A taut psychological police drama has Franz playing a loner who knows that his mental condition makes him a dangerous man. His hostile feelings toward women drive him to kill, but Franz tries to overcome his compulsions by seeking help. He deliberately burns his hand in order to be
admitted to a psychiatric hospital. There he finds doctors to be indifferent to his inner turmoil, so he finally gives in to his compulsions. He takes to the rooftops of San Francisco with a rifle, picking off various women with whom he has come in contact. Menjou is a slovenly policeman assigned
to find the killer. As he probes into the case Menjou comes to realize these random murders are the work of a mentally disturbed individual with no criminal intent. Fighting against both political and media pressures, Menjou eventually closes in on Franz. He captures the sniper in a room stocked
with guns. Franz experiences a feeling of relief knowing that his internal tortures are finally recognized.
The film operates at several levels of tension as it meshes the psychological aspects and the police hunt without detracting from either element. Dmytryk's mise en scene is a fine example of this combination, using the San Francisco setting to its fullest extent. Darkened settings and unusual
camera angles give this the gritty, tense feel of a good film noir police drama while at the same time matching the stylized settings of silent German Expressionism films. Franz's feelings are mirrored by the darkened streets he inhabits, streets as dangerous and unclear as his own mind. Director
Dmytryk took great care to maintain a consistently interesting visual style throughout his film, employing a sketch artist to visualize sequences before the actual shooting. Deciding to incorporate a clothesline amidst a rooftop chase, the director gave the idea to an accomplished sketch artist to
fill in what he believed to be missing. The results were striking and Dmytryk was impressed. "If the artist can come up with just one original, usable conception of a film, he has earned his salary," he wrote in his autobiography It's a Hell of a Life but Not a Bad Living. The entire production
was shot in the remarkably short period of just 18 days, including location and studio work. The choice of actors for the leads is another enhancement. Franz has the stereotypical look of the all-American boy of the 1950s with his short haircut and quiet demeanor, yet beneath it lurks something
truly disturbed, shown in his constantly darting eyes. Franz's face is remarkably expressive as well, showing the torture he is undergoing in the film's early moments contrasted with the look of relief he shows at his capture. Menjou is well cast--against his image of the dapper gentleman with the
mustache--as a clean-shaven, badly dressed character. His is a sympathetic portrait; he knows he must bring in his man and yet he feels something for the killer as well.
THE SNIPER raises several important and uncomfortable issues about the treatment of the mentally ill and how modern society should deal with the psychologically bent criminal. Questions are raised but not always answered, giving the audience more to think about than an ordinary police story.
Dmytryk had been one of the infamous Hollywood Ten and had gone to England after being blacklisted. There he made a few films before eventually coming back to America. After Dmytryk served some time in jail, Kramer bucked popular sentiment by offering him a chance to direct in Hollywood again with
this film. Thus it came as a surprise to many on both sides of the political spectrum when the politically conservative Menjou was cast to work with Dmytryk. The Communist newspaper The Daily Worker lashed out at Dymtryk, calling him "palsy-walsy with his erstwhile foe, the rabid witch-hunter and
haberdasher's gentleman, Adolphe Menjou. Now Dmytryk and Menjou are together again--this time as friends. Menjou has a leading role in THE SNIPER, which Dmytryk, gone over to warmongering and restored to favor of the Big Money, is now directing..." In his defense, Dmytryk argued that he had simply
cast Menjou against type, and, as far as he could tell, no warmongering occurred on the set. Menjou also came under criticism from his own political circle for working with the formerly blacklisted director and with liberal producer Kramer. When confronted with this by fellow conservatives, the
angered Menjou gave less honorable reasons for taking the part. "Because I'm a whore!" he reportedly retorted to detractors.
The story had a semi-factual basis. Screenwriter Brown, along with original story writers Edna and Edward Anhalt (whose work here earned the film's only Oscar nomination), explained they had fashioned Franz' character from a variety of men they had researched who were convicted of violent crimes
against women. Unexpected publicity for the film came shortly before the film's opening when a real-life sniper named Evan Charles Thomas was arrested on charges of a shooting spree similar to the one portrayed in the film.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: A taut psychological police drama has Franz playing a loner who knows that his mental condition makes him a dangerous man. His hostile feelings toward women drive him to kill, but Franz tries to overcome his compulsions by seeking help. He deliberately bur… (more)