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TATTOOED STRANGER, THE (director: Edward Montagne; screenwriter: Philip H. Reisman Jr.; cinematographer: William Steiner; editor: David Cooper; cast: John Miles (Detective Frank Tobin), Patricia Barry (Mary Mahan), Walter Kinsella (Lieutenant Corrigan), Frank Tweddell (Captain Lundquist), Arthur Jarrett (Johnny Marseille), William Gibberson (Aberfoyle), Rod McLennan (Captain Gavin), Jim Boles (Fisher), Henry Lasko (Joe Canko); Runtime: 64; RKO; 1950)
“A second-rate but watchable noir film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

A second-rate but watchable noir film, distinguished by its gritty authentic NYC location shots and the lack of acting ability exhibited by this largely unknown cast. A murder is committed and the detective jokes that this crime didn’t even make it into “The Daily News.” The plot centers around a murder investigation of a woman who is killed with a shotgun and her body is found in a stolen car in Central Park. The police don’t know who she is, who did the crime, or where she was murdered — apparently her body was dumped here from another location.

Lt. Corrigan (Walter Kinsella), the veteran detective, and Detective Tobin (John Miles), rookie homicide detective, are the lead investigators in a case which will take them across NYC — from the beautiful Botanical Gardens in the Bronx to the dinghy tattoo parlors in the Bowery and to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and finally to a gravestone cutting site in the Bronx where the climactic shootout takes place.

The hero of this tale is the nice, college boy, war-hero, who is a rookie forensic lab cop, Tobin. He doesn’t seem like he is an actor or a cop, but he does appear as if he is a genuinely nice person, which in the long run might prove better for humanity. But that doesn’t help this film. It could have used more spark from Tobin to energize this ordinary TV-like crime drama. This trite formula setup revolves around a crusty veteran detective teamed with a rookie who must prove himself, which is stale and predictable stuff. To prove himself, the kid is asked to work a field assignment.

Finding an exotic type of grass in the car — the bachelor rookie is sent to the Museum of Natural History, where the expert on that kind of flora is the attractive Mary Mahan (Patricia Barry). She is a perfect love match for our hero. They will stay on that clue for the remainder of the film. Corrigan, in the meantime, has figured out that the dead lady is a waitress and when they visit her in the morgue, a drunk tries to carve out the tattoo on her wrist. When he panics and takes off as the cops approach, he is killed by Tobin who saves Corrigan.

The cops hunt down tattoo parlors where they find an amiable tattoo artist who goes by the monicker, “The Electric Rembrandt” (Jarrett). He recognizes the woman from the picture of the double-tattoo the cops show him of a marine corps emblem and one of a navy anchor. They soon discover that the victim has many names, that she has been married four times, and collects insurance benefits from her dead husbands. The twist is that her first husband isn’t dead as believed, it seems he jumped ship just before the ship he was on sunk and the cops are now sure he is their murderer.

The poor tattoo artist gets hammered to death by the killer, as the killer is intent on rubbing out any witness to his crimes. Why he goes on this rampage is never made clear, except it is surmised that he might be the jealous type (sic!). Since we never hear him speak or clearly see his face, we can only assume that the cops are right about his motive.

The story winds up in the Bronx granite yard, as the killer executes the owner of the site. When spotted by our hero he shoots it out with the killer amidst the many gravestones, which makes for a colorful action scene — the best and most memorable one. When it’s all over, Corrigan arrives and tells the wounded kid who is with his now girlfriend Mary — “It looks like you need someone steady to take care of you.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”