Sniper, The: Dmytryk’s Serial Killer Thriller Film Noir

The Sniper, an early serial-killer movie, marks Edward Dmytryk’s return to directing after being blacklisted as one of the “Hollywood Ten,” and serving time in prison for contempt of Congress.

As is well known, Dmytryk chose to testify in April 1951, and named fellow members of leftist organizations.  After spending some time in exile in England, he was hired by producer Stanley Kramer as a director.

The shallow script is written by Harry Brown, based on a story by husband and wife team, Edward and Edna Anhalt.  The couple’s win of an Oscar the previous year (for “Panic in the Streets”) elevated their stature, and in this picture they are also credited as associate producers.

Arthur Franz plays Edward (Eddie) Miller, a young, handsome delivery man, who struggles with deep hatred of women. He’s especially bothered by seeing women kissing and making out with their lovers.   Early on in the story, he shows his aggressive animosity toward women in an amusement park.

Miller is a self-aware psychopath.  He knows that he is disturbed–he calls his former psychologist on the phone, only to be told that the latter had moved out.

Out of despair and loneliness, he burns himself by pressing his right hand to an electric stove.  The doctor treating him in the emergency room suspects that it’s a self-inflicted burn and therefore recommends further help, but he gets too busy to follow through when another ambulance arrives.

Miller begins a killing spree as a sniper by shooting women from far distances with an M1 carbine, which he keeps locked in a drawer in his room.  A loner, he has no friends or family relatives, and only socializes briefly with his old and eccentric landlady (who talks to her black cat).

The first woman killed is Jean Darr, a seductive club pianist (played by Marie Windsor), who asks him to rush a dry cleaning of a dress she plans to wear on a date the following night.  She is shot late at night, while walking back home, in front of a poster for her own night club act.

The second victim is a lonely middle aged woman, a barfly, whom he meets at a bar and then follows her to her home. She, too, is shot from a distance, while in her kitchen having yet another drink.

Trying to get caught, he writes an anonymous letter to the police begging them to stop him–or else “I’ll do it again.”

The plot gets less and less compelling as the movie goes along, and no convincing motivation or psychological explanation is offered by the scripters for the central character.

The resolution is too abrupt, and remarkable sedate and quiet by standards of the genre.  The police surrounds Eddie’s place and he surrenders.

Adolph Menjou, one of the most virulent Red-baiters of the HUAC hearings, plays the prominent role of police officer, named (no too subtly) Frank Kafka. One can only imagine how director Dmytryk felt  toward him during the shoot.

Adding considerably to what’s truly a minor noir, is the sharp imagery by ace lenser Burnett Gaffey, who would go on to win two Best Cinematography Oscars, for “From Here to Eternity” (black-and-white) in 1953 and for “Bonnie and Clyde” (color) in 1967.   Many of the film’s outdoor scenes were shot in the Telegraph Hill area of San Francisco, contributing to an authentic look.