This extremely weird B movie has been hailed as the first true film noir, and it certainly has all the noir elements, both visual and thematic. Feeling guilty because his eyewitness testimony has sent a man who could be innocent to the electric chair, reporter Michael Ward (McGuire) returns to his apartment in a state of depression. On the stairs he notices an odd-looking little man wearing a white scarf (Lorre) loitering in the building and chases him off. In his room, the reporter realizes that his nosy next door neighbor, Mr. Meng (Halton), isn't doing his usual loud snoring. Tired and upset, Michael wonders if Meng is dead and recalls the several nasty, and public, run-ins he has had with the man. Falling asleep, Michael has a nightmare where he is wrongly accused of his neighbor's murder and is sentenced to die in the electric chair. Upon awakening, Michael checks on Meng and to his horror, finds the man murdered. Arrested for the crime, Michael must rely on his fiance, Jane (Tallichet), to track down the mysterious man in the white scarf.
First-time director Boris Ingster, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, and art director Van Nest Polglase created a frightening, claustrophobic, and nightmarish urban environment ruled by indifference, injustice, and moral corruption. The forces of order (the police, district attorney, juries,
judges, and institutions) are the true villains here as they quickly and carelessly dispense judgement on citizens. Lorre's killer is obviously mad (an escaped mental patient), but in his brief screen time he is seen to be a sympathetic victim of harsh and thoughtless treatment (he describes being
held in a straight-jacket and doused with ice-water). Ingster's direction shows the heavy influence of the Germanic expressionist films of the 1920s and the film is a visual delight. He never again directed anything nearly as interesting or influential as this nearly forgotten B picture.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: This extremely weird B movie has been hailed as the first true film noir, and it certainly has all the noir elements, both visual and thematic. Feeling guilty because his eyewitness testimony has sent a man who could be innocent to the electric chair, repo… (more)