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He Walked by Night (1948) is a black-and-white police procedural film noir, crediting Alfred L. Werker as director. In reality, most of the film was directed by western/film noir director Anthony Mann. The film, shot in semidocumentary tone, was based on the real-life actions of Erwin "Machine-Gun" Walker.

In the course of the film's being made, one of the actors, Jack Webb, struck up a friendship with the police technical advisor, Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn, and was inspired by a coversation with Wynn to create the radio and later television program Dragnet.

He Walked by Night was released by Eagle-Lion Films and is notable for the camera work by renowned noir cinematographer John Alton. Today the film is in public domain.


On a Los Angelesmarker street, Officer Hollis, a patrolman on his way home from work, stops a man he suspects of being a burglar and is shot and mortally wounded. His assailant and what clues there are lead no where. Two police detectives, Sergeants Marty Brennan (Brady) and Chuck Jones (Cardwell), are assigned to catch the killer. The killer, Roy Morgan (Basehart), a brilliant mystery man with no known criminal past, is hiding in a Hollywoodmarker bungalow and listening to police calls on his custom radio in an attempt to avoid capture. The only relationship the man seems to have is with his little dog.

Roy consigns burgled electronic equipment to Paul Reeves (Whit Bissell), and on his fifth sale is nearly caught when the killer shows up to collect on his property. Reeves tells police the suspect is a mystery man named Roy Martin. The case crosses the paths of Brennan and Jones, who stake out Reeves' office to arrest and question Roy. He suspects a trap, however, and in a brief shootout shoots and paralyzes Jones. Jones wounds Roy, who performs surgery on himself to remove the bullet and avoid going to a hospital, where all gunshot wounds are reported to the police.

Roy, with knowledge of police procedures, changes his modus operandi and becomes an armed robber. In one robbery he fires his automatic pistol and the police recover the ejected casing. Lee (Jack Webb), a forensics specialist, matches the ejector marks on the casing to those recovered in the killing of Officer Hollis and wounding of Sgt. Jones, connecting all three shootings to one suspect.

Captain Breen (Roy Roberts) uses the break to pull together all the witnesses to the robberies, who assist Lee in building a composite photo of the killer. Reeves identifies Roy from the composite. Roy hides in Reeves' car and attempts to intimidate him into revealing details of the police investigation and barely eludes a stakeout of Reeves' house.

Not realizing that Roy has inside knowledge of police work, the case goes nowhere. Breen takes Brennan off the case in an attempt to shake him up. Jones convinces his partner to quit viewing the case personally and to use his head.

Plodding, methodical follow-up by Brennan using the composite photograph results in information that Roy, whose actual name is Roy Morgan, worked for a local police department as a civilian radio dispatcher before being draft into the Army. Brennan tracks him down through post office mail carriers and disguises himself as a milkman to get a close look at Morgan and his apartment.

The police surround and raid the apartment that night but Morgan, forewarned by the barking of his dog, escapes through the attic and uses the Los Angeles sewer system as a means to escape police. The film continues with a dragnet and chase through the sewers. Roy is finally cornered by the police inside of a passage into the street which is blocked by the wheel of a police car. As the police shoot tear gas at Roy, he staggers and attempts to fire at them. He is then shot down and killed.


Critical reception

The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a positive review and wrote, "He Walked by Night is a high-tension crime meller, supercharged with violence but sprung with finesse. Top credits for this film's wallop is shared equally by the several scripters, director Alfred Werker and a small, but superb cast headed by Richard Basehart...Starting in high gear, the film increases in momentum until the cumulative tension explodes in a powerful crime-doesn't pay climax. Striking effects are achieved through counterpoint of the slayer's ingenuity in eluding the cops and the police efficiency in bringing him to book. High-spot of the film is the final sequence which takes place in LA's storm drainage tunnel system where the killer tries to make his getaway. With this role, Basehart establishes himself as one of Hollywood's most talented finds in recent years. He heavily overshadows the rest of the cast, although Scott Brady, Roy Roberts and Jim Cardwell, as the detectives, deliver with high competence. Film is also marked by realistic camera work and a solid score."



See also


  1. Meister, Dick. Labor - And A Whole Lot More web site, "Too Crazy To Kill." Last accessed: December 29, 2007.
  2. .
  3. Public Domain Database web site.
  4. Variety . Film review, 1948. Last accessed: April 29, 2008.

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