The Turning Point (1952)

The Turning Point (1952) is a corporate crime prosecution crooked cop journalism and media managerial film noir starring Edmond O'Brien and Joseph Cotten, as a special prosecutor and a journalist — respectively — breaking a crime syndicate in downtown Los Angeles. 

It was inspired by the Kefauver Committee's hearings dealing with organised crime which were of enormous public interest in 1950 and 1951, and which inspired quite a few film noir moments, as it happened. 

The idea of these hearings as a locus for the challenging of crime by means of public morals, created a unique set of cultural points for the 1950s. Since prohibition times, crime had grown into a major enterprise, and this its mangerial Kefauver-style film noir re-telling with sensation, morality, family, frienship, thuggery and downtown Los Angeles location shooting.

As a strain of managerial noir, The Turning Point (1952) makes a slow start, as it portrays a landing aeroplane — followed by the police escort of an important vehicle, whizzing its hero into the city. There in the city emerges Special Prosecutor Conroy — it's Edmond O'Brien — professional, decorous, straight up, optimistic — jovial, high-minded and incorruptibly public in an impromptu press conference that paves the way for the office-bound action.

The trademark flaw of managerial noir is that we don't see characters in peril. Oh boy, you'll be fifteen or twenty minutes into The Turing Point, and you won't have seen anyone under threat, in peril, killed or even harmed. In fact it's all greetings and meetings, and pure managerial film noir. 

It gets so jovial in fact, that after the jovial press conference, and the jovial office greeting, where there is some jovial business and jovial flirting between Joseph Cotten and Alexis Smith — playing Amanda Waycross — that when the mis en scene moves to the Prosecutor's family home and meet his mum and dad, there is so much joviality that the actors simply, appear to be chuckling at nothing some of the time.

It's not that The Turning Point doesn't turn up the goods — it does and with a high grade film noir cast.

Despite the managerial aspect we've got gangsters and gangbusters, hoods and mooks, street murder and street pursuit, arson and romance — plus some Kefauver-style hearings and some creeping about in offices and around public buildings, with some great LA architecture and an excellent noir-style diner.

Managerial noir's lack of peril is a flaw however because even as the good filmmaking begins, with nobody in peril, a noir viewer even dialling down the dullest police procedural needs to see a character in peril, or a character with a flaw, just to get going you know.

The Turning Point (1952) succeeds in its main mission which is to present the story of one man's struggle to achieve his moral ends. Prosecutor John Conroy played by Edmond O'Brien has a stack of obstacles against him, the least of which is the might of organised crime. 

Add to this the soul-crushing revelation that his father, who has been a personal hero to him, is a crooked cop — and then there is the fact that his love interest is also denied by none other than his best friend. He is a man for the 1950s however — a crime-fighter for the sake of it — a one man moral crusade against crime and an upstanding citizen, as well as a professional high achiever with a great public record.

Such crime fighting is always portrayed as an end in itself. It is not often said what it is that drives these driven crime fighters, or what motivates them towards being a moral force in a corrupt world — that world in which crime is universal, writ large and always monolithically large.

What drives such men as Edmond O'Brien represents in The Turning Point (1952) is only ever seen as morality. There is no personal gain, and in fact to the contrary, it is usually a losing battles made worse by either not getting the girl, or also as happens here — discovering that crime is so ubiquitous that it is so close to home that it is embedded in your own family.

Such organised criminals' as portrayed in the film noir of the early 1950s were able to do anything. They owned cops and could destroy buildings full of evidence, as well as any witnesses they found a threat. They could knock off anybody with impunity, and that included cops. They owned legitimate businesses which didn't even function well as fronts — and sometimes the only weapon it appeared that such men as Edmund O'Brien's character here — known as a Special Prosecutor — could use against them was a public hearing — at which they usually lied their way to safety.

Alexis Smith in The Turning Point (1952)

As a journalism and media noir The Turning Point (1952) is something of a different flavour. The important aspects to journalism and media noir is the relation between reportage and crime, or at least the stories that appear and how they either promote or sensationalise crime, or even criminalise the innocent.

