UCLA Festival of Preservation
He Walked By Night/Open Secret
He Walked By Night
Alfred Werker/Anthony Mann (uncredited), US, 1948, 35mm, 79 min., b/w
Inspired by the true story of Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker's shocking Los Angeles crime spree throughout 1945 and 1946, He Walked By Night is a superbly crafted documentary-style noir thriller released by Eagle-Lion Films and produced by Bryan Foy (eldest son of Eddie Foy and part of the famous “Seven Little Foys”). Known as the “Keeper of the B's” during his previous stints at Warner Bros. and Fox, Foy's team (led by director Alfred Werker and an uncredited Anthony Mann) imbued the production with impressive creativity despite the Poverty Row studio's budgetary limitations. Critical praise was unanimous, with Variety praising the “high-tension crime meller, supercharged with violence but sprung with finesse.”
The film's swiftly efficient parallel narrative structure is divided between the methodical LAPD team led by veteran character actor Roy Roberts and rugged newcomer Scott Brady (younger brother of crime film favorite Lawrence Tierney), and their psychotically-cunning cop killer target (skillfully portrayed by recently discovered stage star, Richard Basehart). Jack Webb, in his first credited film role, plays a forensic technician. The onset friendship that developed between Webb and the film's technical advisor, LAPD Sergeant Marty Wynn, is widely credited as the birth of Dragnet and the modern day pulp-TV police procedural.
Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation
John Reinhardt, US, 1948, 35mm, 68 min., b/w
In the back room of a seedy, small town bar, a group of men pronounce someone guilty of an unknown crime. A “lost” film noir, Open Secret teeters between gritty murder mystery and exposé of social injustice. John Ireland and his new bride, Jane Randolph, arrive as houseguests of an old army buddy only to have him turn up missing. As the newlyweds investigate their friend's disappearance they realize that he and his town are hiding deep-rooted prejudices. Discovering hate literature calling for “100% white Americans to organize,” Ireland comments, “Some people believe this stuff.” A neighborhood woman advises them not to patronize Strauss' camera shop. “Let him move somewhere else with his own sort,” she sneers.
Unlike Gentleman's Agreement and Crossfire (both released one year earlier), the “open secret” is never mentioned except in a brief shot of the word “Jew” scribbled on a storefront. When their friend is found dead, Ireland and Randolph are themselves thrust in harm's way by accidental possession of evidence that can convict leading townspeople of, not only discrimination, but murder. Speaking of the thwarted ringleader, heroic cop Sheldon Leonard (in a change of pace from his usual gangster roles) observes, “He was playing Hitler—but in the wrong precinct.”
Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute
The UCLA Festival of Preservation is Co-Presented by Louis Bluver.