Crime Wave (André De Toth / U.S., 1954):

The opening holdup -- the camera’s backseat view of the ride, the clobbering of the gas station clerk, the point-blank shooting of a motorcycle cop -- is scored to half-heard Gershwin and cut with magnificent abruptness. The wounded fugitive (Nedrick Young) expires at the home of his former San Quentin inmate (Gene Nelson), soon the cohorts (Ted De Corsia, Charles Bronson) are also at the ex-con’s front door. The underworld is slashed by deep shadows, the police station is a blanched cosmos where lines echo in cavernous offices and the homicide detective (Sterling Hayden) looms over desks and suspects; caught helplessly between dimensions, Nelson voices the plight of the marked civilian ("Once you’ve done a bit, nobody leaves you alone"). Maybe it takes an outsider to see the strangeness of Los Angeles at night -- Steve Sekely in Hollow Triumph developed innumerable noir gradations, and fellow Hungarian André De Toth outdoes him here with an unerring feel for highways, roadside cafés, shabby apartments. The heft of time spent in prison is not forgotten by the characters, though "the hazards of life on the outside" are more treacherous. The sense of human vulnerability against hard architecture suggests Lang on a shoestring, but the bleak humanism is all De Toth’s: A close-up of a pair of hands holding onto each other over a nightstand phone beautifully states the fragility of connection, the shady veterinarian (Jay Novello) who rifles through a corpse’s pockets is later revealed as a disgraced doctor and mourned by caged dogs. A bedrock for both Killer’s Kiss and The Killing: Kubrick certainly remembered the glimpse of the ragged band playing "Bringing in the Sheaves" in the street, and Timothy Carey’s toothy leer as he thinks about Nelson’s wife (Phyllis Kirk) bathing behind a closed door. Compassion in this world is a fleeting break in a hardboiled routine, Hayden’s act of mercy is a cig savored for ten seconds before returning to his diet of toothpicks. Cinematography by Bert Glennon. With James Bell, Dub Taylor, Gayle Kellogg, Mack Chandler, and Hank Worden. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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