This was last week's entry of "Noir Alley" on Turner Classic Movies. Without host Eddie Muller's detailed wrap around comments, I might have given it a six. But his comments on what is bad about this film as well as about what is good about it raised my rating to a seven.
The producer was given only 125K with which to make this little crime film. The title comes from the victim - a girl is found in the passenger seat of a stolen car left in Central Park with her face blasted off. Her only identifying mark is a tattoo that indicates either she or a significant other was in the Navy. The police are shown going through their crime scene investigation, as it existed in 1950 - dusting for prints, taking photos, etc. The girl has never been fingerprinted, so they don't know who the victim is, much less anything about suspects. They find some samples of grass in the car that did not come from the park, and the medical examiner says the girl's arches have almost completely given way, which indicates she may have spent lots of time standing. Her fingers are stained with cheap purple ink which is often used on menus. So perhaps the girl is a waitress. And from this the detectives have to find not only who the killer is, but who is this victim.
So what is good or interesting about this film? The cast is almost completely anonymous in the world of feature films. For many it was the only feature film role that they ever had. However, many of the cast had lengthy careers on television, and this film feels like an episode of whodunnit TV 50s or 60s style, so that is no surprise. Also, the film was shot on location in New York City, so it is "practically a travelogue of mid century New York", to quote Eddie. You see the beaneries, the boarding houses, and the Bowery as they existed in 1950, when New York was home to lots of working class people and not a tony address affordable to just a few.
What is bad about it? I'd say the rather contrived romance between a botanist, brought in to identify the unique foliage found in the stolen car, and the "college boy" detective, as his partner keeps calling him. When you first meet the botanist she is in a lab coat and glasses, suitable for her profession. But after that, in spite of the fact that she is wading through high grass in empty lots, she has on pumps, some stylish dress, and is awkwardly carrying a purse! Plus background music that sounds like it is from "Leave it To Beaver" plays as opposed to the more "Dragnet" style score that accompanies the rest of the film. It is all so nauseatingly endearing.
What is funny about this film? Originally the script called for the girl's face - which you never see - to be blown off by a sawed off shotgun. But the censors objected and the weapon had to be changed, only because it was illegal to modify a shotgun in such a way. Like murder was not illegal? Head censor Joe Breen's warped logic just slays me.