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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The Sniper

The Sniper, a 1952 film by Edward Dmytryk, is included in my collection of Columbia Noir films. It is a noir in some ways, in it's use of the streets of San Francisco as a back drop and the use of the killer as the main character, but is also something of a police procedural, and is one of many films of the period that tries to simplify the psychological reasons behind crime.

Arthur Franz plays a troubled young man. We first see him in a room in his boarding house, pointing a gun out a window. He doesn't shoot, but he is tormented. He tries to keep himself from shooting by burning his hand on a hotplate.

He is a driver for a dry cleaner, and delivers clothes to a pretty woman (Marie Windsor, playing a nice person for once). She is nice to him and invites him in, put practically pushes him out the door when her boyfriend shows up. He follows her to her job as a lounge pianist and climbs to the roof of a building across the street, where he shoots her.

The police are then involved, led by Adolphe Menjou as Lt. Kafka (I wonder if the writers had any fun with that or if it's just a coincidence). When Franz strikes again, killing a woman who rejects him in a bar (she somehow doesn't believe he built a five-mile long bridge in Hawaii) the whole town is on edge, and there's tremendous pressure on the police. Of course, eventually Franz will leave too many clues, and he's captured.

What sets The Sniper apart is it's almost documentary-style filming. In a way, it reminded me of The Naked City, also shot on location, also documenting cops using old-fashioned shoe leather, and also with an older actor as the lead investigator. The hills of San Francisco are used to great effect.

But the film goes the extra mile with the character of a police psychologist, played by Richard Kiley, who tells the cops that pulling in a lineup of previous sex offenders is a waste of time--that peepers stick to peeping, rapists to raping, etc. He also tells a room full of bigwigs that if sex offenders were given treatment instead of simply jailed and let go, there wouldn't be these kind of crimes. His concerns are waved aside.

The Sniper is a disturbing film, especially at the climax, when a painter on a tower spots Franz, and Franz, panicking, shoots the man, whom we never see but in an extreme long shot. There's something extra vicious about not seeing the face of someone who is killed.

Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood Ten, who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was jailed for contempt of court, but later named names and his career was rehabilitated. Stanley Kramer, who produced The Sniper, was the first to hire him.

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