Film Noir Friday: Midnight Manhunt [1945]


Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is the comedy/mystery MIDNIGHT MANHUNT starring William Gargan, Ann Savage, Leo Gorcey and George Zucco.

Enjoy the film!

TCM Says:

At the shoddy New York Empress Hotel, gangster Joe Wells is attacked by Jelke, who then steals a packet of diamonds from Wells’s apparently dead body. After Jelke leaves, Wells, who is still alive, struggles out of his room, but is later found dead outside The Last Gangster Wax Museum by policeman Murphy. Murphy reports his finding to detective Max Hurley, who does not believe it because Wells, who has been missing for five years, was presumed dead. When Murphy goes to verify the identity of the body, it has disappeared.


The Department of Water and Power Caper, Conclusion

The investigation into the robbery of the Municipal Bureau of Water and Power was bogged down by dead ends and false leads and it was beginning to look like the crooks were going to get away with the crime that had netted them over $73,000 in cash (the equivalent of nearly $1 million dollars in today’s money) — but then an LAPD officer at the Highland Park station noticed something odd about one of his neighbors, Fern Sadler.

sadler picPatrolman John Kopytek wondered how Sadler, who lived with his mother near Kopytek’s home, could afford three new cars when he was unemployed. Kopytek continued to watch Sadler and as he did he became convinced that there was something hinky going on. He couldn’t find anything to explain Sadler’s sudden good fortune, so he took his suspicions to the higher ups at his station. Detectives kept an eye on Sadler for several weeks and he looked suspicious to them too. They finally took him into custody for questioning but failed to wring a confession out of him even after $7800, for which he had no credible explanation, was found in the apartment he had rented on North Avenue  61.

Sadler finally broke and made a full confession, and he also implicated Frank C. Wagoner, 42, of Pasadena; Harvey Schlagel, 43, of, Pasadena; and Gilman Rankin, 42 of Santa Monica.

Rankin denied any involvement in the robbery and immediately requested an attorney. Harvey Schlagel decided it was in his best interest to confess and try to make a deal.

From what they were told by Sadler and Schlagel the detectives were able to piece together the plot of the robbery and it was quite a story. Sadler resigned from the Water and Power Bureau on November 4th, about three weeks following the robbery, and of course he didn’t have to find another job because he had the $7800 that was found in his apartment and another $15k or so that he had buried following the hold-up. Then there were the three cars he’d purchased valued at approximately $3400 total.

Sadler said that he and Rankin had committed the actual robbery and they’d hired Schlagel and Wagner to kidnap payroll guard Fred Kimple  and detain, but not harm, him. For their part in the robbery the two crooks were paid $1,000 each. Right after the robbery Sadler and Rankin went to a hotel room they’d rented prior to the crime and divied up the reminder of the plunder in a 50/50 split.

The grand jury indicted Sadler, Schlagel, Rankin and Wagoner for the robbery.  And to add to Sadler’s legal woes the City of Los Angeles filed a civil suit to recover as much of the stolen loot as possible. In the complaint it was stated that someone (Sadler and a number of “John Does”) had stolen approximately $75,000 from the bureau office, and that part of the money had been found in various banks to the credit of Fern Sadler, and part had been invested in sues

Sadler made the mistake of believing that successfully committing the robbery meant that he and his accomplices were free and clear. He learned the hard way that the actual crime is just the beginning. It was incredibly arrogant of him to think that nobody in his neighborhood would notice that he was living way beyond his unemployed means — it was his bad luck that the neighbor who noticed was an LAPD officer.

Maybe it’s just me but I believe that declarations like: “The check is in the mail”; “I’ll always love you”; and “I’ll never rat you out” should always be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. If Rankin had a little voice that told him to be leery of Sadler’s promisies, he didn’t listen to it. He was blind-sided, and more than a little pissed-off, when Sadler (said to be the brains of the hold-up) suddenly pleaded guilty and turned State’s evidence. The two men, handcuffed together, were being lead from the courtroom by Bailiff Hammon when Rankin suddenly whirled his arm upward and brought the handcuffs smashing down on Sadler’s head.

