My previous bonus episode covered T-Men (1947), a recent Blu-ray from ClassicFlix. Now comes another release from the same company, one that may be even more impressive than T-Men: Alfred L. Werker’s He Walked by Night (1948) with directorial contributions by Anthony Mann.
In the film’s excellent commentary by Alan K. Rode and Julie Kirgo, Rode mentions “Anthony Mann’s murky role in directing this movie.” So how much of the film belongs to Werker and how much to Mann? You’ll have to get the release and listen to the commentary to find out. Regardless, He Walked by Night is a stunner.
Like T-Men, He Walked by Night is another Eagle-Lion production based on real events. Richard Basehart plays a ruthless cop killer, a loner called Roy (among other aliases) who’s not only very smart, but also extremely elusive. His story by itself is fascinating, especially in ways that he prefigures real criminals such as the Zodiac killer and imagined ones such as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. (There’s even a “Do-it-yourself bullet extraction” scene that the Coen brothers must’ve had in mind when making No Country.) The police procedural aspect of He Walked by Night also goes into more detail than many other films from this era, yet it’s never plodding or dull; just the opposite.
Yet the real star of the film is the cinematography by John Alton. T-Men is certainly an impressive display of Alton’s skills, but He Walked by Night shows the master cinematographer on a whole other level. One year before audiences watched the authorities chasing Harry Lime through the sewers in Carol Reed’s The Third Man, Alton had already covered that ground. Here the search for Roy provides so many challenges in lighting that are absolutely stunning nearly 70 years later. I found myself shaking my head at several points asking “How did he do that?” It’s almost as if Alton could make light submit to his every whim.
The film also stars Jack Webb as a forensics expert, a role that clearly foreshadows his role as Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an excellent role by one of my favorite character actors Whit Bissell.
On the disc you’ll also find the 12-minute featurette “Below the Surface: He Walked by Night with Rode, Kirgo and others, but the disc’s finest extra is the Rode/Kirgo commentary which covers an enormous amount of film noir history, particularly in discussing the work of Alton and Mann. I hope we see these two do more commentary tracks for ClassicFlix; this one is pure gold. And once again, we have an incredible booklet with an essay by Max Alvarez and graphics work by Michael Kronenberg. This is another release that film noir fans simply can’t live without. Buy with confidence.
Photos: DVD Beaver, DVD Talk