He Walked By Night (1948)

He Walked By Night (1948) is a procedural lone psychopath hunter killer thriller semi-documentary police technical adviser film noir starring Richard Basehart and directed by Alfred Werker.

Drain dwelling hi-technology oscillograph and television projector building full fat classic film noir, He Walked By Night may also be appreciated for the stunning array of tech gadgets and insight into the technical electronic industry as it might have stood in 1948, as well as its stunning lack of female actors and characters and for what it says about the battles for social control that went on as fascism was unspooled across social institutions after World War II

Gun totin and fast moving, He Walked By Night rides through the night of course, that being its charm, and of course it's night in the storm drains too, where master lone wolf Richard Basehart - the character's name is Roy Martin or Roy Morgan - has a stash of guns too. 

When it comes to doggy nemesis none are harder and cleverer and more determined and sharp as Scott Brady, who also plays a mean police milkman when need be.

Cumulative tension explodes, as Variety said it. And for the first American involuntary celibate, Basehart is also a great film noir paranoiac, for to watch this film is to become worried about the kind of things that this lone American man is.

How this film noir classic got its name —  He Walked By Night (1948)

One of the best examples of the film noir style and the film noir mood, He Walked By Night is a thrill a minute procedural that puts hundreds of pictures, past present and future canon, to shame. Shame for their lack of action and suspense, and shame for their lack of energy and direction, as well as shame on the staid and static framing and cinematography which is the curse of the ages.

But Morgan is no ordinary crook. With the cunning of a fox and the precision of a surgeon, he stays one step ahead, leaving behind a trail of chaos and carnage. His twisted game of cat and mouse pushes Brennan and Jones to their limits, testing their mettle in a city where the line between law and lawlessness is razor-thin.

As the net tightens around him, Morgan's desperation grows. But even as he eludes capture time and again, fate has a way of catching up with even the most elusive prey.

Cops in He Walked By Night (1948) — and the vital trunk shot later beloved of Q.T.

Normativity and noir are close companions, and the more over-arching view of film noir in the 1940s places various competing fascism at each others throats. Nor was fascism disposed of after World War II, this is an illusion. Instead competing fascism start to move to effect social and global control, with the two players evident in He Walked By Night (1948) being the super-normative forces of the authority, rarely better represented than it is here by Scott Brady, and the uber mensch as played by Richard Basehart, just the kind of man we have been most scared of during the war.

The Killer and Police Radio — Richard Basehart in He Walked By Night (1948)

In this fashion and by this mode, the uber mensch is superior in his use of and knowledge of both technology and the sewers, as he is master of both. His very individuality is however his greatest social sin, although when at the start of this movie he becomes a cop killer, that is what marks his card as enemy of the fascist state.

Jack Webb in He Walked By Night (1948)

When the cops move they do so as one, as if the training of World War II has now been co-ordinated into something deadly serious and robotically effective. 

The variety of interlocking ends that law enforcement achieves does include the actual erasure of homosexual visibility, and this end is coded hard into pictures like this, which feature no women whatsoever and do their cleverest to make statements about normative marital and domestic procedures, which suggest that to be outwith these paradigms is come kind of criminality in itself.  

Scott Brady — perfectly normative in He Walked By Night (1948)

The Kinsey Reports of 1948 and 1953 boldly unveiled the gaping chasm between the conventional narratives of American sexuality and the gritty realities of lived experiences. Yet, their revelation of such discrepancies provoked a vehement backlash, with accusations of subversion echoing far and wide. 

Richard Basehart and Whit Bissell with an oscillograph — He Walked By Night (1948)

Even the formidable Senator Joseph McCarthy found himself vulnerable to whispers of "unmanliness," a gossip that could corrode the very bedrock of his political influence.

In the midst of this tumult, formalized mechanisms aimed at regulating American sexuality began to take shape, woven into the fabric of various policies. The 1944 G.I. Bill, hailed as a beacon of social welfare, paradoxically carried within its provisions the seeds of exclusion, explicitly barring gays and lesbians from its protective embrace — an ignominious first for federal policy, as Margot Canady astutely observes.

