The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) is a race-against-time paranoia thriller film noir made in the semi-documentary style in which doctors politicians and police struggle to find small-pox infected female smuggler.

Also known as Frightened City, The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) stands as a cinematic testament hailing from the noir-tinged annals of 1950, a creation helmed by the cinematic maestro Earl McEvoy and featuring the luminous talents of Evelyn Keyes, Charles Korvin, and William Bishop. 

This celluloid venture, captured on location and steeped in a semi-documentary aesthetic, unfurls a gripping narrative centred around diamond smugglers who, unbeknownst to them, become inadvertent instigators of a smallpox outbreak amidst the gritty expanse of 1947 New York City. 

Inspired by the palpable threat of a smallpox epidemic, the film draws its narrative essence from the factual tendrils of a 1948 Cosmopolitan magazine article, weaving a tapestry of intrigue and contagion within the cinematic realm. 

In this fun and  well-pedigreed noir gem from the bowels of Columbia, a concoction of Panic In The Streets and The Naked City, Evelyn Keyes emerges unwittingly as The Killer That Stalked New York. Smuggling stolen jewels under the cloak of shadows from Cuba, she unknowingly ushers in a silent contagion — the dreaded smallpox. A misdiagnosis by the hands of the weary healer, Dr. William Bishop, unfolds a deadly game of cat and mouse, with the hunt intensifying as the truth surfaces.

The Treasury Department, ensnared in its pursuit of Keyes for the purloined jewels, dances in tandem with the health department and law enforcement, belatedly realizing they stalk the same elusive prey. For the lion's share of the tale, shadows cloak Keyes from both avenues of pursuit, her lethal wares and her own vendetta against the faithless Charles Korvin.

Korvin, the cad who callously abandoned her, sowing betrayal in dalliances with her sister during her Cuban exploits. The cruelest betrayal unfolds when Lola Albright, the duplicitous sister, succumbs to despair, ending her own life. Fuelled by a vengeful fury, Evelyn is now on a perilous mission—to bring Korvin to justice or meet her fate in the cold embrace of retribution.

Sheila Bennett swings back into the gritty embrace of New York from the sultry depths of Cuba, clutching a fortune in smuggled diamonds – a deadly treasure chest that harbors not only illicit wealth but also the malevolent specter of smallpox. A ticking time bomb, capable of unleashing an unbridled epidemic upon the vulnerable city.

Treasury agent Johnson, relentless as a bloodhound on the scent, loses her momentarily in the labyrinth of shadows but persists, a tenacious shadow in pursuit. Dr. Wood, the sentinel of public health, sifts through the throng in vain, seeking the elusive carrier spreading the venomous contagion far and wide. Meanwhile, Sheila, her vitality waning with each passing moment, fixates on a singular concern – her faithless husband Matt, a scoundrel plotting to abscond with the diamonds, heedless of the deadly consequences lurking in their wake.

In the sinister ballet of shadows and contagion, Sheila, driven by a desperate love, becomes a unwitting harbinger of doom, while the agents of justice and health wage a relentless war against time and an invisible foe. The city, unprotected and unaware, stands on the precipice of devastation, its fate hanging in the balance as Sheila's personal vendetta and the lethal payload intertwine in a dance of impending catastrophe.

Directed by the shadow-walker Earl McEvoy and penned by the wordslinger Harry Essex, "The Killer That Stalked New York," AKA "Frightened City," emerges from the murk with Evelyn Keyes, Charles Korvin, William Bishop, Dorothy Malone, and Lola Albright playing the game. The moody symphony is composed by the maestro Hans Salter, and the visuals are etched by the lens of Joseph Biroc.

As the brass at NYPD pound the pavement, hunting a Cuban bird smuggling diamonds, the city's healers race through the unprotected arteries of New York, searching for the carrier of a nastier payload—smallpox. Little do they know, the grim reaper's dealing from the same deck, and fate has stacked the deck against the city that never sleeps.