“I’ll get you yet, you dirty squealer!” he shouted as Bailiff Hammon tried to insert himself between the two felons. Sadler wasn’t badly hurt by Rankin’s attack, but the co-conspirators were separated and extra guards were assigned to the courtroom for the remainder of the trail.

Sadler testified in detail to the planning and execution of the robbery. He’d connected with Rankin by placing a want ad in a local paper asking for the services of a “courageous man” and promising “big money” as a reward.

For squealing on his accomplices Sadler earned the D.A.’s recommendation to be sentenced on the lesser charge of second-degree robbery charge. He took the deal but it wasn’t a great one, because Sadler was sentenced to from seven years to life for masterminding the crime. Schlagel and Wagoner followed Sadler’s lead and changed their pleas to guilty and were sentenced to from one year to life in prison.

rankin guiltyRankin was the last man standing and would have to face the jury alone. He was found guilty of first degree robbery and sentenced to from seven years to life in prison.

The robbery was a success and  the gang could have gotten away with it but, as is often the case, the bad guys weren’t nearly as smart as they thought they were. This is where I say crime doesn’t pay — but then you already knew that.

Film Noir Friday: The Web [1947]

Film Noir Poster - Web, The_01

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is THE WEB starring Edmond O’Brien, Ella Raines, William Bendiz and Vincent Price.

Enjoy the film!

TCM Says:

At a big city train station, Martha Kroner greets her father Leopold after his release from prison, where he served a five-year term for counterfeiting bonds. Kroner is disappointed that his former associate, wealthy businessman Andrew Colby, has not come to welcome him home. Unknown to Kroner, Colby’s henchman, Charles Murdock, watches him from the shadows.


Film Noir Friday: The Mob [1951]


Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is THE MOB [1961] starring Broderick Crawford, Betty Buehler, and Richard Kiley.

Enjoy the film!

TCM Says:

While walking home late one rainy night, off-duty police detective Johnny Damico hears the gunfire of a shootout. A man at the scene identifies himself as a fellow officer and hastens to summon police backup as Johnny examines the victim. When the officer fails to return, Johnny grows suspicious and telephones his commanding officer, Lt. Banks. After Johnny relates the events, Banks summons him to headquarters, where he informs Johnny that the badge shown to him by the man at the scene was taken from an officer murdered a few hours earlier. The victim is identified as the principle witness for a grand jury investigation into the waterfront rackets.

The Department of Water and Power Caper, Part 1

The 1920s are often recalled as the decade of bob-haired flappers, bootleg booze, and giddy stunts (like flag pole sitting); but it was also a decade of less benign pursuits—like an audacious day-time robbery.

Chief Ed “Two Gun” Davis, LAPD

On Monday, September 26, 1927, bandits robbed the city’s Department of Water and Power of $73,600 in cash (equivalent to $989,437.79 in current U.S. dollars). That was bad, but what was even worse was the proximity of the scene of the crime to LAPD’s Central Station–just a block away.

To say that Chief Davis was annoyed by the affront to his authority is an understatement. He told assembled reporters and concerned citizens:

“Our men have been sent out to bring into the station every suspected man on the streets, in rooming-houses, bungalow courts, apartments and hotels who cannot give a good account of himself.  We ask all good citizens who carry guns to leave them off because we are going to bring in every man with a gun and try to procure a maximum jail sentence for him.  We will bring in and attempt to get a maximum vagrancy sentence for every person who cannot explain his idleness or presence under suspicious circumstances.  We are going to search automobiles, persons and rooms and ask good citizens to be patient as we are trying to round up an incarcerate all of the type that has been precipitating these crimes.  Policemen have been instructed to be especially courteous and we appeal for public support because the move is for the public good.”

