Saturday, September 24, 2016
THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956)
Budd Boetticher lays out a well-paced movie and the many on-location scenes add reality to a traditional script. There are enough hypothetical situations to slot the film into a B-movie category, despite an incredible performance by Wendell Corey and ever competent acting from Joseph Cotton. However, it is an oft-used premise with an ending that is contrived and implausible. Cotton does seem irritated throughout the film, perhaps for good reason. He accidentally kills an innocent person, his wife wants him to change careers and his life’s in the balance from an escaped prisoner. Either that or he was not fond of doing the film.
Though initially touted as a hero by tackling one bank robber, Corey is discovered to be part of an inside job and the police close in on his home expecting a standoff. Cotton accidentally shoots and kills Corey’s wife in the darkened house and the supposed mild mannered bank teller begins his journey into a mentally unbalanced world. Never underestimate the importance of background checks. Being a model prisoner with the hope of an early release, he is transferred to a prison honor farm where he murders two guards. His idea of an early release.
Blind as a bat without his eyeglasses, Corey looks deranged, in a trance, as he walks slowly through a middle-class neighborhood looking for the Cotton home. His slow and slightly hesitant gate add to his unsettling persona. He stops first at John Larch’s home, an old army buddy who used to tease Corey, calling him “Foggy” for his deep voice and spectacles. An irritating jab from an entire life of ridicule. Larch tries to reason with Foggy, I mean Corey. He suggests he does not have much chance of getting far. Corey seems to understand and remorsefully, momentarily, thinks it over. Corey disagrees. He shoots Larch dead right in the milk bottle as his wife screams in horror. A hungry, unshaven Corey looks away in disgust. A waste of milk. Corey uses the wife’s hooded plaid rain coat, white rain boots and purse to transform into a six-foot two-inch lady. Just another day in LA. This is certainly a point to burst out laughing if you want. He is a fashion plate.
Cotton hastily arranges a “charade vacation” to move his wife, Rhonda Fleming, to a fellow officer’s home for safety. Not wanting to frighten her, he never mentions that she is Corey’s primary target for revenge. It is a poorly executed plan by Cotton and Fleming catches on quickly during their road trip in the studio prop car. Fleming’s character is one dimensional as a self-centered, harping wife. Her lines are delivered blandly. She gives her husband little support or understanding. It is a standard police script and makes their interaction the low points in the film. After a good verbal thrashing...uh...eye opener by police wife, Virginia Christine, Cotton’s intentions become clearer to her. She skips out, returning home by bus where half the men she sees might be Corey. A useless device because the audience recognizes Corey. Besides, Foggy does not have the courage to get on the bus in that plaid raincoat and white boots.
The police stakeout the Cotton home late at night and soon spot a tall, thin lady in a raincoat and white boots but lose track of her. With no cab to hail, Fleming decides to walk the few blocks home. How Corey knew she would be walking home when he was prowling around then hiding in the bushes for her is an improbability. They report a curvaceous redhead walking by and Cotton blasts his fellow officers for not recognizing his wife! Fleming deliberately walks past her home (in a cagey police move) leaving Corey to wonder if he is tracking the right woman. Is that anyway to end the film? No. At the last minute she tries to make a dash back to her front door with Lady Corey in pursuit. The entire neighborhood is aroused by gunfire. Just another day in LA.
Aside from the horror genre, Corey’s performance newly defines scary. He is not sadistic like Widmark in his screen debut or Mitchum a year earlier. He seems disturbed, helpless, by his evil deeds. After killing Larch, his wife lies motionless from fainting. Corey looks down at her and in a soft, reasoning voice says, “What else could I do? It was the ONLY thing I could do.” From teller to killer, Corey is mesmerizing and chilling. He is the reason to watch this film and the director thought so too. I can only imagine what audiences thought of Corey during its first run. Just do not call him “Foggy.”