Blu-Ray Review: The Killer Is Loose (1956).

Directed by Budd Boetticher
Screenplay by Harold Medford
From a story by John Hawkins and Ward Hawkins
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Music by Lionel Newman
Film Editor: George Gittens

Cast: Joseph Cotten (Det. Sam Wagner), Rhonda Fleming (Lila Wagner), Wendell Corey (Leon Poole), Alan Hale (Denny), Michael Pate (Det. Chris Gillespie), John Larch (Otto Flanders), Dee J. Thompson (Grace Flanders)


To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than a little movie that pays off big. And Budd Boetticher’s The Killer Is Loose (1956) is that in spades.

Detective Joseph Cotton accidentally shoots Wendell Corey’s wife while arresting him for bank robbery. On his way to prison, Corey swears he’ll get his revenge. And when he escapes, his only thought is to put Cotton through the same pain he suffered: the loss of his wife.

Where do you begin with this thing? From Lucien Ballard’s cinematography to Budd Boetticher’s crisp direction to the editing by George Gittens to the terrific cast, this movie knocks everything out of the park. Wendell Corey was never better than he is here as the milquetoast banker turned robber and murderer. You somehow feel sorry for him, even as you wish they’d hurry up and blow him away. Rhonda Fleming is quite good as Cotton’s wife, Corey’s target. It’s a part that’s pretty unlikable — she hates her husband being a cop, forcing Cotton to not only search for Corey, but conceal the fact that Fleming is who he’s after. Then there’s the great use of LA locations and the decision to set some of the film’s tensest scenes in the most mundane of places (kitchens, suburban neighborhoods, lettuce fields, etc.).

1956 was a great year for movies, and many of the folks behind The Killer Is Loose were on a roll. Boetticher was about to begin his superb Ranown Cycle with Randolph Scott — Seven Men From Now would arrive in a few short months. Rhonda Fleming’s next picture was Allan Dwan’s Slightly Scarlet (1956). And Lucien Ballard would continue working with Boetticher on the Ranown pictures and shoot The Killing (1956) for Stanley Kubrick.

Ballard (beside camera with scarf) and Boetticher (in front of Ballard) shooting on an LA bus.

Ballard’s camerawork not only sets this movie apart, it allows the new Blu-Ray from ClassicFlix to really shine. This is exactly how a black and white film should look in high definition. Film grain is present throughout, in a good way. Contrast levels are near-perfect, the blacks are very true and the proper 1.85 aspect ratio is preserved (the full-frame DVD looks awful clunky in comparison). And the lossless audio is rock solid.

The Killer Is Loose is a picture I’ve been lifting up for years, and this Blu-Ray is just as easy to recommend. Trust me, you need this.


Filed under 1956, Allan Dwan, Budd Boetticher, ClassicFlix, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Joseph Cotton, Rhonda Fleming, Stanley Kubrick, United Artists, Wendell Corey

5 responses to “Blu-Ray Review: The Killer Is Loose (1956).

  1. john k

    Everything bodes well for Classicflix’s new Blu Ray Series they are
    off to a flying start.
    Another film in the United Artists (Now MGM/UA) vaults is
    THE BOSS…the MGM MOD was wretched.
    Could be the film needs a major restoration but I’d love to see
    this Byron Haskin/Dalton Trumbo allegorical gangster film get the
    release it deserves. Film Noir icon John Payne is at his best here
    and Haskin delivers some great set pieces on a tight budget,namely
    the Union Station massacre scene and a shoot out in a cavern like
    cement factory.


  2. john k

    I forgot to mention that in the UK THE BOSS appeared in an
    all action double bill paired with 7th CAVALRY….quite an evening’s
    THE BOSS was shot by the great Hal Mohr…what a career he had.
    Mohr later worked with Siegel and Fuller and BABY FACE NELSON
    is another United Artists film on the missing list.
    BABY FACE NELSON has a total doozy of a supporting cast.
    It’s wonderful to see these obscure gems getting the Blu Ray treatment.


    • First, I’d love a decent-looking copy of The Boss.

      Next, I have high hopes for the ClassicFlix label and wish them all the best.

      I see a tremendous opportunity with Mill Creek and all the Columbia stuff they seem to have access to. Nice transfers seem to be out there, even if HD is lacking. The sets they’ve put together, namely the Scotts and the Hammers, could the tip of a very wonderful iceberg.

      John, I’m sure you’re with me in wanting more Sam Katzman!


  3. john k

    I really miss the Sony (Choice Collection) MOD label.
    They used to issue about a dozen titles on the first Tuesday of
    every month. All their releases were remastered in high definition.
    I hope that Mill Creek will give us more Columbia releases.
    That fabulous Katzman DVD set from a few years back would be
    wonderful on Blu Ray.
    I don’t know if you saw the Sony MOD of ARIZONA RAIDERS from
    some years not the best Audie Murphy or William Witney ever
    made but it looked a million bucks. better than lots of Blu Ray’s
    that I have seen.


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