Budd Boetticher was known primarily for his Westerns—particularly the ones he made with Randolph Scott—but over the course of his 30 years as a feature-film director, Boetticher tried his hand at war pictures, gangster pictures, comedy, and noir. In 1956, the same year he began his run of classic oaters with Scott, Boetticher made The Killer Is Loose, a drum-tight crime picture as twisty and efficient as his cowboy films. In a lightning-fast opening 15 minutes, Boetticher and screenwriter Harold Medford (working from a story by John and Ward Hawkins) set up the premise. After a bank robbery that’s clearly an inside job involving teller Wendell Corey, detective Joseph Cotten corners Corey in his apartment. In the heat of the resulting gunfight, Cotten accidentally shoots and kills Corey’s wife. At the trial, Corey gets in Cotten’s face and vows to settle up someday, while looking pointedly at Cotten’s wife, Rhonda Fleming. Then The Killer Is Loose jumps ahead a few years, as Corey escapes from a work farm. Over the last hour, the movie covers the manhunt and the fugitive’s revenge plan in gripping detail.
The Killer Is Loose isn’t one of its era’s better-known noirs, and if not for the recent revival of interest in Boetticher’s work, it might’ve been forgotten. (As it is, the DVD is being released by MGM’s manufacture-on-demand line.) The Killer Is Loose comes from the era when stories about cops and criminals were becoming more procedural and documentary-like, which is evident in scenes like Corey’s great escape, in which we see how Corey pockets a makeshift weapon and puts a guard at ease by letting him prattle on about the different kinds of produce the farm has handled over the years. The climactic sequence also draws its power from quiet matter-of-factness, as the police take note of every suspicious character in Cotten’s neighborhood, while Cotten waits at home as bait and Fleming rides home on a bus, unprotected.
But though scarcely one of the movie’s 73 minutes is wasted—aside from some draggy “Why don’t you just quit the force, honey?” chatter from Fleming—Boetticher and Medford do find time for character moments both light and dark. The former manifests in the way Cotten and Fleming weave typical, comfortable husband/wife banter between his efforts to track the Corey case without alarming her. And the latter finds Corey, ground down and destabilized by his circumstances, delivering a grim monologue to an old army buddy before shooting him right through the milk bottle his pal is clutching to his gut. Boetticher’s films were never big on messages, but still, there’s something unsettling about the way Corey keeps murdering people and easily eluding all attempts to nab him, while Cotten waits impatiently, unsafe in his own house. If this were one of Boetticher’s Randolph Scott Westerns, almost the entire plot of The Killer Is Loose would be the hero’s backstory—something his neighbors and enemies alike would whisper about behind his back.
Key features: This is an MOD disc, so… none.