Journalism and media is a huge part of film noir, and mass reporting certainly had an effect from an early stage, as in the 1920s certain criminals seemed to develop high public standing due to the press.

in The Turning Point (1952) the press is represented by the special prosecutor's best friend, the journalist Jerry McKibbon, played by Joseph Cotten. It is notable that this relationship works in both directions, and is sometimes positive, and at other times negative.

Whit Bissell in The Turning Point (1952)

Some of the criminal activity is prompted by what has been discovered in newspapers, and witnesses are also threatened on the back of reportage. At other times, the press via their handsome operative Jospeh Cotten is able to entrap the criminals, by placing stories which may or may not be true. As McKibbon says — the truth of some of his reporting is just down to him taking stabs in the dark.

Finally, the chief murder in The Turning Point (1952), that of a senior cop, is carried out by a concealed gunman who is hiding in a box purporting to be carrying televisions. The whole idea that television and media where a threat to cinema itself was worth pursuing, because these forces influenced everything by the 1950s. 

In the shadowed alleys of a society spiraling out of control, one man emerges as the embodiment of ruthless opportunism – Eichelberger, a character whose malevolence is etched in every calculated move. His sinister machinations are laid bare as he orchestrates the murder of Matt, veiling it in the guise of a botched robbery. But Eichelberger, unyielding in his pursuit to bury the truth, sacrifices the killer, Monty LaRue, once his grim task is done. A fiery climax follows when Eichelberger, heedless of the lives above, sets his own fortress ablaze, sealing the fates of those unlucky souls dwelling in the Arco building.

Eichelberger's unscrupulous acts demand justice, a demand echoed by the moral compass of John, who finds himself blaming his own sense of duty for the tragic demise of the innocent residents. In a twisted equation, as Eichelberger is apprehended, Jerry pays the price with a fatal bullet – a somber reminder that sometimes, the preservation of justice demands an exorbitant sacrifice.

The film's thematic complexity deepens with a nuanced exploration of human trajectories. Childhood bonds, once resilient, face the erosion of time. Personal and professional obligations intersect, causing tensions in the camaraderie between childhood friends Jerry and John. The specter of a romantic entanglement further strains their bond, illustrating the divergent paths life unfolds.

Director William Dieterle, while not a luminary of the film noir movement, demonstrates adept craftsmanship, steering the narrative through well-balanced compositions and compelling performances. The screenplay by Warren Duff, adapting Horace McCoy's original story, weaves a tale that maintains momentum without faltering. Cinematographer Lionel Lindon, seasoned in film noir classics, adds visual flair with carefully orchestrated shots, sustaining the film's atmospheric tension.

The ensemble cast, led by Edmond O'Brien, William Holden, and the exceptional Ed Begley, injects vitality into the narrative. Supporting players, including Jay Adler, Neville Brand, Ted de Corsia, and Danny Dayton, contribute to the film's structural stability. The plot, adhering to genre traditions, unfurls in a suspenseful chase and culminates in a noir-infused arena of corruption, confusion, and murder.

Ted de Corsia in The Turning Point (1952)

The Turning Point is a testament to the enduring allure of noir, where moral complexities and the ever-shifting shades of human nature converge in a gripping cinematic tapestry.

Several locations of historical interest in Downtown Los Angeles can be seen in this film. The original Angel's Flight funicular railway is part of one scene. The Hotel Belmont can also be seen. Other buildings that can be seen are the San Fernando Building in the Bank District and a Metropolitan Water District building at 3rd and Broadway.

Ed Begley  in The Turning Point (1952)

The Turning Point (1952)

Directed by William Dieterle

Genres - Drama, Thriller | Sub-Genres - Political Drama | Release Date - Jul 12, 1952 (USA - Unknown), Jul 12, 1952 (USA) | Run Time - 85 min | On Wikipedia

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