"The Blonde Death" struts the streets, a celluloid echo of a real-life brush with darkness from a year past. McEvoy's creation, a tightly wound thriller, demands its moment under the neon lights, deflecting comparisons to its streetwise kin, "Panic in the Streets." This ain't cut from the same cloth, and Columbia Pictures, with a crooked grin, held back the unveiling of "Killer" for half a damn year. 

McEvoy orchestrates a symphony of tension, the cast pouring grit into their roles, with Keyes snatching the spotlight and owning the asphalt. The narrative, a hard-knuckle tale, guided by Reed Hadley's intrusive yet commanding narration, layers the drama like shadows creeping up a dark alley. Biroc, an Oscar-wearing maestro, doesn't just paint chiaroscuro; he bleeds foreboding over the city's soul. Sheila, our ill-fated siren, stumbles through the maze, and Biroc's lens breathes life into her alienation and disorientation.

Evelyn Keyes and Charles Korvin in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

Small pox microbe on a slide in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

Lola Albright in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

Art Smith The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

The medical race against time grips, the spectre of "the blonde death" looming over the city's heartbeat. Yet, in this unforgiving dance, the core theme swallows depth elsewhere. Infidelity flickers on the periphery, a noir waltz that barely leaves a scar on our leading lady's journey. Poor Lola Albright, a vessel of untapped darkness, eclipsed by the looming shadow of medical peril heralded by Hadley's resonant sermon. The film, efficient as a bullet's impact, whispers in the night that the well of this tale could've run deeper. Shadows clutch secrets, and "The Killer That Stalked New York" merely grazes the surface of the enigma prowling in the city's veins.

Uncredited character actor as porter in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

The #metoo revenge moment in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) concerns a moment when singer Evelyn Keyes is grabbed and force-snogged by a night club manager who just fancies a go and pays for it with his life because it was a small pox face he mashed his own face into.

Shot amidst the labyrinthine streets of New York, akin to the gritty canvas of "The Naked City," the ensemble cast is a tapestry woven with familiar names and faces. Keep a watchful eye for stellar turns by Connie Gilchrist, the unsympathetic landlady, the shifty club owner portrayed by Jim Backus, and Art Smith, the cunning fence in Korvin's orbit.

The Killer That Stalked New York has many noirish elements, but it has a very different agenda from the usual noir film. It means to inform the public about a potential killer that could attack at any moment. It also tells us how to combat it. 

What noir movie does that! The character that is most like what we ordinarily think of as a femme fatale is entirely unaware of her weapon. That makes for irony, but not, in my opinion, a noir character. Moreover, there is no anti-hero, no protagonist of any kind to consider one way or another, let alone both at once, which is the usual characteristic of noir heroes or anti-heroes, 

In this movie they are merely a collection of agents with parallel goals. A bona fide sleeper in the noir echelon, this clandestine tale demands your attention. Miss it on the airwaves at your peril, for in the chiaroscuro of deceit and vendetta, a femme fatale prowls, leaving a trail of shadows that beckon the unsuspecting into a world where justice is as cold as the steel of a gun barrel.

In a daring narrative feat, the seasoned wordsmith Essex skilfully intertwines the gritty realms of noir with the grim specter of a smallpox epidemic. The enigmatic gem smuggler, Sheila (portrayed by the indomitable Keyes), becomes the linchpin in this tale, as she traverses the labyrinthine streets of New York, unwittingly unleashing the dual contagions of her personal vendetta and the smallpox she clandestinely ferried into the heart of the urban landscape.

Sheila Bennet: I've been waiting for you Matt.

Matt Krane: I've got the stones.

Sheila Bennet: You're not going anywhere, Matt. You're not going anywhere again.

Those who are pro-vaccination as well as those who are excitedly anti-vaxx will both find plenty meme material within The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) in the form of many moments that may be clipped to produce fun talking gifs and quirky moments of 50s fun on their favourite dread subjcet, as people talk, argue and ponder vaccination from start to finish

Sid Bennet: [seeing that Sheila is ill] You can use my room if you want to. But forget Matt, Sheila. He'll only mean more trouble.

