Saturday, June 6, 2009

Target #57: The Killer That Stalked New York (1950, Earl McEvoy)

Directed by: Earl McEvoy
Written by: Milton Lehman (Colliers Magazine article), Harry Essex (adaptation)

In April 1947, New York City faced an epidemic crisis. Eugene LaBar, a rug importer arriving from Mexico, had arrived in the city, bringing with him the deadly smallpox virus. He stumbled off a bus, complaining of fever and a headache, and soon died in a Midtown Hospital, but not before he had infected a dozen passers-by. The damage was already done; for the first time in decades, smallpox stalked the streets of New York. The city's health authorities acted quickly to isolate sufferers and contain the virus, enacting a free vaccination campaign that saw over six million New Yorkers immunised against smallpox. Thanks to their swift response, the virus was contained with minimal casualties. The outbreak, nevertheless, must have left an indelible mark, for several years later it was followed by two similarly-themed film noir thrillers in which doctors must track down a single contagious carrier in a city of millions: Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets (1950) and Earl McEvoy's lower-budget The Killer That Stalked New York (1950).

McEvoy's film unfolds in an unglamorous docu-drama style. Reed Hadley's narration sounds as though it was plucked straight from a newsreel, reciting facts as if reading off the official police transcript. This technique does feel a little cheap at times, but fortunately the narration is largely restricted to the film's bookends, as well as providing some explanatory filler during breaks in the plot. The "killer" stalking New York, in this story, is not a rug importer from Mexico, but beautiful diamond smuggler Sheila Bennet (Evelyn Keyes), who has just arrived from Cuba. Within days, Sheila has two parties independently pursuing her: a treasury agent (Barry Kelley) looking to arrest her for smuggling crimes, and a team of doctors (led by William Bishop) who have identified her as the source of the smallpox outbreak. As in 'Panic in the Streets,' an otherwise routine manhunt is given a heightened sense of urgency, particularly when those in pursuit initially have no idea as to the identity or appearance of their suspect.

The Killer That Stalked New York, for the most part, manages to sidestep its low production budget. Aside from a select few lines of dialogue ("we have to stop it!" exclaims Dr. Wood at one point, as though coming to a difficult decision), the filmmakers and cast members allow the story to unfold in a realistic, engrossing fashion. Indeed, in this regard, the low budget quite possibly aids the film's intentions, necessitating a documentary style that adds to the immediacy of the outbreak scenario. Evelyn Keyes is excellent in the leading role, showing obstinate resilience in the face of unimaginable torment; by the film's end, she appears so brutally incapacitated by her illness that it's almost painful to look at her face. Aside from the virus, Charles Korvin is the main villain of the piece, as Sheila's greedy and adulterous husband who, rest assured, gets everything that's coming to him. And if all nurses looked like Dorothy Malone, perhaps catching smallpox wouldn't seem like such a bad break, after all.

Currently my #13 film of 1950:
5) Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger) *
6) Destination Moon (Irving Pichel)
7) All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
8) The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston) *
9) Gone to Earth (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
10) Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan) *
11) Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock)
12) Rashômon (Akira Kurosawa)
13) The Killer That Stalked New York (Earl McEvoy) *
14) Armoured Car Robbery (Richard Fleischer) *


Books,Coffee,etc.... said...

Hi! Andrew,
Personally, I feel that your review of this film overall is very accurate as well as your description of actress Evelyn Keyes’ performance in this film which was outstanding and yes, near the end of the film actress Evelyn Keyes' makeup do causes her to look worse for wear. In addition, I just received a copy of this film during a trade with a fellow "noiraholic" and due to your excellent review of this film I may watch this film again later this evening...

...and can hardly wait to hear one of the most unintentionally funniest lines in the film:

("We have to stop it!" exclaims Dr. Wood at one point, as though coming to a difficult decision),
What a nice review of a film that has some of the elements of a film noir.

Thanks, for sharing!
DeeDee ;-D

ackatsis said...

Hi DeeDee,
It's certainly a taut little gem of a thriller. That's really why I like undertaking little "quests" like the "They Shoot Pictures" Top 250 Noirs, because they always reveal great films that I would never otherwise have thought to watch.

Just out of curiosity, which film did you trade away for this one?

Books,Coffee,etc.... said...

Hi! Andrew,
Thanks, for the question...

"Just out of curiosity, which film did you trade away for this one?"

Well, Andrew, I actually traded the 1945 prerecorded film "The Big Clock" for 10 very-hard-to-find...

(Translation of hard-to-find:Films that are very rarely or "never" aired on television...)

... films on DVDr.

Books and an espresso cup... said...

Hi! Andrew,
Did you know that Sony plan to release the film The Killer That Stalked New York on DVD in
Artwork For The Bad Girls of Film Noir

DeeDee ;-D

ackatsis said...

Hi DeeDee,
That's great to hear! The film deserves some more exposure, and a DVD release is most certainly the best way to get it.