He Walked by Night (Alfred L. Werker & Anthony Mann / U.S., 1948):

The credits name Alfred L. Werker only, but this crime thriller belongs to the unbilled Anthony Mann, of a piece with the barbarous noir of T-Men and Raw Deal. Evidence? All in the technique. A cop, driving home following a day's work, spots Richard Basehart prowling by a radio store after closing hours and gets a point-blank slug for his trouble; a low-angle view of Basehart at home listening to the radio after having shaved off his stache, the police's single clue, followed by a high-angle shot of him entering his living room, occupied only by his pooch and stolen electronic gadgetry; an extended close-up of the fallen officer's wife as she hears the sad news, later repeated for Basehart's homemade surgery as he excruciatingly extracts a bullet from the flesh just below the frame. All Mann. The plot is clipped LAPD tribute with roots on a real-life 1947 case, just one of many and with facts told, a narrator assures, "as they happened." Sgt. Scott Brady and Capt. Roy Roberts latch onto the killer's slippery trail of crumbs, but police work is not "all glamour and excitement and glory," so the investigative procedures (suspects corralled, wanted-sign portraits composed facial piece by piece, bureaus combed for clues) are methodically detailed, laying the ground for the rigorous urban Bressonism of Dragnet. (The young Jack Webb is in the lab to check ballistics and collect DNA for his later show.) John Alton is again Mann's lighting ace -- deep-focus for offices, a sliver of light illuminating Basehart's mug as he shakes down buyer-turned-bait Whit Bissell, documentary glimpses of Los Angeles at night. Basehart is flushed from his hideout and into the sewer at the climax for some fierce subterranean geometry, darkness pierced by bobbing flashlight and Third Man tunnel expressionism, no tilted camera needed. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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