Murder is My Beat (1955)
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Produced and written by Aubrey Wisberg, from a story by Wisberg and Martin Field
Cinematography by Harold E. Wellman
Masthead Productions, distributed by Allied Artists Pictures
Warner Archive DVD-R (1:27)
“When a man begins to doubt what he represents is right, must be right, he’s coming apart at the seams.”
Coming apart at the seams is always a possibility when discussing films by Edgar G. Ulmer. While anticipating the release Ulmer’s low-budget film noir classic Detour on a Criterion Blu-ray on March 19, I decided to check out another Ulmer film, Murder is My Beat (1955). While it’s clearly not as memorable (or as good) as Detour, does Murder is My Beat deserve to be kicked around and tossed in with the rest of the ashes in the fireplace?
Speaking of ashes in the fireplace, that’s where our story begins. First, however, our set-up: Police Captain Bert Rawley (Robert Shayne) tracks down detective Ray Patrick (Paul Langton), demanding “Where is she? You were one of my men! What made you do it?” Ray begins his tale via film noir’s best friend, the flashback.
The body of a man named Frank Dean is found facedown in a fireplace, his fingerprints burned off. A nosy neighbor in the next apartment (Kate MacKenna) says a girl named Eden (“Silly name for a girl. Reminds you of original sin.”) had been visiting Dean. Ray talks to a bartender (Jay Adler, whose presence is always welcome) and tracks down Eden’s roommate Patsy Flint (Tracey Roberts) before finally catching up with Eden (Barbara Payton), who’s hiding out at a motel. Ray informs Eden that he’s taking her in. But not just yet.
This is a good time to pause and point out some of the film’s more ridiculous and sometimes laughable moments. We’ve already experienced some less-than-wonderful voiceover narration and an oddly uncomfortable (and equally hilarious) scene with Ray hungrily holding up dresses in front of Patsy’s body, but now we’ve got Ray looking absolutely pathetic trouncing four miles through two feet of snow to get to Eden’s motel. (It’s here that Ray decides to devote a week with her to clear up the mystery!) While the obligatory rear projection shots look really awful (even for 1955), the train scenes actually work pretty well, that is, until Ray and Eden leap from a train directly onto a concrete reinforced support with almost no visible damage to themselves.
The mystery plot actually moves along nicely, although with some real head-scratching moments, including a very odd scene in a ceramics factory. Even though the budget is minuscule, you have to admire Ulmer’s ability to keep scenes moving and for the most part interesting. Give him most of the credit for what works in the picture.
Paul Langton was never much of a leading man, but he does succeed in making Ray a weary, desperate man whom we expect to come to ruin. The Aubrey Wisberg script leaves a lot to be desired, but then again, so does Barbara Payton’s performance. This was her final film and after watching her opposite James Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye just five years earlier, you’d swear this wasn’t even the same actress. It certainly seems she was simply going through the motions and I don’t think you can fully attribute that to her character of Eden. You can read elsewhere about the scandals that ruined Payton’s life and career. It’s not pretty.
For all its faults, the mystery element of Murder is My Beat isn’t bad. The film might have some silly coincidences and an ending that totally derails most of what comes before it, yet something about it works well enough for me to keep the DVD for at least one more rewatch. If you’re a fan of film noir and can find the Warner Archive DVD-R for under ten bucks, it’s worth a look.
Photos: DVD Beaver, Shangols