This film-noir piece, told in semi-documentary style, follows police on the hunt for a resourceful criminal who shoots and kills a cop.This film-noir piece, told in semi-documentary style, follows police on the hunt for a resourceful criminal who shoots and kills a cop.This film-noir piece, told in semi-documentary style, follows police on the hunt for a resourceful criminal who shoots and kills a cop.
But wait, he's not against the plug-in kind of machinery. Martin's a closet genius at modifying the most sophisticated electronics, an untrained innovator with just that kind of intelligence. Does he do it for money-- it's hard to tell. We do know he's not above presenting someone else's work as his own. However, that demeaning aspect may simply be the script complying with Production Code requirements. Businessman Whit Bissell would like to partner up with the mystery man's skills, offering a research laboratory in return. But when Martin refuses with a knowing smile, we know he's got his own drummer. And, we also know that anyone who gets in the way of that drummer turns the science whiz into a cold-blooded killer.
At first I thought it a mistake that the screenplay didn't fill in more of Martin's personal story, something that might get a handle on his extreme behavior. But on second thought, better to leave him a mystery man of rare and unfeeling talents. That way, we're free to speculate on a background instead of having to settle for some half-baked Freudianism circa 1948. The character strikes me as someone who has chosen to live outside normal bounds as a challenge to his ingenuity and resourcefulness, both of which he possesses in spades.
And it's that, I think, which makes him an unusual crime figure. Time and again, he uses those qualities to defeat the relentless machinery of law enforcement, shown in its many scientific and professional phases. Basehart the actor manages a number of subtle shadings conveying a depth of character not shown by the impersonal forces of law and order. Not that the screenplay doesn't try to humanize the cops-- that's the point of the convalescent hospital scene and the crime lab joshing. Rather, for the professionals, it's a job. For Martin, however, it's something deeper, more interesting, but not necessarily admirable.
The movie itself has an uncredited Anthony Mann written all over it, especially the scenes with Basehart. Director Mann, cameraman John Alton, and scripters Higgins and Essex are responsible, I expect, for pointing away from the rather dull procedures onto the noirish atmosphere of outlaw alienation. Of course, bit player Jack Webb saw how popular such procedures could be for a TV audience and spun them off into one of the 1950's most successful series. But it's the underground man Roy Martin, alone with his mutt dog and inner demons that makes up one of noir's most fascinating crime figures. And on a final note of irony, notice how close Martin comes to a last minute escape were it not for that diabolical god of the noir universe-- the Hand of Fate.
- Jun 25, 2008