Obviously the Chief wasn’t a big fan of the Fourth Amendment. In fact a few years later, in 1933, when LAPD was hunting a married couple who had spent their honeymoon on a crime spree Davis would be quoted as saying that constitutional rights were of “no benefit to anybody but crooks and criminals”.  While I don’t agree, I understand his frustration with laws that sometimes do a better job of protecting perpetrators than victims.


The robbers’ plan was as perfectly choreographed as a performance of the Ballet Russe. It began with the kidnapping of Fred C. Kimple, a watchman for the water and power bureau. As was his routine on paydays Fred left the Clovis and Ninety-Eighth Street warehouse branch at about 6:30 a.m. to go down to the main office and stand guard at the cashier’s office. He only got as far as Ninety-Sixth Street when a sedan with a man on the running board brandishing a blue-steel revolver crowded him to the curb. It must have been frightening when his kidnappers called him by name:

“Come on Fred, let your gun alone and you won’t be hurt.”

Fred asked them who they worked for and they replied:

“Well, we’re from the Aqueduct.  They made bums out of us and we’re going to get even.”

[NOTE: For those of you unfamiliar with the contentious history of the L.A. Aqueduct, I refer you to the 1975 film "Chinatown"; it is a fictionalized version for sure, but you'll get the idea.]

Fred was pulled out his car, shoved to the floor of the bandit’s sedan and covered with a robe.  He later  said they didn’t harm him and that after riding around for quite some time he was ordered out of the car. He found himself in the sparsely populated district near the Midwick Country Club.  It took him a while, but he finally found a telephone and raised the alarm.

Meanwhile, Cashier George Pessell arrived at the bureau office at about 7:30 a.m. He entered through a “trick” door into the counter clerk’s compartment that led to the cashier’s room.  George later told police:

“I saw two men seated at the desk with green eyeshades on their heads, and thinking they were clerks, I went on into the cashier’s office. Then the assistant, L.H. Brockway, came in and was opening up the smaller safe and Paymaster S.F. Arthur arrived.  As Arthur stepped in, the two ‘clerks’ came up.  One shoved a gun against his back and the other covered me through the little window, and they made their way inside the cage.”

Once they were inside the robbers worked fast.  They forced rubber balls, though which strings had been run, into the mouths of Pessell, Brockway and Arthur and tied gags on them. With a gun pressed into him Pessell was forced to open the large safe, and then the three employees were bound up with cotton web straps and made to lie on the floor.  One of the crooks pulled out a sugar sack and started cramming it full with every bit of cash he could see.

Milton Fischel, a bureau employee on his way to work, saw two men leaving the building through the entrance onto Broadway, but there was nothing unusual about them so Milton didn’t give them another thought until he found his three bound co-workers.  He released them and then contacted the police.

Police investigators arrived quickly, they were, after all, just a block away. They began to question the employees to find out if they had noticed anything strange. Frank Albith, an employee on the second floor, said he had noticed two men outside of the bureau at about the time of the crime. Police believe the men may have been lookouts for the two bandits who got the money.

Every employee who came in contact with the gangsters cooperated fully with Captains Cato and Curtis, Detectives Malino, Williams and O’Connor who were working the case. One of the employees, Louise Dolan, said she had noticed two men acting suspiciously a few days before—it was thought likely that the crooks had been casing the place.

Detectives were positive that the two inside men were part of a larger group of bandits, but how many and who were they?  At least the investigators were able to get general descriptions of the robbers who had been inside the bureau. One of them had a scar on his cheek, the other’s nose was taped, and both were between the ages of 30 and 35

It wasn’t much, but it would have to do until they got a break.

NEXT TIME:  The search for the bandits continues.

Film Noir Friday: The Petrified Forest [1936]

Poster - Petrified Forest, The_13

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is THE PETRIFIED FOREST [1936] starring Bette Davis, Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart.

Enjoy the film!

