Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

*** out of 5

"You're not going anywhere, Matt. You're not going anywhere again."

Coming only a few months after Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets, this film is less well constructed and more high-flown in its moments of pro-vaccine propaganda, but together they show just how long the anti-vax crazies have been around and in need of rebuke by basic medical science.

Evelyn Keyes is astonishingly good here, playing the titular character as a nightclub singer (as if there's any other profession for a working girl in film noir!) who comes into the country from Cuba, smuggling diamonds - and smallpox.

Charles Korvin is her husband, Matt, who planned her diamond scheme, but coldly betrays her confidence in her absence, wooing her younger sister, Francis (Lola Albright) and taking advantage of her sickness to claim the diamonds for himself.

Whit Bissell is her brother Sid, who runs a "flop house." He gives her a place to hide while the law hunts for her.  Investigators from both Customs and Department of Health desperately nose out her trail, both unaware they are seeking the same person.

Notable secondary performers include Jim Backus, uncredited as a club owner who steals a kiss full of germs from Evelyn before being slapped sensible by her, and Art Smith (so good as the Federal man in Ride the Pink Horse) is the diamond dealer who acts as the fence, but finds a conflict of interest can be deadly. William Bishop is the doctor who initially treats Keye's illness, unaware of the true severity of her disease. Dorothy Malone is also here, though underutilized as Bishop's nurse.
Connie Gilchrist also shows up as an intrusive, talkative apartment superintendent where Matt and Evelyn live.

Late in the film there is a death of a child that seems unnecessary to include (unless as a harsh warning to parents to get their kids inoculated). It is dramatic in itself, but it certainly adds nothing to the story as a contribution to the dramatic escalation of the plot, but feels more as like a detour in the story.

The most genuinely shocking part of the film is just how unglamorous Keyes is willing to become in her depiction of the growing illness of her character, going beyond a merely make-up-free face to an increasingly haggard, ghostly appearance, combined with a deadly intensity that is all the more startling when juxtaposed with the terror displayed by Charles Korvin's character when they finally meet again at the climax of the story.  She, though dying, is driven - while he, though healthy and inoculated, becomes frightened, squawking like the chicken he is when faced with the woman he betrayed.

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