Sheila Bennet: There's some things you don't understand, Sid.

Sid Bennet: Like the murder burning in your eyes? You look like you could kill.

Embarking on an independent trajectory upon the culmination of film production, the luminaries Kirk Douglas and Evelyn Keyes grace the annals of 1953, eternally encapsulated in an iconic photograph that resonates with the cinematic resonance of the era.

In the nascent stages of The Killer That Stalked New York, the distinguished thespian Lew Ayres was initially poised to assume the mantle of Dr. Wood. However, the winds of change swept through the production landscape as the film rights transitioned into the hands of producer Allen Miner, leading to a paradigm shift. 

Subsequently, when the cinematic venture found its new abode in the hallowed halls of Columbia, the reins of production were assumed by the adept Robert Cohn. It was under Cohn's stewardship that William Bishop, a seasoned purveyor of Westerns and action-adventure cinema, renowned for his roles in Coroner Creek and The Tougher They Come, emerged as the chosen successor to Lew Ayres.

The constellation of The Killer That Stalked New York is further adorned with recognizable talents, each contributing their artistic essence to the tapestry of this cinematic creation. Dorothy Malone graces the screen as the nurse tasked with tending to the smallpox carrier, infusing the narrative with her nuanced portrayal. Carl Benton Reid assumes the role of a city commissioner, adding a layer of gravitas to the urban panorama. 

The ensemble is further enriched by the presence of Connie Gilchrist, embodying the archetype of a prying landlady, and Richard Egan, whose portrayal of a cop injects authenticity into the film's noir atmosphere. 

Bum city flop house in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

Whit Bissell in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

Evelyn Keyes in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

Character actor Whit Bissell takes on the persona of a flophouse manager, while the versatile Jim Backus, renowned as the mellifluous voice of the animated character Mr. Magoo, steps into the uncharacteristic role of a predatory bar owner, a role that unfolds with fatal consequences in the intriguing narrative. The symphony of their performances, orchestrated within the confines of The Killer That Stalked New York, serves as a testament to the collaborative brilliance inherent in this cinematic venture.

Mayor: All right then, we're ready.

Health Commissioner Ellis: Not quite.

Mayor: How much?

Health Commissioner Ellis: We'll need half a million dollars to get underway. Vaccinations are free.

Mayor: At six cents a life, that's a buy. You'll start with me.

Unjustly cloaked in the shadows of underappreciation during its inaugural unveiling, The Killer That Stalked New York ascends as a cinematic opus both atmospheric and sporadically taut, its intrinsic value obscured beneath the veneer of initial neglect. This thriller, a refined creation, owes much of its transcendent allure to the masterful finesse bestowed by cinematographer Joseph Biroc, orchestrating a symphony of authenticity through the veritable tapestry of New York City's genuine locales.

While the film, at times, flirts with the classification of noir, attempts at strict pigeonholing prove futile, for it defiantly eschews the customary noir tropes. Save for Evelyn Keyes embodying the quintessential femme fatale, this cinematic creation metamorphoses into an enigmatic hybrid, transcending the boundaries of revenge melodrama and embracing the mantle of an altruistic public service health exposé. 

Empty cities of film noir in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

A paranoid chase of an opus that concludes with a poignant acknowledgment, paying homage to the unsung champions of public health, stalwartly positioned as the vanguard against the relentless onslaught of maladies, the film, with gracious solemnity, tips its hat to the collaborative endeavours of the health departments in both New York and Los Angeles, elevating its narrative beyond mere entertainment to a profound recognition of those who valiantly stand sentinel against the insidious spectre of contagion.

Dr. Ben Wood: We have to stop it. Get to the people first, beat the disease! Vaccinate the whole city.

Dr. Penner: Eight million people? Impossible.

Dr. Ben Wood: We've got to. This thing's getting out of hand.

Health Commissioner Ellis: That would take hundreds of clinics.

Dr. Ben Wood: Get them.

Health Commissioner Ellis: And doctors.

Dr. Ben Wood: We'll draft them.

