Directed by Edmond O’Brien and Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Richard Alan Simmons and John C. Higgins
Adaptation by Richard Alan Simmons
From a book by William P. McGivern
Music by Paul Dunlap
Photography by Gordon Avil
Film Editor: John F. Schreyer
Cast: Edmond O’Brien (Barney Nolan), Marla English (Patty Winters), John Agar (Mark Brewster), Emile Meyer (Capt. Gunnarson), Carolyn Jones (Girl at bar), Claude Akins (Fat Michaels), Larry Ryle (Laddie O’Neil), Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon, Vito Scotti
One the best things for any old-movie nut is to come across something new — not new as in released last week, but new in that you’ve never seen it. Well, Shield For Murder (1954) was a new one for me. And I loved every frame of it.
“If ever a picture was crammed with guts — this is it!” Even the ad copy for this movie is great.
Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien) is a good cop gone really, really bad. Before the main title even appears, he’s killed a bookie for the $25,000 he’s got on him. Barney does it because he wants to buy a Castle Heights tract home and marry his girlfriend Patty (Marla English). The cops get the idea that Barney might’ve done it, but his best friend on the force (John Agar) refuses to believe. As the evidence mounts (and bodies stack up), we watch Barney get more desperate, more bitter, more violent as things spin out of control. Eventually, of course, Barney’s on the run and there’s nothing left of his hopes for a nice, quiet life in the suburbs with his girl.
O’Brien co-directed Shield For Murder with producer Howard W. Koch. The division of labor worked like this — O’Brien rehearsed the actors, and once the cameras rolled, Koch was at the helm. They gave the picture a sparse, bare-bones, almost documentary feel — with perfectly gritty camerawork from Gordon Avil (who shot the 1930 Billy The Kid in 70mm).
The performances are good across the board. Carolyn Jones really knocked me out here as a girl O’Brien meets in a bar. Claude Akins is great as a thug trying the retrieve the missing $25,000. Here and there, folks like Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon and Vito Scotti turn up. You can’t go wrong with those guys.
But Shield For Murder is Edmond O’Brien’s picture all the way. He’s terrific. Watching Barney slide into the gutter is downright uncomfortable, as his American Dream turns to crap. You cringe with every wrong turn he takes, knowing Fate’s gonna kick in at any minute.
This movie’s perfect, down to Edmond O’Brien’s loafers.
Researching the commentary for Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of A Strange Adventure (1956) a couple months ago, I got to focus on Marla English and her brief, very interesting career. (Wish I’d been able to do a commentary for this one!) Marla was a teenage beauty queen and swimsuit model from San Diego who signed to Paramount in 1952. They put her in a few little parts — she’s one of the partygoers in Rear Window (1954). But when she turned down a role in The Mountain with Spencer Tracy, Paramount dumped her. She was soon doing independent pictures for Bel-Air, Republic, AIP and the like. And as we all know, that’s when things usually get interesting. Marla’s in stuff like Runaway Daughters, The She Creature — she’s the She Creature, Flesh And The Spur with John Agar (all 1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957) with Mike Connors. She gave up on acting after Voodoo Woman. Though she was in a few pictures before Shield For Murder (she was only 19 when it was released), she gets an “introducing” credit in it.
Shield For Murder was a first for both of our co-directors. O’Brien would only direct a few more things, but Koch kept at it. His next picture, Big House, USA (1955), is a B Movie masterpiece. And he gave us jewels like Untamed Youth (1957), Violent Road (1958) and Frankenstein 1970 (1958). Koch also produced a string of very successful A pictures — things like The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Odd Couple (1968) and Airplane! (1980).
From a Castle Heights subdivision to West Hollywood alleys to a great public pool, Shield For Murder makes excellent use of LA locations. It’s perfectly rough around the edges and captured by Gordon Avil in all its gritty, appropriately grainy glory. And all of that’s perfectly preserved on the Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Highly, highly recommended.