HUNT THE MAN DOWN (1950)
Running Time: 69 mins. Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: George Archainbaud
Cast: Gig Young, Lynne Roberts, Mary Anderson, Willard Parker, Carla Balenda, Gerald Mohr, James Anderson, John Kellogg, Harry Shannon, Cleo Moore, Christy Palmer, Iris Adrian
A little noir with some little unexpected pleasures for the enthusiast.
HUNT THE MAN DOWN is a routine little noir of slightly more than an hour in length but rich in its characterizations so not a total waste of time. It’s a strange combination of CALL NORTHSIDE 777 and Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely, which was filmed as MURDER MY SWEET. A short order cook in a one arm joint thwarts an armed robber and his photo in the paper reveals him to be an escaped murderer who escaped his trial 12 years previously just before the verdict was to be read. Now if you ignore the plot hole that a man wanted and nearly convicted of murder and facing the gas chamber would stick around Los Angeles you can watch him as he passively is re-arrested. He draws Gig Young as his public defender who, though initially skeptical of his client’s innocence, goes about proving it.
The writer was a hack who slid into TV series easily as did the veteran hack director, George Archainbaud who had been making “B” pictures and western programmers as long ago as 1917. The cinematographer was a genius, Nick Musuraca, and the playing by a phalanx of character actors, most of whom I believe were radio regulars, including the estimable Iris Adrian, make this a very enjoyable little picture. Veteran oh-I-know-him villain Gerald Mohr, who had been in hundreds of radio plays and series and who was the stentorian voice over at the beginning of TV’s The Lone Ranger, many of which were also directed by Archainbaud, makes a rare benign appearance.
It doesn’t hurt that there is a lot of filming done on the 1950 streets of Los Angeles. And not just the usual recognizable landmarks but places with a breathtaking ordinariness that are somehow even more interesting than seeing an exterior of the Brown Derby. The film can’t pretend that it’s anything other than a piece of work. By 1949 20 % of films were independently produced. By 1957 it was up to 57%. Pushed by the Paramount consent agreement and headed for TV, cut-price films were being churned out. It’s merely a coincidence that HUNT THE MAN DOWN was made in the middle of the noir era. A few years later and it would have been a cheap western or sci fi horror picture.
HUNT THE MAN DOWN shares many of the budgetary virtues of other noirs: concise storytelling, brisk pacing, location shooting, lack of distracting sub-plots and themes, no nonsense acting. The cinematography is wonderful which is consistent with classic noirs and the direction is uninspired but competent which is all that’s needed for a decent noir. The writing is passable because, as they say, the writer stole from the best. There is one superb line, however. A witness is in a bar drinking and Gig Young’s father is trying to get him away by promising him better liqueur and the man agrees, saying “You’re right, I’ve drunk better alcohol out of compasses”. A jewel in a dung heap. HUNT THE MAN DOWN was also made during the Black List era and what better a match-up than an outlaw writer and a cheap producer. I don’t know if the writer was a front or if the script was subjected to a polish job by a blacklisted writer. Only time will tell.
The courtroom denouement is more than just a little over the top but its all wrapped up so neatly and so quickly so where’s the complaint? And Gig Young’s father, a retired one-armed police detective, is played by Harry Shannon who also played the father of Charles Foster Kane. If you love noirs you will enjoy this film but if you expect profound cinematic art you will be disappointed.
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