[leaning in]

Dr. Ben Wood: Do it, sir. It's our only chance.

Health Commissioner Ellis: [to Dr. Penner] Call the Commissioners of Police and Hospitals. We're going to see the Mayor.

Dr. Penner: It's Sunday!

Health Commissioner Ellis: No one told smallpox it's Sunday.

The genius behind this captivating narrative is a testament to a visionary mind that seamlessly melded film-noir allure with the suspenseful intricacies of a medical thriller. "The Killer that Stalked New York" unfolds as a cinematic marvel, where the shadowy streets of New York serve as the stage for a unique cross-genre spectacle. Evelyn Keyes, embodying the beguiling jewel smuggler Sheila Bennett, unwittingly becomes the harbinger of a smallpox scourge, transcending the boundaries of conventional storytelling.

What elevates this film to an unexpected treasure trove is the ensemble of remarkable character actors inhabiting nearly every role, many of them lurking in the shadows of uncredited brilliance. These unsung performers, recognizable by face if not by name, contribute to the film's rich tapestry of intrigue.

The radiant star of this celluloid odyssey is none other than pre-1950 New York City itself, a charismatic co-protagonist captured in stunning street shots that immortalize the iconic Times Square area and the Third Avenue El before its demise. The film's meticulous attention to detail even grants a cameo to the legendary Owl Drug Company, a fleeting moment reserved for the vigilant eye.

Contemplations arise on the logistics of capturing the bustling midtown streets of a preeminent metropolis — how were they cleared for scenes, or alternately, how did the filmmakers evade the intrusion of passersby into their carefully crafted shots? The mysteries of production logistics only add to the allure of this cinematic gem.

The acting, quintessentially reflective of the '50s era, resonates with a slightly overdramatized cadence, perfectly in tune with the dual plots unfolding in harmonious sync towards a crescendo of suspense. The denouement, a testament to the writer's ingenuity, weaves together the twin strands of noir and medical thriller into a climactic resolution that lingers in the minds of its captivated audience.

In essence, The Killer that Stalked New York is a journey well worth undertaking, an exquisite fusion of genres that stands as a testament to the brilliance of its conception. From the chiaroscuro of the city streets to the indelible performances, this cinematic masterpiece beckons for your attention, promising an experience that transcends the confines of traditional storytelling.

As the gripping saga unfolds, we witness Sheila's relentless pursuit of the faithless beau, Korvin, mirrored by her own descent into the clutches of sickness. Simultaneously, the city itself unravels, entangled in a crisis of epidemic proportions. The juxtaposition of personal deterioration and urban chaos becomes a chiaroscuro of despair, skillfully captured by the lens of cameraman Biroc. The nocturnal shots of Manhattan, drenched in shadows, evoke a noirish atmosphere that serves as a haunting backdrop to the unfolding drama—a metaphorical death shroud draping the city in impending doom.

The supporting cast, a tapestry of familiar faces, injects the narrative with a rich palette of character color. Dorothy Malone, regrettably underutilized, trails Dr. Wood (Bishop) with a hypodermic needle, adding a touch of glamour amidst the unfolding chaos. Meanwhile, the ravages of the pandemic etch their toll on the once-glamorous Keyes, a visual testament to the toll exacted by the film's gripping climax.

This cinematic relic of the 1950s stands as yet another entry in the era's pantheon of paranoia. A relentless race against unseen adversaries, be they Russian communists, radioactive mutants, extra-terrestrial horrors, or, in this instance, a deadly pandemic threatening the very fabric of society.

Surviving such perilous times becomes a wonder for those who weathered the storm. The cinematic thrill of the paranoia-infused narrative, exemplified by this riveting gem, continues to captivate audiences, leaving them on the edge of their seats. 

Meanwhile, in the real world, the journey concludes with a fitting destination—to the realm of vaccination, a contemporary sanctuary against the spectre of unseen threats.

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

Directed by Earl McEvoy
Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Thriller, Docudrama, Film Noir  |   Release Date - Dec 1, 1950 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 79 min. 

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) at Wikipedia

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