The Sniper is a disturbing serial-killer themed film noir from 1952. To Los Angeles audiences, the film’s theme- a lone male stalking female victims at random and shooting them from a sniper’s vantage point- must have seemed awfully familiar. The city had just caught its own “phantom sniper” who had had local women on edge since the previous summer.
“Filmed under police protection!” “Based on facts!” “The inside story of the $8,000,000,000 gambling syndicate and its hoodlum empire!”
Producer Frank Seltzer started doing research for 711 Ocean Drive, originally known as Blood Money, in November 1948, intending to expose the race wire service as a new industry for hoodlums who lost out through the repeal of Prohibition. The final screenplay, credited to Richard English and Francis Swann, is a fictionalized but recognizable depiction of the late Bugsy Siegel and his former minion, Mickey Cohen.
He Walked By Night is a documentary-style film noir. The opening credits (overlaying a street map of LA metropolitan area) and opening montage establish that we’re in Los Angeles. A voice over tells us that the story is based on a real case:
It was October 1946. Twenty-four-year-old Army veteran William L. Bruce was shopping for a lawnmower with his wife and in-laws at the Sears store in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights when he spotted the man who had until recently had made his life a living hell: Tomoya Kawakita, a former guard at the Osaka Camp at Oeyama, Honshu, Japan where Bruce had been held as a POW. He was better known to Bruce and his fellow prisoners of war as “The Meatball,” so nicknamed for his rotund figure- the result of his stealing and eating their rations.
Gangster movies had been around almost as long as the motion picture industry itself but gained in popularity during Prohibition, when the violent exploits of real life gangsters made headlines daily. Then as the news shifted its focus to gangster chasers- the G-Men- the movies followed suit. Still later, the genre would overlap with what we now call film noir with its own ripped-from-the-headlines depictions of the modern day gangster.
A typical reaction from anyone who reads Geoffrey Homes’ hard-to-find 1946 novel Build My Gallows High (basis for the film noir Out of the Past) is: how on earth did he come up with a name like Mumsie McGonigle? The short answer is: he didn’t. There was a real Mumsie McGonigle, and she was much in the news in early 1940s Los Angeles. Her story involves depravity and corruption to equal any hardboiled fiction plot.
The film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s debut 1939 novel, The Big Sleep, began filming in October 1944 but didn’t begin its run in Los Angeles area theaters until almost two years later, in September 1946. The usual explanation for delay is that World War II was ending soon so the studio held it back in order to rush its war-related films into theaters, and in the interim Lauren Bacall’s bad reviews for Confidential Agent led Warners to reshoot some of her scenes. A closer look at the timeline:
Men returning from war service found that while styles hadn’t changed much, their bodies had. Continue reading