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Monday, August 29, 2011

THE SNIPER (1952)

Edward Dmytryk got right back to work after doing time as one of the Hollywood Ten during the Communist witch hunt. But unlike the writers who at least had the option of working thru ‘fronts’ or under pseudonyms, directors had to be on the set. You either went into exile (like Jules Dassin & Joe Losey) or got off the blacklist by ‘naming names’ (like fellow Party Members Elia Kazan & Jerome Robbins). Dmytryk talked; then landed with Stanley Kramer Productions @ Columbia. And who turned up as his leading player? Adolphe Menjou!, the friendliest of all the ultra-right-wing Friendly Witnesses during the initial HUAC hearings. If only the movie were half as interesting as the backstory!* Instead, it’s a reasonably effective, docu-flavored thriller, with a bleeding-heart liberal agenda, about an unassuming killer, a mentally unstable young man who tries, tries, tries to control his homicidal outbursts, but can’t forget where he hid the key to his trusty carbine. Even a self-inflicted wound can’t stop the madness while his panicky calls to his old prison shrink go unanswered. Guess he’ll just have to kill again. Two of the shootings still retain a nasty kinetic kick to them, and lenser Burnett Guffey gives the real San Francisco locations a good workout, but the film goes awfully flat when no one’s being stalked. *They did tweak the famously dapper Menjou image by shaving off the trademark moustache & losing the snappy suits. And his acting improves by it.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: DIAL 1119/’50, a little M-G-M back-lot number, tackles a lot of the same issues, but works it up in a cleverly stylized form.

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