THIS IS A TRUE STORY. It is known to the Police Department of one of our largest cities as the most difficult homicide case in its experience, principally because of the diabolical cleverness, intelligence and cunning of a completely unknown killer….The record is set down here factually—as it happened. Only the names have been changed—to protect the innocent.
If this sounds like something out of the opening of an episode of Dragnet, it’s because He Walked By Night, a 1948 film noir flick, was one of the direct inspirations for the famous radio and television show. According to the trivia on IMDb, this is one of the first roles of Dragnet star Jack Webb and while on the set he was approached by the film’s technical adviser, Marty Winn, and their conversations on the set led to them creating that show for radio. Of course, that’t not why I saved this to my watchlist on Kanopy. It looked like a cool old movie to watch.
The film, released in 1948, is about how the LAPD tracked down a killer who had killed at least one police officer. It’s based on the true story of Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker, who had gone on a crime spree in 1946. The crime spree as depicted in the movie surrounds the killer, Roy Martin, shooting and killing a police officer who has stopped to question him about why he seemed to be looking at a store window late at night. Of course, Roy was casing the joint, and he’s had a history of stealing radio equipment and fencing it.
From there, we follow the investigation as the LAPD tries to discover who is behind the killing. They search through Hollywood, employ various investigative techniques, and eventually are able to narrow the list of possible suspects down to Roy Martin. When they find him, he escapes down a storm drain and that leads to a climactic chase through the sewer and storm-drain system.
As far as entertainment goes, this is a pretty good piece. It’s also a pretty good cop movie. However, that’s also one of the problems I found I had watching it in our present day. My apologies for dragging politics into my review here, but I haven’t been a fan of police-based shows and movies in recent years because of what I’ve seen happen in the news and the way that pro-police sentiment has subtle and not-so-subtle fascist and racist leanings. He Walked By Night is not a movie presented in that vein, but it does serve as an early example of “copaganda”, a television and film subgenre made famous by the show that this movie inspired, Dragnet. In fact, there’s even a documentary-style narration while the police are going about their investigation.
Still, like I said, the film is entertaining, and the chase from Roy’s apartment to the sewers was very well done, as was much of the story leading up to it. Most of the characters were fairly one-dimensional, but the way that they were shown going about their investigation added some quality tension that made the climax a good payoff. It’s a “watch this” if you like old film noir and cop movies. And since it’s just under an hour and a half, it’s not going to take up too much of your time.
Watch or Skip?
Watch if you’re interested in this type of movie.