The Killer is Loose (Boetticher, 1956)

Director’s such as Fritz Lang and Henry Hathaway have crafted brilliant Film Noir’s based on unease within the post WWII family unit. Budd Boetticher’s The Killer is Loose belongs in this esteemed company, a rippling and devastating crime picture that tears open the storybook 1950’s family and reveals the underlining doubts and weaknesses hiding underneath. Joseph Cotton plays Det. Sam Wagner, a beat cop about to get hitched to the vivid Lila (Rhonda Fleming). During the attempted capture of banker/criminal Leon Pool (Wendal Corey), Sam accidentally shoots Pool’s innocent wife. Pool’s mild manner takes a creepy right turn, evolving into a quiet but effective chorus of vengeance toward Sam. At first, no one takes Pool’s threats seriously except Lila. She sees the psychotic nature in Pool’s eyes, even when Sam and his police buddies choose to see it as a part of the job. When Pool escapes two years later, Sam and Lila’s relationship gets pushed to the brink by the certain violence heading there way. Pool’s quest is bloody and brutal, his unflinching nature tempered by his solemn and meager demeanor. This makes for one sadistic heavy and tension to spare.The Killer is Loose represents a drastic shift in locale and mood for Boetticher, best known for his superbly contained westerns with Randolph Scott. Working with harsh expressionistic lighting, Noir iconography, and hard-boiled dialogue, Boetticher fully encompasses himself in the Noir world. He creates a sharp but logical progression through these genre elements, especially in the post war psychosis of Pool, a broken man who’s failures in the military have resurfaced into an out of control killing machine. Pool’s quest for revenge is as simple as his role as a soldier, but this time he has a vested interest in succeeding. Corey’s Pool is a scary force, a man determined to enact a a single masculine gesture after a life of failures. His target is the very institution he’s been denied – a stable family. Pool tells an old army buddy his deceased wife was the only person who took him seriously. His fate rests within his own distilled memory of the love of his life, a woman, who, ironically enough never gets a word on-screen. Pool’s complexity is fascinating and challenging and it’s even more impressive Boetticher compliments Corey’s frightening performance with a unique Noir setting based around the family. Like Lang’s The Big Heat, Boetticher sets many scenes indoors, within neighborhoods, houses, and quiet suburban streets, typical safe havens engulfed by fear. Boetticher amplifies the consequences through a slow, simmering rise toward a destructive finish. The Killer is Loose is Boetticher’s masterpiece, tough to the core, cynical, and flushed with potent anguish.

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