Sunday, May 13, 2012

Stubs - The Killer That Stalked New York

THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950) Starring: Evelyn Keyes, Charles Korvin, William Bishop.  Directed by Earl McEvoy. Screenplay by Harry Essex. Based on a story by Milton Lehman. Produced by Robert Cohn. Run Time: 79. Black and White. U.S. Film Noir, Crime, Drama.

I am an avid fan of the film noir and one of the things that I’ve learned is that the film doesn’t have to be well-known or even well-made to be a gem. Sometimes the rougher the production values, the better. But that is unfortunately not the case with The Killer That Stalked New York. While the film has many of characteristics of the semi-genre, including a femme fatale, Sheila Bennet (Evelyn Keyes); a voice over narrator (Reed Hadley) and it takes place mostly at night and it in the shadows, it sometimes feels more like a public advert for getting an immunization than a suspense-filled mystery.

Sheila Bennet arrives in New York from Cuba with a T-man or Treasury agent on her tail. She is smuggling $50,000 worth of diamonds and the agent has been tailing her the whole way home. But while she mailed the diamonds home to her husband, Matt Krane (Charles Korvin) she is still carrying something more sinister with her, small pox. Based on true events surrounding the 1946 small pox outbreak, the movie seems to be more about the search for the source of the outbreak than it is about the diamonds.

Matt tells Sheila to stay away from home for a couple of days and she checks into the Hotel America. But she is feeling ill and with a team of Treasury agents on her trail, she escapes with the help of the bell hop. While she is supposedly on her way to seek medical help, she stops herself. It is only when she nearly faints on the street that a policeman takes her into the clinic. It is there that Sheila meets and infects six-year old Walda Kowalski (Beverly Washburn) and the outbreak is officially on. The head of the clinic, Dr. Ben Wood (William Bishop) misdiagnoses Sheila and gives her some medicine to take.

While Sheila has been away, Matt has been carrying on with her sister, Francie (Lola Albright), but he is planning to leave when the diamonds arrive without either one of the Bennet sisters. But his plans are thwarted when his fence tells him to wait ten days to let things cool before selling the hot diamonds. Matt then goes into hiding. Distressed about her betrayal of her sister and Matt’s betrayal of her, Francie takes her own life.

Sooner or later, everyone Sheila comes in contact with seems to develop the disease and authorities seem to be at a loss to find her. Similarly, Customs agents have lost Sheila, but neither side knows for a while that they are both looking for the same person. Sheila for her part is unaware that she is carrying small pox and it is only the search for Matt that keeps her going. She knows that her husband has betrayed her and she is out to kill him.

Meanwhile, Customs and Health authorities finally put the pieces together and realize they are looking for the same person and they combine their efforts. They close in on her at the flop house her brother Sid (Whit Bissell) runs, but he delays them long enough for Sheila to escape. Perhaps ominously, she must go through a cemetery to do so.

Sheila though is getting sicker and sicker as the days go by. Having left her medicine when she fled authorities, she goes back to the clinic for more. There, Dr. Wood tells her that she is gravely ill, but she resists his attempts to subdue her. Instead, she shoots him in the arm as she makes her escape. She is now driven by revenge.

When she finally catches up to Matt, he falls to his death from a ledge while trying to elude police. She considers going over the edge herself, but Dr. Wood, who has been part of the search, tells her that Walda died. Suddenly remorseful, Sheila turns herself in and before dying herself, tells authorities who she has contacted since returning to New York. It’s a win-win for both Health and Customs agents.

Now the movie isn’t all bad, but I’m not a fan of pandemic film noirs. For some reason, 1950 seemed to be the year for such films. Panic in the Streets, directed by Elia Kazan came out the same year. Panic in the Streets combines a waterfront murder investigation with preventing the pneumonic plague from spreading in New Orleans.  While the public’s concern for pandemics is nothing new, it really isn’t the subplot that gets me going. I guess I’m more of the murder, blackmail, robbery kind of film noir fan.

There is a lot of realism in the film, which was shot on location in New York City. And there is always the threat that this could happen to you, remember recent bird-flu and whooping cough concerns. However, I don’t really like my entertainment to come with a message, especially one that is so obviously delivered. I prefer a little mystery and suspense stirred into the mix. That may be what this film is lacking for me. The film is rather predictable and that’s where it loses the fun factor. It’s not a film noir I would feel compelled to watch again.

The Killer That Stalked New York is available at the Warner Archive Collection:

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