Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Underrated Movie #29: The Sniper

Film Noir Week aims to please!

Title: The Sniper
Year: 1952
Director: Edward Dmytryk (Crossfire)
Writer: Harry Brown (A Place in the Sun), from a story by Edna and Edward Anhalt (Panic in the Streets)
Stars: Arthur Franz, Adolphe Menjou (Paths of Glory), Marie Windsor (Narrow Margin)

The Story: A sad sack ex-G.I. starts picking off people from rooftops, hoping that the cops will catch him before he strikes again.

How it Came to be Underrated: Like Murder by Contract, this has just been released on dvd for the first time ever. Until now film buffs had to track it down on TCM or a revival theater.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Too many movies exist to tell us what the filmmaker thinks of the characters, instead of trying to understand what the characters think of themselves. Truly terrible movies like A Beautiful Mind attempt to portray the horror of not knowing you have a mental illness, but this movie understands that the true horror comes from knowing you’re ill. Franz is desperately trying to fix himself the entire time. Like any good thriller-hero, he knows that he’s the only one who can stop a killer.
  2. In too many serial killer movies, the brilliant killer knows everything that his victims are thinking, then the hero wins by knowing everything that the killer is thinking. But that’s not realistic and it’s not scary. In fact, it’s downright re-assuring to think that there’s some crazed killer out there who’s just as obsessed with us as we are with ourselves. What’s truly scary is the possibility of a world where nobody cares what anyone else is thinking.
  3. Edward Dmytryk’s career shows the poisonous effect of the “prestige” picture. Dmytryk never stopped making great little thrillers, from Murder My Sweet in 1944, to this movie in 1952, to Mirage in 1965, but he also had a parallel career directing widescreen technicolor stinkers like Where Love Has Gone. Like the killer, there were two men struggling inside of Dmytryk, one who was good at being mean, and one who was bad at being good.
  4. There are definitely no “femme fatales” to be found here. It’s easy to assume that all noirs grow from a seed of misogyny, but this movie does the opposite: it makes a real attempt to understand and condemn misogyny, which lurks not just in the mind of the killer, but also in the idle chatter that surrounds these crimes.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: The first great “mind of a killer” thriller was Fritz Lang’s M. Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam was also underrated.

How Available Is It?: Like Murder by Contract, the new dvd has a nice intro by Martin Scorsese. Even better, this one has a great commentary by the always-likable noir scholar Eddie Mueller.

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