He Walked by Night (1948) Blu-ray Review: The Dawn of Dragnet

Although He Walked by Night may not be considered a household movie title today, it nevertheless remains a founding pillar to the entertainment industry. For had it not been for this atmospheric 1948 film noir from screenwriter Crane Wilbur (House of Wax), a certain minor actor (and music lover) by the name of Jack Webb would not have struck up a friendship with an L.A. police detective. And had that not have happened, younger generations, a series known as Dragnet would not have come to pass, which means the gigantic world of police procedurals and forensic dramas may never have been created.

Needless to say, the consequences could have been catastrophic. Especially for cable television providers.

From a filmic standpoint, however, He Walked by Night is equally as important. Based (loosely) on a true account, this gripping black-and-white thriller features young Richard Basehart as an intelligent electronics burglar in mid ’40s Los Angeles who begins to attract a lot of unwanted attention after he fatally shoots an off-duty cop. Shot in a near documentary-like minimalist style, the story bounces back and forth between Basehart’s character (whose motives are never revealed, thus making him all the more intriguing) and the boys in blue determined to find him, as led by future B-movie/TV baddie Scott Brady.

Unfortunately for these post-war policemen, things such as technology or open-mindedness have yet to be invented, which makes tracking this particular killer down all the more frustrating, as their suspect is always at least one step ahead. The increasing fear of change becomes all the more apparent to our heroes as they discover the killer could very well have been a former PD employee! Luckily, however, they have an ally in the rarely-visited police science room, where a subtly fabulous super-intelligent fellow named Jack Webb awaits them. Roy Roberts, the great Whit Bissell, James Cardwell, and an amazing assortment of character actor cameos ranging from Byron Foulger to Frank Cady also appear. Reed Hadley narrates.

Directed by Alfred L. Werker and an uncredited Anthony Mann (who handled most of the directorial duties, according to popular theory), He Walked by Night could very well be one of the greatest noirs ever produced. Sadly, it was one of those movies which fell into Public Domain at some point in time, thus dooming it to a life of sometimes questionable releases on home video. But, just like the world of police forensics in the 1940s, there’s always room for improvement. Now, thanks to the diligence of the folks at ClassicFlix, He Walked by Night has returned to stalk the dark and shadowy streets of L.A. once more via an all-new restoration.

Though the picture quality varies throughout, the resulting MPEG-4 AVC 1080p presentation of this underrated gem from the ’40s is quite beautiful, and ClassicFlix should receive a Medal of Valor for their restoration efforts alone. The film is presented in its intended 1.37:1 aspect ratio with an uncompressed DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono soundtrack which, surprisingly, delivers a lot more than you’d expect. English (SDH) subtitles are included with this release, as are several delightful special features, the first of which is an informative and lively audio commentary with writer/scholar Alan K. Rode and resident Twilight Time historian Julie Kirgo.

The aforementioned pairing of noir enthusiasts also appear in a newly-produced featurette. Rounding up this ClassicFlix Special Edition Blu-ray is an image/still gallery and a 24-page booklet featuring additional artwork as well as an essay on the film from Anthony Mann filmographer Max Alvarez. All in all, this is wonderful assortment of goods devoted to a seemingly minor crime thriller which would ultimately reshape the world of entertainment altogether.

Highly Recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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