This is my 4th or 5th viewing.
Director: Ted Tetzlaff (Notorious (director of photography) Writers: Mel Dinelli (screenplay), Cornell Woolrich (based on his story "The Boy Cried Murder") Cinematography by Robert De Grasse & William O. Steiner. Stars: Bobby Driscoll, Ruth Roman, Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, and Paul Stewart.
A unique Noir Thriller. A Family Noir. A Kid's Noir. But not just any kid, the kid who was a denizen of an decaying urban rat warren in a city that was constantly regenerating. A city before the Manhattan el's were torn down, before TV, before air-conditioning, where clothes were dried on clothes lines, where playgrounds were winding back alleys, tar beach roof tops, jungle jim fire escapes, and condemned buildings that became, clubhouses, forts or whatever you may imagine. The real habitats of urban man circa 1948, apartment-street, hall-alley, sidewalk-pavement, steel-earth, inside-outside, light-dark. I remember us kids grabbing trash can lids for shields and sticks for swords and battling it out in the backyard Colosseum, the clanging of the sticks against the lids sounded quite cinematic.
Third Avenue El
Back yard scape
What really hits home with this film is its realistic telling of the tale from Tommy's POV (Bobby Driscoll). Any viewer with an urban background will find some touchstones to his own childhood or to the childhood stories of his parents and grandparents. I still remember trying to sleep on hot, humid summer nights, in a second story apartment, where, thanks to a corner bedroom and two open windows any slight cross breeze brought relief. But it also provided the city lullabies of traffic, distant and near, the rattle of the Connecting RR winding off the Hell Gate Bridge, the faint roar of the sunken Grand Central. Nature provided the rustle of a sycamore tree from a breeze or the patter of rain on leaves. My best friend who lived in a bigger apartment house actually did sleep out on the fire escape to cool off. An el the old BMT line to Ditmars Blvd. was just down the block.
The film begins brilliantly with one of Tommy's fantasies instantly drawing us in to his world.
We see a condemned building, we see a black window, lying face down, we see Tommy. He awakens looking somewhat in pain, clutching his chest. A child in distress. Crawling forward he grabs a cap gun and we are brought to reality. Tommy is fantasizing, playing/acting out, a "shot" cowboy crawling in a hayloft towards the hay-door from where he spots the "gang" playing cards. He shoots, bang, and his older buddies ignore him, a new game has already replaced the one Tommy was still playing, and a fire truck siren from the street trumps even that.
As Tommy makes his way to his street urchin buddies we follow the relatively benign, maze like, cinematic urban landscape that duplicates in reverse later, a final reckoning that, taking place in the dead of night, turns it all very noir-ish and frightening, with murderous silhouettes on window shades, illumination stabbed by slanting shadows.
apartment in the dark
The city, especially in this film, is given equal billing. William O. Steiner (cinematography) a native New Yorker along with two of the three assistant directors, informs the visual compositions with a loving and knowing familiarity. Interiors (studio probably) Art Direction by Italian born Sam Corso, native New Yorker Albert S. D'Agostino and Kansian Walter E. Keller look flawless.
Ed & Tommy
All performances are top notch. Bobby Driscoll was incredibly talented. He's thoroughly believable as Tommy. All his interactions and reactions with his peers, with his parents especially his father Ed (Arthur Kennedy), with his neighbors, and with the police, as he tries to convince them that he's telling the truth ring clear. Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy are excellent as Tommy's doubting parents ratcheting up the tension/horror level every time they attempt to reason with or placate Tommy's accusations with the kind of statements most parents faced with the same situation would make. They even make Tommy confront the upstairs neighbors the Kellerson's. Joe Kellerson and Jean Kellerson are one of the most despicable couples in noir. Their grift is for looker Jean (Ruth Roman) to lure single men to their apartment, probably for sex, where she slips them knockout drops, Joe (Paul Stewart) then rolls them for their doe and dumps them in an alley.
Joe and Jean Kellerson
On a hot & humid night Tommy can't sleep, he wakes his mother Mary Woodry, (Barbara Hale) and asks if he can sleep out on the fire escape where it would be cooler, she says sure but be careful. Laying out in the sweltering evening with his pillow Tommy looking up, sees the towels hanging from the Kellerson's clothesline billow out in a breeze, a breeze that doesn't reach down enough to give Tommy relief, so like any resourceful kid, Tommy grabs his pillow and climbs up the stairway to the Kellerson's landing to fall asleep there beside their window. He's awakened both by a shaft of light spilling across his face from the void between the bottom of a pull down shade and the window sill, and the sounds of a grift going murderously wrong. Its a beautifully filmed sequence where the action is obscured, partially silhouetted and enlarged by the shade and vividly focused through the slot.
Though I've never read the Cornell Woolrich short story I have read that the story is even gorier, i.e.the Kellerson's victim is cut up to fit into a suitcase. Lots of great sequences, watch for the police station cat. The original music score by Roy Webb even includes a leitmotif for Tommy. Great New York Noir 10/10