Tuesday, May 24, 2022

In short: Murder Is My Beat (1955)

Tough yet competent cop Ray Patrick (Paul Langton) is tasked with clearing up the murder of a man found with his face burned off and  a bullet in his heart in the apartment of a somewhat dubious operator. Everyone assumes the dead man is said dubious operator. After a short investigation, Ray is convinced the guy’s girlfriend, Eden Lane (Barbara Payton) is the guilty party, mostly because she’s gone on the lam. The cop is competent enough to track her down to a snow-covered mountain cabin. He’s clearly rather smitten with her, but takes Eden in regardless, even though she insists on only having hit the dead guy in the head, and certainly not having murdered him.

Even after she is convicted of murder, she keeps to her story. Ray starts harbouring doubts himself; how much of that is on account of his libido and how much a case of him taking his job seriously is anybody’s guess. He’s getting so bad, he even sits in with Eden’s transport to a woman’s penitentiary, clearly fighting with himself. When Eden insists seeing her supposed victim very much alive at a train station they are passing, Ray is convinced enough to flee with her and start on a romance/investigation double header in the town they passed.

I don’t think this final stint of director Edgar G. Ulmer in the crime/mystery/noir space is a terribly memorable movie, and its main claim to fame seems to be as the final film starring Barbara Payton (her story of “golden age” Hollywood horror can be read elsewhere).

It’s a nice way to hone one’s own definition what a noir is on, as well. Visually, there’s a lack of the deep shadows and oppressive camera angles of the genres to note, though Ulmer squeezes some moments of fine filmmaking out of his Poverty Row budget, like in the scenes where a way too thinly dressed Ray is pushing through the snow towards Eden’s cabin, or when Ray comes to his decision in the tensely edited train sequence. Other parts of the movie are competently made at best; particularly the investigative scenes in the second half drag rather a lot. The problem is that the film’s central mystery is neither terribly engaging nor engagingly told, either. It’s inoffensive enough, but lacks in interest.

To fall under my interpretation of what a noir is, Murder Is lacks the nastiness, the existential dread, the nihilism (or at least the war-induced bitterness) or even just the true ambiguity of what to me is the core of the genre-after-the-fact. Even when it uses typical noir tropes, Murder opts for the most pedestrian and nice way to do it; so much so that the not uncommon tacked on happy end feels like the proper fit here.

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