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Monday, July 8, 2013

THE TATTOOED STRANGER (1950)

In the wake of the new trend toward making on-location police procedurals, like Jules Dassin’s THE NAKED CITY/’48, this tiny, but highly effective/efficient little noir was soon forgotten. With a no-star cast & crew who soon drifted into tv or simply out of the biz, there’s no hook to hang a cult following on. But it’s a neat piece of crime solving, and it comes loaded with pricelessly crummy NYC period detail from neighborhoods already in the process of being swept away by urban renewal as the film was being made. (Lots of construction sites pop up.) We might be watching the end-of-days for the city New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell once walked around & wrote his small masterpieces on. The story involves a ‘Jane Doe,’ found dead in an abandoned car in Central Park. Old-school detective Walter Kinsella gets the case and bristles at having to show his peppy new partner (John Miles) the ropes of homicide investigation. A sweet gal botanist from the Natural History Museum (Patricia Barry) comes on board to identify a clue and supply a bit of romance and, eventually, suspense. The film’s a happy surprise if you don’t expect too much; and as a bonus, there’s a young & eager Jack Lord trying to get in a line of dialogue. (He’s abruptly cut off in his first scene, but scores in his second.) Edward Montagne gets a lot out of his tight budget, moving his camera freely since so much was dubbed and shot without sound. The deeper mystery is the disappearance of the pic’s smart, funny leading man, young John Miles who did nothing after this second credit. With a friendly boyish quality (a bit like Jim Hutton in the ‘60s), he’s wisecrackin’ & openly horny . . . in an honest American way. Whatever became of him? Illness? Blacklist? Trust fund? Maybe we should investigate.

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