Shoot to Kill (1947)
“A Newspaperman… A Grafting Politician… And A Beautiful Girl… In A Story Of Underworld Revenge!”
Director: William Berke
Cast: Russell Wade, Luana Walters, Edmund MacDonald
Synopsis: A woman apparently marries a corrupt deputy D.A. to get evidence that a certain criminal was framed for murder.
It’s surprising how often obscure b-movies showing little promise of offering any quality can surprise viewers prepared to take a chance. William Berke’s Noir thriller Shoot to Kill as a perfect example: produced by an obscure little production company (Screen Guild Productions), written by a screenwriter with only two little-known efforts to his name, directed by a journeyman director who regularly directed more than 10 pictures a year, and featuring a cast of actors whose abilities invariably hovered below the average line. It should be a complete dud, and to be fair, the acting is pretty dire at times, but it’s hugely entertaining, has a fast-moving and unusual plot, and even has a structure which flirts with flashbacks within flashbacks without descending into incomprehensibility.
Russell Wade (My Man Godfrey) — an insipid leading man if ever there was one, who did well to get out of the movie business and enjoy a far greater measure of success in real estate — plays George ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, a hotshot reporter who suspects a story behind a car crash involving Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Dale (Edmund MacDonald — Prison Break, Destry Rides Again), his wife, Marian (Luana ‘Susan’ Walters) and high-profile gangster Dixie Logan (Robert Kent, under the name of Douglas Blackley — The Great Locomotive Chase). Mitchell has a particular interest because he’s keen on Marian, the only survivor of the crash, who he visits in hospital to get the low-down on just what was going on between Dale and Logan.
We learn that it was Mitchell who talked Dale into employing Marian as his secretary, a deed which he came to regret as he witnessed the growing relationship between boss and employee. Dale is instrumental in winning the prosecution of gangster Dixie Logan, who vows revenge when he’s sentenced to 20 years inside for a crime he didn’t commit. The successful prosecution puts Dale in good position to become the next DA, but unknown to anyone, he’s actually in league with Gus Miller (Nestor Paiva — American Empire), a rival of Logan’s, who provided a couple of key witnesses for the trial who gave false testimony in order to ensure a conviction. However, Miller is a little edgy about the growing romance between Dale and Marian, and insists that the lawyer must fire her because she could put them all behind bars if she learned of their relationship. Dale’s a little too sweet on Marian for that, however, and decides instead to marry her so that, as his wife, she won’t be legally able to testify against him. However, on their wedding night, Marian reveals a secret of her own…
Shoot to Kill is one of those movies whose plot seems utterly ridiculous in retrospect, but which carries the audience along with it so that only after the credits have rolled do what were minor niggles eventually reveal themselves to be monumental and far-fetched contrivances. The outlandish twist midway through the movie is now spoiled by virtually every synopsis/summary out there, but would otherwise work well as it is wholly unexpected.
Unfortunately, the quality of the acting really does drag down what would otherwise be an unqualified gem. Wade seems incapable of getting the tone of his performance right, while Walters simply reads her lines as if from a board held by some crew member just off-camera. Edmund MacDonald, sporting a scary hairstyle that threatens to break free of its hair-gel bonds at any time, at least entertains as he delivers a performance that is wonderfully expressive but ever-so-slightly awful. He’s really quite endearing, and it’s a shame he turns out to be one of the black hats.
(Reviewed 1st May 2014)