Whit Bissell in He Walked By Night (1948)

Meanwhile, across the nation, a web of "sexual psychopath" and sodomy laws emerged, ostensibly crafted to safeguard the vulnerable, yet surreptitiously weaponized to pathologize and incarcerate gay men. From the sun-kissed shores of Miami to the heartland of Iowa City and the hinterlands of Boise, these laws cast a pall of fear and oppression over queer communities, ensnaring countless lives in their insidious grasp.

Richard Basehart in He Walked By Night (1948)

Culminating this repressive landscape was Executive Order 10450, etched into existence by the pen of President Eisenhower in 1953. A chilling decree that conferred sweeping powers to investigate and purge perceived threats to national security, it cast a long shadow over the fraught terrain of American sexuality, further entrenching the forces of discrimination and marginalization.

As the twentieth century unfurled its wings, Los Angeles basked in the glow of its perceived moral ascendancy. A proclamation resonated through the hallowed chambers of the city council in 1897, heralding the purported zenith of virtue: "Whereas, the morals of our City of the Angels have reached as near perfection as may be expected, we therefore see no further use for this Committee."

Yet, this semblance of moral purity was but a fleeting illusion, destined to be shattered by the relentless march of time. Civic stewards waged a fierce battle to preserve this veneer of righteousness, even as cracks began to form in its façade. The nascent decades of the twentieth century witnessed the fusion of notions of race and sexuality within the intricate tapestry of national politics. Scientific racism and the emerging field of sexology became entangled, their tendrils intertwining deeply in the fertile soil of the national consciousness.

These discourses were not disparate entities but rather coalesced to forge a white, heterosexual national identity. Hand in hand, hegemonic conceptions of racial and sexual "deviance" blossomed, mirroring the burgeoning contours of a new era. 

Whit Bissell and Scott Brady in He Walked By Night (1948)

Psychopaths, with their enigmatic and often inscrutable appearances in the films of Hollywood more particularly after 1940 and into the film noir period, wield a disproportionate influence over the machinery of criminal justice and the similar apparatus of public opinion as influenced by movie media.

The label, casually brandished by a spectrum of participants within the system — from law enforcement officers to victims, prosecutors to judges, and even probation officers, parole and prison officials, and defence attorneys — serves as a colloquial catch-all for the irredeemable.

Even in the heyday of rehabilitative optimism, both law and psychiatry regarded psychopaths as a perplexing anomaly, seemingly immune to the conventional strategies of intervention. They occupied a peculiar liminal space within the rehabilitative paradigm, serving as a testament to its limitations rather than its efficacy. Their innate resistance to various forms of treatment became their defining trait, casting them as outliers in the narrative of rehabilitation.

James Cardwell in He Walked By Night (1948)

Los Angeles, in its own unique narrative, succumbed to this transformative tide, as prevailing cultural narratives sought to "whitewash" the city, stripping away layers of historical memory and relegating its Mexican heritage to the shadows.

From the anxiety-induced panorama depicted by Ullman to the dramatic expansion of governmental persecution unearthed by Hurewitz during the 1930s, a shadowy narrative emerges. It is one shrouded in the creation of a Sex Bureau tasked with monitoring the perceived threats posed by "sex degenerates."

Yet, this sobering chapter of history remained largely relegated to the annals of obscurity within local public consciousness. Each successive generation found itself confronted anew with the specter of homosexuality, compelled to confront a perceived menace lurking in the shadows.

As the tumult of World War II reshaped the social landscape, spawning vibrant gay urban cultures across the nation, Los Angeles grappled with a phenomenon it deemed unprecedented. Indeed, the scale of the phenomenon was staggering. From the emergence of gay enclaves like Silver Lake to the audacious claiming of public spaces through activities such as cruising in Griffith Park and Pershing Square, the city found itself thrust into uncharted territory.

Scott Brady Hollywood Cop in He Walked By Night (1948)

The founding of the ground-breaking homophile activist group, the Mattachine Society, in 1950 marked a watershed moment in this unfolding saga. A vice squad police officer, writing in 1943, lamented the perceived proliferation of "queers" and degenerates within the city, a sentiment reflected in the surge of arrests for sodomy and "sex perversion."

Arrest statistics paint another further vulgar picture. From a mere 19 sodomy arrests in 1940, the number ballooned to 90 by 1947. Meanwhile, arrests for "sex perversion" skyrocketed, soaring from 22 to a staggering 437 during the same period. Related charges, ranging from public disorder to the amorphous "lewd" vagrancy, experienced a parallel proliferation.

