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With: Joseph Cotten, Rhonda Fleming, Wendell Corey, Alan Hale Jr., Michael Pate, John Larch, Dee J. Thompson, John Beradino, Virginia Christine, Paul Bryar
Written by: Harold Medford, based on a story by John Hawkins, Ward Hawkins
Directed by: Budd Boetticher
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English
Running Time: 73
Date: 02/03/1956

The Killer Is Loose (1956)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Loose' Ends

Budd Boetticher is one of my favorite directors, but for a very specific reason. His seven low-budget Westerns with Randolph Scott (known as the "Ranown cycle") have become one of the high points of the Western genre, and indeed, of American cinema. But would Boetticher have had any kind of impact without them, based on his remaining films? I would tend to doubt it. Boetticher's The Killer Is Loose (1956), recently released on DVD as part of MGM's MOD series, is a rather creaky attempt at a film noir with very little of the psychological violence and use of landscape that would define his later films.

Joseph Cotten stars as a police detective Sam Wagner, on the trail of a bank robber. The prime suspect turns out to be the luckless Leon Poole (Wendell Corey), with big frog-eye glasses and a constantly searching expression. Arriving at Poole's apartment, Sam accidentally shoots and kills Poole's wife. Poole goes to jail but vows revenge. After a few years he kills a guard and escapes from a farm. Sam isn't too worried until he realizes that Poole isn't after him; the target is Sam's wife Lila (Rhonda Fleming).

Boetticher uses several long takes here, but probably out of budgetary or time constraints rather than artistic reasons. Most of the action takes place indoors, and the production has a flat feel. Moreover, Cotten's performance is a bit on the awkward side; he tries to be hysterical but winds up restraining it. This movie was released in the spring of 1956, and by the end of summer, Boetticher's Seven Men from Now was also released, thereby redeeming him for all time.

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