Life and Death in L.A.: August 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Crime Erupts Under the Streets of L.A.

Much of "He Walked by Night" is held together with the loose thread of documentary-style film-making. But those parts are no match or the last 20 minutes or so of the film that prowls the lower reaches of the city.

Richard Basehart is the killer who terrorizes L.A. and can't be stopped. Few have ever seen him, and that frustrates the L.A.P.D.

Jack Webb plays a supporting role as a police forensics officer, and it's obvious that this film provided the blueprint for the TV show that would become his shining achievement, "Dragnet."

The movie is an early, primitive police procedural that wants to be a German Neo-Expressionist art film. When the camera moves into the subterranean world of storm drains it's easy to imagine for a while that directors Carol Reed or perhaps Fritz Lang are calling the shots.

What makes it a must see is the wonderful black and white photography as Basehart becomes the human prey of the forces of justice.

Suddenly, Venice, Calif., stands in for Vienna. We remember Orson Welles being chased through that city's storm drains in "The Third Man." Oceans are crossed, and the European avante garde finds a safe refuge on the Pacific Coast.