He Walked By Night (A. Mann, Werker, 1948)
John Alton can do no wrong. Outside of a few sidetracks here and there, I’m going on a John Alton marathon. He might be the most consistently great cinematographer ever. He cares about every shot, and He Walked By Night is no different. Light and shadow create bold contrasting black and white images. And the hazy greys of the moonlit city and the underground sewer tunnels, the intense closeups of a sweating and nervous antagonist, the wavy reflections created through windows and mirrors, and the use of unique shooting angles and deep focus don’t hurt the cause. And throughout most of the film is an eerie quiet tone where the images unfold and tell the story without the help of sound. Suspense, fear, and desperation are all seen and felt.
Unfortunately, all of the praise I heap on this film is damage control as it occurs. The film begins (and continues much to my frustration) with a terrible and obtrusive narration. As good as so many of the action scenes are at telling the story quietly, this narration acts as an exact opposite and in the worst possible way. Additionally, the rundown of the police procedural steps sets this up to be about the force solving a crime which leads to a weak and underdeveloped protagonist, instead of the brilliant game of cat and mouse it could have been. Talk about a seesaw ride. 8/10