Hello, friends, and welcome back to Noir Side Street, where we discuss movies full of noir-inspired suspense. Tonight’s film is an offering from RKO Studios, 1950’s “Hunt the Man Down,” starring Gig Young (Paul Bennett), James Anderson (Richard Kinkaid/William H. “Bill” Jackson), Harry Shannon (Wallace Bennett), Lynn Roberts (Sally Clark), Mary Anderson (Alice McGuire/Peggy Linden), Willard Parker (Burnell “Brick” Appleby), Carla Balenda (Rolene Wood), Gerald Mohr (Walter Long), John Kellogg (Kerry “Lefty” McGuire), Cleo Moore (Pat Sheldon), and Christy Palmer (Joan Brian). Directed by George Archainbaud; cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca. Produced by Lewis J. Rachmil for RKO Studios. Edited by Samuel E. Beetley. Music by Paul Sawtell. Screenplay by DeVallon Scott.
Filmed in 1950 but released February of 1951, “Hunt the Man Down” comes in at a trim 69 minutes. The director normally made Hopalong Cassidy westerns, but put out a great effort in this B-film. Archainbaud was aided in his efforts by Nicholas Musuraca, possibly the finest noir cinematographer at RKO, if not in all of noir.
But top kudos have to go to writer DeVallon Scott and editor Samuel E. Beetley, who could teach a masterclass on writing and editing background scenes for seven different characters without bogging down the flick in too much extraneous detail. The flick moves at a brisk but manageable pace, thanks to them.
Yeah, I liked this one. A lot. I’ve seen it four times since it first aired.
A brief synopsis: Bill Jackson cleans up at a bar called Happy’s Place. When he and Sally the accountant are left alone after closing, the “Paperbag Bandit” strikes, hoping to make off with the night’s receipts. But Bill manages to get the upper hand and kill the bandit. However, the hero doesn’t want his picture taken.
Gee… maybe there’s a reason? A secret past he’s hiding?
Why, yes! It seems Bill is really Richard Kinkaid, who’s been on the run for the past 12 years when he escaped from custody during his murder trial!
In all the gin joints in all of Salinas, California, why did the Paperbag Bandit have to pick Happy’s Place for his latest holdup?
Since poor Kinkaid doesn’t have any money or assets, he’s given a public defender, Paul Bennett, who quickly employs his father, a retired policeman, to help him track down the seven witnesses who saw Kinkaid get into an argument with the victim hours before he’s shot dead in his home.
So this is basically a police procedural in the style of “Perry Mason.”
If you’d like to watch it for yourself:
There were a couple of twists in the story which were plausible when they cropped up, but also unexpected. Which is always a plus.
One thing this film did well was the public defender and his dad questioning each witness as they tried to prove their client wasn’t guilty, in spite of evidence to the contrary. We didn’t just hear from the witnesses about that night; we got all kinds of information on the relationships they had with each other, along with their human frailties. And not every witness is playing fair with the facts. Oftentimes these scenes can plod along and be pretty boring, but not in this film.
I’d give this one a 4 out of 5 unfiltered cigarette puffs! Worth a watch if you have 69 minutes to spare.