The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) dir. Earl McEvoy
Starring Evelyn Keyes, Dorothy Malone, Lola Albright, Charles Korvin, William Bishop and Barry Kelley
By Greg Klymkiw
Within the course of day-to-day existence, crime itself can be perceived as an epidemic, but when it comes to the movies, there's nothing quite like mixing illegal anti-social behaviour with the emergence of a deadly plague.
In 1950, two pictures managed to blend these elements in very interesting and entertaining ways. The most prominent of this odd sub-genre was Elia Kazan's "Panic in the Streets" a 20th Century Fox release which featured Richard Widmark as a Public Health officer in pursuit of a pair of criminals (Jack Palance and Zero Mostel) afflicted with the deadly pneunomic plague. Complimenting Kazan's high-profile item is an almost-forgotten entry in the post-war noir blend of threats to health and public safety in a low-budget, independently produced picture called "The Killer That Stalked New York". The former title is clearly the better film of the two, but the latter is not without merit, and seeing as it's been so rare, the picture is especially worth looking at.
One of the weirder aspects of this lesser-known crime melodrama is the central figure - a female character who is, by no means a traditional bottle-blonde bad girl. She's desperate, love-stricken, decidedly older and, I might add, vaguely pathetic - not a traditional hardboiled female heroine in the least. While cinema has had its share of suffering women, they always suffered gorgeously, and often, triumphantly, but here, we are shoved face-to-face with the 34-year-old-and-rather-long-in-tooth Evelyn Keyes (Scarlett O'Hara's sister Sue Ellen in "Gone With The Wind"). She's not especially well-costumed, nor made-up and lit in a manner befitting a leading lady. (In fairness to Keyes, though, she's definitely in the realm of MILF-dom, just not in a traditionally glamourous Garbo-Crawford-Dietrich manner.) This is something that makes her performance a lot more interesting, but there is also the nagging reality that Keyes was cast in such a low budget picture PRECISELY because she was affordable and that the poverty-row of the production didn't allow for the grooming and lighting NORMALLY afforded to a leading lady.
Playing the title role, we first discover Keyes stepping off a Cuban boat and onto the harbour platforms of New York. Having smuggled $50k worth of diamonds into the country for her smarmy, no-good, foreign accented boyfriend (Charles Korvin) - we know he's rotten to the core because this is America in the 50s and he sure doesn't sound American at all. He's also oily. In American cinema - especially during this period - oily men are always evil. Visiting a doctor, Keyes meets and briefly befriends a little girl who, as it turns out, is afflicted with smallpox. And before you can say "epidemic", Keyes desperately wanders the city, spreading plague and out-running law enforcement and public health investigators.
Anonymously, though often proficiently directed by Earl McEvoy (he worked primarily as an assistant and second unit director), it's a picture that, even for it's relatively short running time, feels about 20 minutes too long. In spite of this, it's still an entertaining and intriguing dark melodrama - mostly in its use of actual New York locations for much of the film. And, most of all, there's a rather talented and delectable trio of leading ladies. In fairness to the once-radiant Keyes, part of her frumpy, haggish appearance could be chalked up to the filmmakers (and Keyes) trying to be realistic about portraying a desperate, over-the-hill moll with smallpox. That said, Keyes is buoyed by the appearance and performances of Dorothy Malone (hubba-hubba) as a nurse and the yummy Lola Albright as Keyes's little sister who is having a torrid, shameful, guilt-ridden affair with the handsome slimebag Korvin.
Another oddball aspect of the picture is how our leading lady Keyes is so dour. She suffers through the picture to a point where she begins to look and feel almost cretinous. Whereas Palance and Mostel in the similar roles in "Panic in the Streets" are so manic and over-the-top that they elicit a lot of (intentional) laughs in addition to their malevolence. There is, ultimately, nothing malevolent about Keyes and she's humourless to boot.
We're basically forced to watch a pathetic frump flailing about.
That said, there IS a bit of sadomasochistic pleasure in witnessing her performance, and that's nothing to sneeze at.
"The Killer That Stalked New York" is available on DVD via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in Volume 1 of the two volume series "The Bad Girls of Film Noir".