Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) Public Service Noir

(parts of this from original SLWB review - April 07, 2012) 

The title sequence with a giant  silhouette of a
woman looming over NYC gives a preview
 of the gravity of the unfolding story.
irector: Earl McEvoy. Writers: Milton Lehman (a Colliers Magazine article), Harry Essex (adaptation). Cinematography was by Joseph F. Biroc, and music was by Hans J. Salter. 

Starring Evelyn Keyes, Charles Korvin, Jim Backus, Whit Bissell, Dorothy Malone, Lola Albright, and William Bishop. This is sort of a companion piece to Panic In The Streets (1950). It's part film noir and part public service education.

The film almost flawlessly transitions between New York location footage, Los Angeles location footage, and studio sets. The only giveaways are the street lamps, New York has the old Bishop's Crook lamps, the L.A. Columbia Studio studio sets use the single globe on a concrete post Hollywood type lamps, and they are also invariably illuminated by bright California sunshine, in contrast to the drabber real Manhattan cityscapes.

Sheila Bennett (Keyes)
Torch singer Sheila Bennett (Keyes) is returning to New York from Cuba. Sheila is the mule in a husband-wife jewel smuggling racket, carrying $50,000 worth of smuggled diamonds, but she is also carrying unbeknownst to her, Smallpox. 

    Treasury Agent Johnson (Barry Kelly)
She was smart enough to see that she was being tailed once she was in the U.S. on the rail trip from Florida, by a customs agent (Barry Kelley). Shelia had the smarts to mail the ice from some R.P.O. along her route, to her ivory tickling "husband" Matt Krane (Korvin), living in New York City.  She arrives at Pennsylvania Station not realizing that she's now carrying the contagious Smallpox virus that spreads on contact which could start a devastating and quickly spreading epidemic in the unprotected city of eight million. 

Sheila (Keyes) in a phone booth at Penn Station.

Once off the train, she immediately calls Matt. She tells him about the customs agent and her precaution to mail the smuggled diamonds to their apartment in Brooklyn. 

Hubby tells her to check into a Times Square dive hotel The America (BTW, this hotel was a dive hangout for showbiz lowlifes, prostitutes, pimps, and a favorite flop where Comedian Lenny Bruce would get geezed). Matt tells her to make sure the agent doesn't follow her to Brooklyn, but in actuality he is playing hide the sausage while she's been away with her own very eager kid sister, and doesn't want her showing up at their apartment. Nice family.

Her slimy husband (Korvin) who is doing her sister while she is away
Sheila is not feeling well, she is now showing the symptoms of Smallpox, she has headaches and back pains and re-occurring fevers. She finds a clinic off Times Square on the way to Brooklyn and there meets nurse (Malone) and Doctor Wood (Bishop). They misdiagnose her with the flu and Dr. Wood gives her some medicine to take. 

Before Sheila leaves the clinic she gives a small girl a decorative pin, contact with the pin infects the child, Sheila is a walking death spreader. The child soon comes down with the symptoms and other victims begin to show up sick. Smallpox is diagnosed and now Sheila is hunted by Custom agent Johnson while Public Health doctor Wood searches in vain for the unknown person spreading the deadly disease far and wide.

Dr. Wood (Bishop) and Nurse (Malone) with Sheila
Arriving at her apartment in Brooklyn Sheila finds her baby sister (Albright) there with her Husband.  Albright is doing the tube steak boogie with Matt but the increasingly ill Sheila is at first too sick to notice. Meanwhile, Custom agent Johnson loses her when she leaves the hotel through a barbershop, with the help of a bribed bellboy. But he keeps doggedly on the trail, searching theatrical agencies for some leads; while Doctor Wood and an increasingly concerned  New York City Public Health Service searches the areas where new victims are turning up from their contacts with Shelia.

Brooklyn Brownstone (probably a studio set, looks awfully familiar from other Noirs)

Reunion with Hubby
Sheila eventually finds out from Belle the nosy landlady (Connie Gilchrist), that her husband is double crossing her concerning the diamonds, and is screwing her sister. From that point on she becomes obsessed with finding her faithless shitheel husband Matt. Matt plans to abscond with the loot from the diamonds. 

Sheila finds out, from the crooked jeweler (Art Smith) they are in cahoots with, that Matt will be back in ten days after the heat dies down, with the diamonds. The medicine from the doctor and her determination to get Matt is keeping her alive. Sheila flees to her brother's (Whit Bissell) Bowery flop house "the Moon" and hides out there.

The Moon (Hollywood Studio Set)

Sheila's Brother (Whit Bissell)

The film is chuck full of great NYC footage circa 1949-50. Shots that haunt the memories of New Yorkers old enough to remember the city as it used to be before the need of historic preservation, when urban renewal, and gentrification changed things forever.  Watch for Pennsylvania Station, Times Square, Battery Park and the Third Avenue el. 


Bradbury Building left, Broadway, Los Angeles filling in for Manhattan

This is an OK thriller, though it does beg the question about what happened to all the other contacts Sheila made before she hit NYC, the people on the boat or plane she took from Cuba, she most assuredly came in contact with before she took the train. Unless she was somehow not contagious during some type of incubation period, but what do I know. This film has great location shots of old Penn Station, various Manhattan locals and a great 3rd Avenue el sequence at the old Chatham Square Station that I've captured and uploaded on Youtube below:

Keyes is great in this and her makeup gets increasingly effective conveying her sickness, its part of the Bad Girls of Film Noir set 7/10

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