrink can’t be reached until he returns in two weeks.
Out of despair, Eddie self-inflicts second degree burns on his right hand holding it over a stove. The doctor treating the wound in the emergency room of the hospital suspects he might need psychological help, but then gets too busy with an emergency situation to follow through.
Delivering a dress to Jean Darr (Windsor), an attractive brunette piano performer in a bar, Eddie becomes upset with her when she turns her attention away from him and to her boyfriend who appears. She hustles Eddie out the back entrance, which seems to upset him so much that he waits for her to leave work at night and makes her his first victim.
This brings a hardened police Lieutenant Kafka (Menjou) to investigate the murder. Soon another victim pops up, May Nelson (Dwyer). She’s a barfly who rejected him at a bar when she caught him in a lie about the kind of work he does.
The newspapers headlines play up the serial killer angle, challenging the police to catch the killer. The manhunt becomes a political football, as the present administration is blamed for their ineptness. Under public pressure Lt. Kafka rounds up all known sex offenders for questioning but is told by the police psychiatrist, Dr. Kent (Kiley), that he is wasting his time. Kent then lectures the newspaper men and the police about the killer, stating he is killing his mother each time. The shrink says they should be looking for someone who got into trouble before for attacking a woman and possibly received psychological treatment.
The film’s success lies in the professional performance given by Adolph Menjou (ironically he was a willing witness for HUAC, as he hated Commies and did his best to keep them blacklisted). Menjou’s a weary veteran San Francisco detective, who eventually sees that he’s after someone who is mentally sick; someone who kills because he can’t help himself and not for criminal reasons. Menjou gets with the program Dr. Kent is supporting, that is to get psychological help for the crazed criminal before it’s too late. When the cops corner the heavily armed psycho in his drab hotel room, there is a single tear coming down his cheek as if to signify relief that he is caught and will be stopped from killing.
The film’s message blaming society for the serial killer’s actions was not well received by the public. Though the suspense of tracking down the nondescript psycho was exciting and the seriousness of the social drama was well-executed. “Sniper” pointed out the urban problems of alienation and the public’s indifference to those who are mentally unbalanced.
REVIEWED ON 8/21/2001 GRADE: B –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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