Monday, August 3, 2015

The Sniper (1952) San Francisco Noir (update 07/03/2022)

(SLWB - October 05, 2011, finally updated here 07/03/2022 - original post images were watermarked by Image Shack)

Directed by Edward Dmytryk  (Cornered, Murder, My Sweet, Crossfire, Walk on the Wild Side).

Written by Harry Brown and based on the story by Edna and Edward Anhalt. Cinematography by was by Burnett Guffey (twenty Classic Noir) Music was by George Antheil. 

The film stars Arthur Franz (Red Light, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, The Wild Party, The Un-Holy Wife) as Edward Miller, Adolphe Menjou (The Tall Target) as Police Lt. Frank Kafka.

Arthur Franz as Edward Miller

   Adolphe Menjou as Police Lt. Frank Kafka lt., and Gerald Mohr as Police Sgt. Joe       Ferris, rt.

Marie Windsor as Jean Darr

Marie Windsor as Jean Darr, and Gerald Mohr (Lady of Burlesque, Gilda, Detective Story, Date with Death) as Police Sgt. Joe Ferris. 

The rest of the cast includes Frank Faylen (The Lost Weekend, Blood on the Moon, Detective Story, 99 River Street) as Police Insp. Anderson, Richard Kiley (Pickup on South Street, The Phenix City Story, Looking for Mr. Goodbar) as Dr. James G. Kent, Mabel Paige (Hollow Triumph, Canon City, Edge of Doom) as the Landlady and Marlo Dwyer (Crossfire, The Woman on Pier 13, Follow Me Quietly, Caged) as May Nelson.

San Francisco. Edward Miller (Franz) released from prison. He has mommy problems and as a result has been a loser with women all his life. Especially brunettes. He works for Alpine, a laundry/dry cleaner outfit as a delivery man. 

Eddie knows he's slowly going off his rocker. Eddie needs help. He sits by his open window. He tries to call the psychiatrist who treated him at the prison. The guy is away on a vacation.  

Eddie unlocks the top draw of his dresser and pulls out a rifle. Back at the window he hears a woman laughing. His neighbor across the street. He attaches a sniper scope. 

The neighbor woman and a man are walking up the hill on the sidewalk. They are getting back from a date. Eddie takes aim and pulls the trigger. 

A dry click. The rifle is not loaded. He's nuts.

To try and stop himself Eddie turns on the burner of his hot plate and deliberately burns his right hand. Second degree damage. 


The burn is treated at a hospital. One of the doctors thinks the wound was deliberate and suspects Eddie may need psychiatric help. Eddie also is hoping that they keep him overnight for observation, but a multi victim vehicular accident arrives at the emergency room and they release him. The next day Eddie is back at work.

One of his customers is Jean Darr an entertainer at the Paper Doll Club, a small piano bar owned by Pete (Jay Novello). Eddie is kinda sweet on her. Jean is wearing a white, off the shoulder gown, that she has noticed has a stain and needs to be cleaned in a rush job. 

It's got a stain Eddie

Jean comes off a bit flirty. She asks Eddie if he can take care of that for her. Eddie says sure. He's probably thinking that he can take care of something else too. Jean thanks Eddie and asks him if he'd mind waiting while she takes it off and offers him a cold beer while he waits. 

While sucking down the suds of his Blatz, Eddie peeps a bit on Jean. He's feeling pretty good. He's getting some wood. She comes out in a flimsy robe and hands him her gown. Is Eddie gonna get lucky? 

While they are chatting in the kitchen, Jean's doorbell rings. It's one of Jean's admirers. She chases Eddie out the back door with a half finished brewski in one hand and pushing her gown at him with the other. The brush! 

This abrupt dismissal sends poor Eddie right off the deep end. He throws his Blatz across the rooftops and scrambles down the wooden staircase to the street. Jean becomes his first victim. 

That night, Eddie follows Jean on her walk down to the Paper Doll Club. He carries his broken down sniper rifle with its tubular stock hidden in a leather briefcase. 

Stalking Jean

Eddie goes across the street from the piano bar, gains entry to the apartment house there, and climbs up to the roof. Eddie puts the rifle together and waits. At closing time, when Jean comes out of the bar Eddie shoots her down.

On the roof

San Francisco's version of WeeGee

Eddie now obsessed starts on a trail of murder with his high-power sniper rifle targeting brunettes. The police are baffled by the apparently random killings until a police psychologist sets them on the right trail. 


Produced by Stanley Kramer it's definitely a "message" film one of Kramer's trademarks but at least it's an enjoyable one. Most of the message is delivered by Dr. James G. Kent (Richard Kiley). However the message is a bit camouflaged.

If you imagine each shooting to be a sort of codified rape, it makes a bit more sense when the police are talking about the killings as sex crimes. Its both weird and compelling. The scenes of the women being shot are both excellently done and disturbing. The script and acting by Franz as the sniper with his mannerisms and facial tics is extremely convincing.

A lot of on location sequences in the vertically labyrinthine San Francisco adds to the overall enjoyment of the film. As part of the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Collection Vol 1 it has an excellent and informative commentary by Eddie Muller whom novelist James Ellroy has dubbed "The Czar of Noir". So the film can be enjoyed twice. For location work it and The Lineup are probably the San Francisco equivalents to The Naked City 8/10.

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