Directed by: Edward Dmytryk.
Written by: Harry Brown and Edna Anhalt and Edward Anhalt.
Starring: Adolphe Menjou (Police Lt. Frank Kafka), Arthur Franz (Eddie Miller), Gerald Mohr (Police Sgt. Joe Ferris), Marie Windsor (Jean Darr), Frank Faylen (Police Insp. Anderson), Richard Kiley (Dr. James G. Kent), Mabel Paige (Landlady), Marlo Dwyer (May Nelson), Geraldine Carr (Checker).
I couldn’t help but think of many of the recent mass shootings while watching Edward Dmytryk’s 1952 film noir The Sniper. True, the main character in the film, Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz) never goes on a one time killing spree, but instead picks his victims out one at a time. Yet the psychology behind his actions, and that of other mass shooters remains the same – a hatred of women brought on because the man cannot understand why women do not want him. He sees himself as a nice guy, but he is driven mad when a woman who was simply being nice to him announces, casually, that she has a boyfriend. Why not me, he seems to be thinking. This sets him off on his spree – a spree he cannot stop himself from carrying out.
When you watch a film like The Sniper, you have to try and imagine what it was like for audiences back in 1952. While shows like Criminal Minds, and countless other shows and movies, are commonplace. But that wasn’t the case in 1952. Many of the weakest scenes in The Sniper involve a psychologist (Richard Kiley) who explains everything that the killer is going through. These are like the scene near the end of Hitchcock’s Psycho, which grinds the film to a halt, when a shrink goes into the pathology of Norman Bates. The Sniper argues that Eddie Miller cannot control himself – and makes the case that these people need to be identified early, so that they can be treated – or at least locked away before they kill a lot of people. There is more of this in The Sniper than there was in Psycho, which hurts the film, but in 1952 was a somewhat daring choice – so much so that the film received an Oscar nomination for its writing – rare for B-noir film at the time.
The rest of the film is a tense thriller however – well handled by journeyman director Edward Dmytryk – by then a veteran of noir films like Murder My Sweet (1944) and Crossfire (1947) – the later of which does a better job at mixing social issues (in that case anti-Semitism) with a crackerjack thriller. The murder scenes are well handled and non-exploitive, and Dmytryk does a good job of juggling the scenes of Miller’s unravelling and the police procedural of trying to catch him.
The Sniper is, admittedly, a relatively minor noir effort. It’s not a great film, and it is something that has been done better, both before and since it was made. But it’s a fine example of the genre – a stylistic thriller with slightly more on its mind that many noirs of the time. It may not be a great movie, but it’s a good one.