They Made Me a Killer (1946)
Directed by William C. Thomas
Produced by William H. Pine, William C. Thomas
Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes), Winston Miller, Kae Salkow
Based on a story by Owen Franes
Cinematography by Fred Jackman Jr.
Music by Alexander Laszlo
Edited by Henry Adams
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
(1:04) Alpha Video DVD
I’ve heard it said that there are no bad film noir pictures, but sometimes you wonder exactly what qualifies as “bad” in the film noir universe… It’s far too easy to call a B picture “bad” simply because it lacks the resources of A pictures, and remember, no one sets out to make an awful movie. But even if it turns out awful, does that mean I can’t like it?
(Speaking of awful, that's what many of these screenshots are. My apologies.)
They Made Me a Killer stars Robert Lowery (The Mark of Zorro, 1940; The Mummy’s Ghost, 1944) as Tom Durling, an auto mechanic who stops in a small town to sell his car. A young woman named Betty (Lola Lane, in her final film) is interested, and Tom is certainly interested in her. Curiously, Betty’s primary concern is how fast the car will go. “Up to 120!” Tom proudly announces, and goes out of his way to prove it.
Once they’re returned from ripping up the highway, Tom and Betty return to town, where Betty’s boyfriend Jack (Edmund MacDonald) and his brother Frank (James Bush) say okay to the deal, then tell Tom and Betty to wait in the car; they’ll be back in a minute. They come back, all right, with bags full of money and a bank alarm blaring all through the town. The brothers force Tom to act as the wheel man and we’re off.
Ah, but first we need a bit more mayhem: A young man named Steve Reynolds (Byron Barr), who had his eye on Betty, tries to stop the criminals and gets killed in the attempt. Though now dead, Steve will be important later. No, not as a ghost or a zombie. Just stay with me on this…
I won’t tell you how (You wouldn’t believe me, anyway), but Tom escapes from the criminal trio, yet the cops think he was in on it. So now Tom’s on the run, trying to clear his name, when who does he run into but (I’ll bet you can guess…) June Reynolds (Barbara Britton), the sister of the guy who died trying to prevent the robbery! (Boy, does Tom have some explaining to do…)
What happens next is a series of totally unbelievable events (as if we hadn’t experienced enough of them before this), which includes Tom passing himself off as a medical student, Tom’s interrogation of a dying man, a blacksmith banging around on metal like he’s playing a xylophone, and a kid selling newspapers shouting the paper’s enormous headline “Gangster Trailed to Sacramento” as if we’d just landed on Jupiter.
As often happens with low-budget movies, I found myself grinning at the overabundance of rear projection shots, zoom-ins of newspaper headlines that don’t even go to the trouble to look like newspapers, and scintillating lines like, “Better watch yourself, Miss, he’s a killer!” and “I don’t feel good with cops around,” and the always-popular “Baby, are you a sight for sore eyes!” This isn’t exactly screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring’s finest hour (and four minutes), but then again, he’s one of three credited writers. (More on Mainwaring in a moment.)
Yet I have to confess: I actually like They Made Me a Killer. And I think you should watch it, which is easy to do, since it’s on YouTube. You can also find it on DVD from Alpha Video, the B-movie paradise of physical media.
As a side note, I was delighted to discover a Harry Hayden sighting in this film (pictured here on the far right as the nervous man behind the diner counter in the 1946 Robert Siodmak masterpiece The Killers). My enthusiasm for finding Hayden in movies is second only to that of Whit Bissell.
Now let’s dig a little deeper…
They Made Me a Killer was one of many films made by Pine-Thomas Productions, part of the B-picture unit of Paramount Pictures from 1940 through 1957. Produced by William H. Pine and William C. Thomas (known as the “Dollar Bills”), none of the Pine-Thomas films ever lost money. Paramount must’ve loved them. These guys simply knew how to make the maximum amount of money out of pictures with very low costs. You can learn more about their operation in the book Pine-Thomas Productions: A History and Filmography by David C. Tucker, but, unlike their films, the book’s not cheap!
In the book Backstory 2: Interviews With Screenwriters of the 1940's and 1950’s (1991), edited by Patrick McGilligan, Daniel Mainwaring credits Pine-Thomas for giving him his first actual screenwriting job, writing six scripts in one year, after which he wrote the novel Build My Gallows High, the source material for the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947). So we have at least one thing to thank Pine-Thomas Productions for… Maybe there are more?
Photos: IMDb, Daily Motion, Moviefone, McFarland