TCM Says:

Alan Squire, a disillusioned and destitute intellectual, is hitch-hiking across the Arizona desert. He arrives at the desolate Black Mesa Bar-B-Q, where he meets the naively idealistic Gabby Maple, whose internal struggle reflects her mixed heritage. Half romantic French, half practical American, Gabby dreams of escaping her dull life to live in France. She is immediately attracted to Alan’s lofty philosophies, but their short-lived, innocent romance is shattered by the sudden arrival of Duke Mantee and his gang. Mantee, a brutal killer heading for the Mexican border, uses the restaurant as his hide-out, holding a small group captive while he waits for his girl.



The Lawn Mower Made Me Do It


At 1:30 p.m. on April 28, 1932, Mrs. Pauline Pohl was pushing her hand mower back and forth across her lawn on when a shot rang out and a bullet whizzed past her head. She abandoned her yard work immediately and ran into her house.

She telephoned the police:

The woman next door is trying to kill me,” she gasped. “Send somebody, quick!”

While Pauline was hunkered down inside her house praying that no further shots would be fired at her, Ella May Thompson, the woman who was trying to kill her was standing in the bathroom of her small frame bungalow, pistol in hand, glaring at Mrs. Pohl’s house. She had shot through her bathroom at the neighbor.

If Ella was driven to a homicidal rage by the gentle whirring of the metal blades on Pauline’s hand mower, she’d never have been able to cope with the constant din of modern leaf blowers and power mowers. But she had nothing to compare the hand mower to–all she knew was that the sound it made was driving her mad and if she had to kill her neighbor to get some peace she’d do it.

Still gripping the pistol, Thompson whirled around to face Josie Norton the practical nurse who had been caring for her for the past few months.

“You get out of here…pack your clothes and get out and stay out.”

Norton swiftly complied.

Radio Officers Paul Donath and Percy Gunby were cruising nearby when they received the relayed distress call placed by Mrs. Pohl.  They sped to the address on Marsh Street and hurried to the front door of Miss Thompson’s home.

Officer Donath jumped out of the patrol car and rushed up to Thompson’s door and rang the bell.  Peering through the glass he saw Ella raise her pistol, but he couldn’t move out of the way in time to avoid the bullet that struck him in the chest.

Donath toppled backward from the porch as his partner ran to his side and tugged him across the lawn out of the range of fire.  Shooting the policeman didn’t snap Ella to her senses, far from it.  She shouted through the shattered glass in the door:

“That will teach you policemen a lesson not to come to my home without a search warrant.”

Gunby had no choice but to leave his mortally wounded partner sprawled on yard as he ran into Mrs. Pohl’s house to use her telephone to call for an ambulance and back-up. Within minutes an ambulance screamed up, grabbed Officer Donath and transported him to the hospital where he succumbed a short time later.  Right on the heels of the ambulance were dozens of cop cars which decanted about fifty police and detectives. Captain Rudolph and Inspector Davidson led a squad of men to the side of Thompson’s house.

For over twenty minutes Rudolph and Davidson tried to reason with Ella. They pleaded with her to throw her weapon out into the yard and surrender, but she refused. A crowd of nearly 500(!) gathered to witness the dramatic dénouement–they didn’t have long to wait. Police soon received a supply of tear gas bombs and, failing to convince Ella to come out with her hands up, they hurled one through a side window–then they pitched two more into the house.

Officers surrounded the house with their guns drawn, and as the gas made its way through the rooms of of her home Ella appeared at the rear door. Again the law pleaded with her to surrender, but without warning she suddenly fired three times and made a mad dash for freedom.  A bullet from her weapon passed near Officer Cliff Trainor’s head and lodged in the garage door behind him.  At least twenty officers, holding pistols and sawed-off shot guns, fired at once. Astonishingly not a single round hit its mark. Officer Trainor leveled his gun at the crazed woman and pulled the trigger–Ella finally went down. Clad in pink pajamas, one slipper on and one off, she fell backwards from the porch steps, shot through the eye.

Miss Norton was questioned by the police. She said that as far as she knew Ella was the former secretary of J.V. Baldwin, a local car dealer.  She thought that Baldwin had provided financial aid to the dead woman.

