Sunday, February 2, 2014


RKO Radio Pictures, 59m 58s

The opening credits play out over rainfall. It is explained a strangler known as "The Judge" (Edwin Max, THE SET-UP, 1949, SIDE STREET, 1949) has a rain phobia that prompts his murders. Thoroughly pissed-off with his inability to catch the killer, obsessed cop Harry Grant (William Lundigan, THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL, 1951) ventures beyond traditional police sketch routine and constructs a faceless mannequin in the hope of expediting the strangler's identification. Grant is set up as a doppelgänger for the killer, but so is every other man; the suspect could be practically any middle-aged guy with a touch of gray. At one point, a witness notes, "There’s not much to describe…just a man.” In a probable reference to convicted/executed serial killer Albert Fish, Grant's colleague Art Collins (Jeff Corey, KIDNAPPED, 1948) theorizes, "Maybe he likes rain. Must be a fish."

Judgment day approaches for J.C. McGill (Frank Ferguson) in FOLLOW ME QUIETLY

The killer's first on-screen victim is newspaperman J.C. McGill (Frank Ferguson, CAUGHT, 1949), who expires shortly after describing his unsolicited visitor. The death of McGill contrasts with the opportunistic enthusiasm of spunky tabloid writer Ann Gorman (Dorothy Patrick, HIGH WALL, 1947, HOUSE BY THE RIVER, 1950, 711 OCEAN DRIVE, 1950), who embodies a less respectable manner of reporting, far removed from McGill's proper-sounding "Morning Standard." Lurid news stories are associated closely with the recurrence of crime in FOLLOW ME QUIETLY, particularly when one of the murder victims is accompanied by a discarded issue of "Four Star Crime," a trashy product of Gorman's employer.

A killer without a face

RKO produced this brisk programmer only after story co-writer Anthony Mann had scored with the similar HE WALKED BY NIGHT for poverty-row studio Eagle-Lion in 1948. Directed by Richard Fleischer (BODYGUARD, 1948, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, 1950, THE NARROW MARGIN, 1952), FOLLOW ME QUIETLY is one of the most successfully staged low-budget noir vehicles out there, even if it lacks the social acuity and insight into the killer's motivations that informed subsequent noir psycho-on-the-loose productions like THE SNIPER (1952) and WITHOUT WARNING! (1952). But Fleischer seems intent on delivering something beyond whatever was expected of him, and encourages the viewer to question the seemingly innocuous. In one instance, there is a heavy population of children playing without care in the neighborhood where "The Judge" is tracked. A standout (if improbable) film noir moment occurs when a sequence focused on the mannequin reveals the actual killer instead. The faceless mannequin is a genuinely creepy creation, and anticipates the featured psycho of Mario Bava's influential giallo BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964). Cinematographer Robert De Grasse (THE BODY SNATCHER, 1945, BORN TO KILL, 1947, THE WINDOW, 1949) creates a lot of atmosphere from obviously limited resources. The climactic chase sequence through a refinery closely resembles other noir conclusions of the era, such as those found in WHITE HEAT (1949), APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951) and CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953).

Rain prompts a killer to cleanse the city streets in FOLLOW ME QUIETLY

Interestingly, "The Judge" composes letters to the police by assembling varying fonts in the oldest tradition of cut and paste, a device that would become a cliché of the crime film (though I am not certain this is the first instance of this). Presumably these individual letters are compiled from sensationalistic magazines like those produced by Four Star Publications. One of the letters boldly declares "I am the Law!" That phrase is the motto of another Judge (Dredd), a popular comic book character.

"I am the Law!"

The DVD available through the Warner Archive boasts very good source material.