In dissecting the pervasive use of vagrancy laws against migrant workers in California, Nayan Shah astutely identifies them as a nexus of intersecting mechanisms of racial and sexual regulation. These laws, he argues, crystallized the intertwining axes of racial and sexual control, laying bare the contours of a straight white political imaginary — the embodiment of what we must delight in as the ordinary normal and proper citizen.

In the shadows of a smog-laden Los Angeles, Officer Rawlins, just another beat cop headed home after a long shift, crosses paths with trouble in the guise of a suspected burglar. But the night turns deadly as Rawlins is gunned down, leaving behind nothing but faint clues and a city on edge.

Enter detectives Marty Brennan and Chuck Jones, two men thrust into a deadly game of cat and mouse with Roy Morgan, a cunning enigma with a knack for slipping through the cracks of the law. Morgan, holed up in a Hollywood hideout, listens to the police chatter on his custom radio, his only companion a loyal mutt.

As the investigation unfolds, Brennan and Jones find themselves tangled in a web of deceit and danger. Morgan's shadowy dealings lead them down dark alleys and dead ends, each step bringing them closer to the heart of darkness that grips the city.

"He Walked By Night" isn't just another flick for the film aficionados; it's a game-changer, a landmark in cinematic history. This ain't no Hollywood fantasy—it's a gritty retelling of the LAPD's hunt for one of the slickest criminals to ever walk the streets of Los Angeles.

C'est noir —  Richard Basehart in He Walked By Night (1948)

This movie, folks, it's the real deal. None of that phony heroics or dime-store romance you see in other detective flicks. No sir, He Walked By Night lays it all out on the table, showing the nitty-gritty of police work — the teamwork, the technology, the blood, sweat, and tears.

And let's talk about realism, shall we? John Alton's black-and-white photography? It's like staring straight into the soul of the city. And Scott Brady, sure, he might've been a bit green for the role of lead detective, but damn if he doesn't bring a raw authenticity to the screen. None of that over-the-top nonsense you see from other gumshoes.

This movie ain't just influential, it's downright revolutionary. Jack Webb, in his first meaty role, took a page from "He Walked By Night" and brought that same gritty realism to the airwaves with "Dragnet." And when that show hit the small screen in '51, well, let's just say it changed the game forever.

Nowadays, you see that same style in every cop show on TV— "Law and Order," "NYPD Blue," you name it. But it all traces back to this gritty little flick from '48.

He Walked By Night (1948) ain't just a movie, it's a piece of history. And with its re-release on DVD, there ain't no excuse to miss out on this slice of cinematic gold.

In a final showdown beneath the city streets, the forces of law and order close in on Morgan, trapping him in a deadly game of survival. With nowhere left to run and nowhere left to hide, Morgan makes his final stand, a lone wolf against the might of the law.

In the end, justice is served in a hail of gunfire, the echoes of the night fading into the cold embrace of dawn. But in the heart of the city, the shadows linger, waiting for the next soul brave enough to walk the line between light and darkness.

Classic beautiful film noir urban male paranoia in He Walked By Night (1948)

This one's a real head-scratcher for the boys in blue, a homicide case that's got the whole department scratching their heads. And why? Because we're dealing with one slick operator, a cold-blooded killer who moves in the shadows like a ghost, leaving nothing but chaos in his wake. The names might be changed to protect the innocent, but the game remains the same.

Enter Davis Morgan, played with icy precision by Richard Basehart. He's a thief, a murderer, and a total enigma. Not even the underworld knows his name, which makes him one hell of a nightmare on these mean streets. Inspired by the real-life terror of Erwin Walker, this flick, "He Walked By Night," is a noir gem that hits the ground running and never lets up.

Directed by Alfred Walker, with a little help from the shadowy hand of Anthony Mann, and featuring Jack Webb in a role that would inspire the iconic "Dragnet" series, this film is a masterclass in mood and atmosphere. The use of shadows is nothing short of sublime, and the finale, down in the dark underbelly of the city, is a symphony of gunfire and adrenaline.

The lone wolf of the LA drainage system — Richard Basehart in He Walked By Night (1948)

Basehart is downright chilling as Morgan, a man teetering on the edge of madness, his home surgery scene a testament to his twisted brilliance. But it's the little moments that really stick with you, like the scene with his dog—a glimpse into the soul of a killer.