Investigators found Baldwin at his dealership and quizzed him about Thompson. He said that she’d been in his employ five years earlier and that when she had married a former hospital employee, Roy Alger, Baldwin offered the couple money for a honeymoon trip.

 He continued:

“Since then I have been made the target of an attempt to ‘shake me down’ for money.”

There must have been much more to the story because Baldwin had been sued by Alger for $125,000 in an alienation of affection suit that involved Ella.  According to some of her acquaintances Ella and Alger’s marriage had been short-lived and was annulled not long after they’d taken their vows.

Ella, who had been taking Veronal for her nerves, was a ticking time bomb.  She had been arrested on October 2, 1931 for carrying a concealed weapon when she created a disturbance at the hotel in which Baldwin was a guest.

Her trouble with her neighbor, Pauline Pohl, had stared just days after the hotel incident when she was arrested for attacking her in a backyard fight. Ella was accused of beating Pauline and fined $25 for battery.

According to Pauline she had built her house next to Ella’s a little over a year before the shooting and there had been no trouble between them until:

“…she accused me of throwing papers in her yard. She became hysterical and beat me and pulled my hair.”

Dr. Glen Bradford, Ella’s physician, told the cops that he had been treating Thompson for a nervous breakdown for quite some time.

“I visited her Wednesday, however, and she seemed to be getting along nicely.”

The deceased officer, 34 year old Paul Donath, had been on the job for ten years when he was gunned down. His body was identified by his sister-in-law, Mrs. Juanita Costoza, who burst into tears as she answered questions about him. Paul’s heartbroken wife, Virginia, fainted at the Coroner’s inquest.

The gun which Ella had used in the shoot out was the property of another LAPD officer, Palmer A. Pilcher. Pilcher had recently been suspended from duty for being intoxicated. Apparently the inebriated officer had attempted to park his car on the sidewalk in front of the Rosslyn Hotel, and to make matters worse his gun was missing.  There’s nothing that will get an officer in hot water faster than losing his weapon.

On the day of his suspension he called on Ella, whom he had been dating, and tried to get his gun back, but she refused to even let him into the house. Nurse Norton said:

“I tried to find the gun, but she must have hidden it.  She had been hard to handle for some time and my efforts to quiet her after she shot as Mrs. Pohl were useless.”

Film Noir Friday: Phantom Lady [1944]


Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is PHANTOM LADY [1944] based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich and written under his pseudonym, William Irish. The film was directed by Robert Siodmak and starred Franchot Tone, Ella Raines and Alan Curtis.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

At Anselmo’s bar in New York, Scott Henderson sits dejectedly next to an equally despondent woman wearing a distinctive hat. Scott offers the woman tickets to a musical show that he cannot use, but she is not interested until Scott asks if she would like to accompany him to the show. Impulsively she agrees, on the condition that they do not exchange any personal information and just enjoy the evening together. At the show, Scott and the woman sit near the front, where the woman attracts the eye of the orchestra drummer and singer Estela Monteiro, who is furious that the woman’s hat matches her own. After the show, Scott escorts the woman back to the bar and they part amicably. Upon returning to his apartment, Scott is greeted by by police Inspector Burgess, who informs him that Scott’s wife Marcela has been strangled to death with one of Scott’s ties.

No Way Out [1950]

un rayo de luz mankiewicz


Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is NO WAY OUT [1950].  Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz and starring Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, Linda Darnell and Stephen McNally.   

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

Dr. Luther Brooks, an intern who has just passed the state board examination to qualify for his license to practice, is the first African-American doctor at the urban county hospital at which he trained. Because he lacks self-confidence, Luther requests to work as a junior resident at the hospital for another year. Johnny and Ray Biddle, brothers who were both shot in the leg by a policeman as they attempted a robbery, are brought to the hospital’s prison ward. As Luther tends to the disoriented Johnny, he is bombarded with racist slurs by Ray, who grew up in Beaver Canal, the white working class section of the city…