The Sniper (Columbia, 1952) directed by Edward Dmytryk
It is difficult for modern audiences to appreciate how bold The Sniper was in 1952. Serial killer movies had already been around for a long time (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920 and The Lodger, 1927, to name just two), but The Sniper featured some unique touches.
Delivery man Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz) is not only a loner, he’s a troubled loner with a deep hatred of women, especially those who scorn or look down on him. Yet when a local singer (Marie Windsor) treats him with kindness, Eddie thinks maybe this one’s different. Maybe.
Police Lieutenant Frank Kafka (Adolphe Menjou, sans mustache) and Sgt. Joe Ferris (Gerald Mohr) seek to understand and profile the mysterious killer while psychologist James Kent (Richard Kiley) seems to have vastly different thoughts on how to handle the killer.
These scenes, especially for modern audiences, are dated the tough to watch, but we have to remember this was 1952, not 2021. Naming the police lieutenant Kafka (an unmistakable reference to writer Franz Kafka) is significant in that law enforcement is trying to deal with an isolated character caught up in the midst of a bizarre existence filled with inflexible bureaucracies. Welcome to film noir.
The film’s violence provides another unique touch. The Sniper’s killings often happen without warning or any insufferable musical cues alerting the audience that someone’s about to die. (In this case, many modern serial killer movies have regressed.) That had to have shaken up a few people in 1952.
The Sniper makes excellent use of many San Francisco locations, even though no one in the film refers to the city as San Francisco. Although as Eddie Muller points out on his audio commentary, some of the locations don’t match up correctly, the location work is typically outstanding.
This was director Edward Dmytryk’s first film after being blacklisted, choosing to testify in April 1951 and name names. Again, Muller covers some of this in his commentary, which is essential for film noir fans.
The Sniper is part of the Columbia Noir #3 box set from Indicator.