The Sniper (1952)

THE SNIPER reminds me of a more compact, more personal look at a psycho killer than THE NAKED CITY, which it resembles in style and content.

ARTHUR FRANZ gets his big break here, a starring role in a well-written thriller about a serial killer who wishes he could stop killing, if the police would only catch him. The final scene is a summation of that wish, but almost seems like a letdown after all the build-up to what we presume would be a bloody climax (if directed by someone like today’s Martin Scorsese).

Franz’s trouble is that he looks too much like any clean-cut, normal, handsome young man and his looks work against the grain of the role. He’s intense when he has to be, but lacks the intenseness of a James Dean or even a Dane Clark as the man given to sudden outbursts of temper and a psyche that is screaming for help and attention. He’s good, but never manages to be better than his material. Think of what someone like DANIEL CRAIG would do with this role today.

MARIE WINDSOR does a nice job as a glamorous night club pianist who has the young man (who works as an errand boy for the local cleaners) as a sort of friend she trusts. Her walk through an almost deserted looking San Francisco at night, down hilly streets on the way to her workplace, is photographed with noir precision and style, as is most of the film. Neat use of San Francisco’s hilly environment is a constant point of interest throughout.

ADOLPHE MENJOU is not quite as colorful as Barry Fitzgerald was in THE NAKED CITY, playing a detective determined to catch the serial killer before he strikes again. MABEL PAIGE does a nice job as Franz’s landlady who talks to her black and white cat as though it was her own dear child, and GERALD MOHR is briskly efficient as a psychiatrist who thinks the police are going about their search the wrong way.

Wonderfully photographed in B&W shadowy photography, it’s a compact and efficient film noir that is perhaps a little too restrained in dealing with frank subject matter but nevertheless gets its points across with chilling clarity, thanks to a tight script and some good suspenseful footage.