Crime Wave (1954)

Crime Wave (1954) is a punchy procedural film noir with classic Los Angeles location photography, and Sterling Hayden creating the tooth-pick trope.

Further, the tooth-pick may have been a stylised way of suggesting a drug habit, although Sterling Hayden's Detective Lieutenant Sims is an early and incongruous promoter of quitting smoking for one's health.

As well as crime on the streets, there is a crime in the home theme as Crime Wave hits the home invasion theme hard, too. Home invasion in film noir signals in its stylised way the demolition of the full-on dream of Americana, that so infected the States in the 1950s.

The police procedural element is important to Crime Wave too, and is presented in a more superior manner than normal; police vehicles cruise; cops stress their stool pigeons and they patrol the bars and corners where there may lie leads.

Noir city is well represented in Crime Wave (1954) and seems modern and tough.

Sterling Hayden is at his brutish best as the bullying and belligerent beat detective, tooth-pick-chewin' his way from witness to witness, reciting from the urban dictionary of law and order, with the world weary street savvy of a man born to the murder patrol.

Andre de Toth filmed the real city streets of Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale gifting stunning location photography to Crime Wave (1954). These are as opposed to the studio set cities that feature in other film noirs, more especially in the 1940s. But the ultra real photography, which at times has a feeling of the cinema veritie, which it likely inspired.

A busy police station in Crime Wave (1954)

It's the classic film noir location photography that really sells Crime Wave. The first scene sees 'Doc' Penny played by Ted de Corsia, and two other members of his gang, played by Charles Bronson and Ned Young, who have recently broken out of San Quentin, rob a gasoline station. 

At his toughest and best, Sterling Hayden in Crime Wave (1954)

In the process a police officer is killed and one of the gang members, Gat Morgan, is wounded. As a city-wide search ensues, a hard-nosed, hard-jawed, hard-talking, hard-hitting and hard-bitin' detective named Lieutenant Sims searches records in an effort to determine if there is an ex-con the thugs might contact.

Sims rejects professionalism and logic and operates on raw emotion, making of him another film noir prototype for the rogue and yet moral police officer, best typified about two decades later in Dirty Harry.

Crazy jalopy in Crime Wave (1954)

If film noir is about anything above all else, it must be morality. There's criminal morality, and there's family and social morality; and then there is the moral force of violent justice as expressed by Sterling Hayden, who does hard-boiled chop to a tee.

Charles Bronson and Ted de Corsia in Crime Wave (1954)

Even though we may suspect that Sterling Hayden's Lieutenant Sims believes deep-down that Steve Lacey, a former associate of the gang is innocent, he behaves like the law machine he is and seems to assume that he is guilty, in order to better stress the poor man.

Classic film noir with Sterling Hayden in Crime Wave (1954)

The morality of the character of  Steve Lacey is interesting because he is trying to go straight, and making home, and living the dream, having returned reformed from prison. It is a great side theme, because a criminal's lack of prospects in going straight is a great film noir theme; for which see Invisible Stripes (1939).

Charles Bronson attacks Jay Novello in Crime Wave (1954)

Either way, the lieutenant's belligerent hunch is correct, even if Steve Lacey is innocent, and Steve Lacey is a good candidate for the killers to contact, though he has been out of prison for two years and is trying hard to maintain his new life. 

Steve regularly receives phone calls from ex-cons who pass through town, each trying to "put the bite" on him. 

The visual excitement of Crime Wave never ends and from moment to moment it is always fascinating. Off beat touches abound. There is also a constant feeling of alienated ambivalence throughout, giving it every classic film noir feeling, showing everything that noir represents and is going to become, and leaving the scene with the same fatal view of life.

When Sims' man phones Steve, he does not answer; he had already received an anonymous call from someone both he and his wife Ellen assumed to be yet another former prisoner, and she persuades him to not pick up. This sparks Sims to suspect Steve of being involved in the crime.

Streets of film noir in Crime Wave (1954) by Andre de Toth

Location became everything for film noir when it began to leave the lot. The studio provides shadows, but the streets provide something new. There is much overlooked automotive action in Crime Waves (1954), including some chases, interesting jalopies, and photography out of cars.

Alienated ambivalence. Sterling Hayden in Andre de Toth's Crime Wave (1954)

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