This flick reminded me of another gem, Edward Dmytryk's "The Sniper." Put 'em together for a double dose of noir goodness. And with early police forensics thrown into the mix, along with a supporting cast that brings a gritty realism to the table, "He Walked By Night" is a must-see for fans of the genre.

He Walked by Night is a powder keg of tension, a symphony of violence conducted with finesse. The credit for this explosive cocktail? Well, that's a shared tab. The scripters, the director Alfred Werker, and a small but mighty cast, led by the indomitable Richard Basehart, all throw their weight into the ring.

From the get-go, this flick hits the ground running, picking up speed with every twist and turn until it reaches a crescendo of raw nerve and criminal reckoning. The beauty lies in the dance between the killer's craftiness and the relentless pursuit of justice by Scott Brady.

But it's the grand finale in the concretey and swilling and gushing belly of LA's storm drains where the hunter becomes the hunted lol. 

Basehart shines bright in this role, outshining the rest with his sheer talent. Sure, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, and Jim Cardwell hold their own as the hardnosed detectives, but Basehart's performance is a force to be reckoned with. Especially Scott Brady, it might be one of his best roles.

And let's not forget the unsung heroes—the realistic camerawork that puts you right in the thick of the action and a score that pounds like a heartbeat in the dark alleys of the city. And AI did not write that. 

We need to be thinking about them at all times and how can we not when these characters — for supporting excellence this is also one of the finest hours for Whit Bissell. Bissell is propped up with some shiny glasses and a moustache and provides the tech tension and paranoid fear of a sapped-out heel trying to do right.

Epic effect of the gasmask to evoke fascist warfare in He Walked By Night (1948)

Notable nobody in this film has women at all, not anybody. Not the psycho who does not have a woman fixation, and not the cop who does not have a moll, singer on the side, wife at home, nor nuthin.

Nor even the tech boys have women in this movie, and for this the film has its own kind of category. Unabsented women in He Walked By Night (1948) — it is as close to a womanless society as could really be in film noir, a definite curiosity insofar as the absence is universal, not even into victimhood, the closest being the appearance of a kind of helpful but also paranoid neighbour or housewife character, incidentally played by Dorothy Adams.

Directed by Alfred L. Werker

Anthony Mann (uncredited)

Screenplay by John C. Higgins

Crane Wilbur

Story by Crane Wilbur

Produced by Bryan Foy

Robert Kane


Richard Basehart

Scott Brady

Roy Roberts

Jack Webb

Whit Bissell

Cinematography John Alton

Edited by Alfred DeGaetano

Music by Leonid Raab

Production company Bryan Foy Productions

Distributed by Eagle-Lion Films

Release date November 24, 1948 (Los Angeles)

Running time 79 minutes

Wikipedia Article He Walked By Night (1948)

1 comment:

  1. It's good to see this film now getting the attention it has always deserved. For those who understand filmmaking as an art and appreciate the care some would take to create early mini-masterpieces, this is a must-see.

    As it was made by a smaller production company (Eagle Lion) that specialized in high-quality entertainment produced on lower budgets, the stars, while fully competent, were not of the well known calibre of the major studios – still, with the creativity and passion of talented film makers they produced several critically acclaimed minor classics. But those weaned on glossy consumer movies may not completely appreciate the full professional impact they achieved. Great visuals, direction, and performances combine to make this one ‘special’ of its genre.
    While not as well known as he should be, Richard Basehart’s chilling portrayal of an unknown ‘strangely mannered’ con-man/come ruthless killer is as professional as it gets. He is supported by a cast of professional performers of the day --who bring to life a group of pioneering CSI investigators-- giving this the style of a factual police files examination (based on a real-life crime). Character actor Whit Bissell truly exudes nervous fear when dealing with this eerie con man.

    All the intensity and planed attempts to identify and capture this ‘phantom’ criminal are strikingly captured by director Alfred L. Werker (Lost Boundaries ’49), working with first-class director of photography John Alton (Elmer Gantry ’60) and beautifully utilizing classic moody noir lighting.

    The chase through the sewer makes for compelling filmmaking (and may even have inspired Carol Read a year later for “The Third Man”...?) This comes highly recommended for serious movie connoisseurs. KenR