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’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.