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 HE WALKED BY NIGHT starring Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, and Jack Webb. It was during the making of this film that Jack Webb got the idea for DRAGNET.
As of a few months ago I have a personal connection to this movie. I was given the blue steel revolver that belonged to the screenwriter, John C. Higgins — it was a gift from his nephew, Eric, and I’m honored to own it. Higgins wrote the screenplays for T-MEN and RAW DEAL, two terrific films.
Enjoy the movie!
Inspired by the true story of Erwin Walker, a WWII hero who turned to crime and terrorized Los Angeles in 1946, He Walked By Night (1948) is a remarkable low budget, film noir thriller that is often overlooked in film studies of this genre. Besides Richard Basehart’s chilling performance as a meticulous thief of electronics equipment who becomes a wanted cop killer, the film glistens with the stylized black and white cinematography of John Alton whose use of light has been compared to the lighting in Rembrandt paintings. The film could well serve as a primer on how to shoot a film noir since it incorporates all of the familiar elements of the genre so masterfully into the visual design of the film: splintered shadows from Venetian blinds that transform a cozy bedroom into a prison, street lights over patches of wet pavement, a brief pinpoint of light from a hastily lit match in a dark room. Most memorable of all is the chiaroscuro camerawork in the final sequence as Davis Morgan – Richard Basehart’s character – is pursued through the huge drainage canals underneath Los Angeles by the police. This was the first time this unusual locale was used in a film and it would later serve as an equally disturbing setting – the lair of giant mutant ants – for the science fiction thriller, Them! (1954).
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 GOOD DIE YOUNG , the film stars Laurence Harvey, Gloria Grahame, Richard Basehart, Joan Collins and John Ireland.
Enjoy the movie!
Three good men – a broken boxer, an American veteran trying to win back his mother-dominated wife, and an air force sergeant married to a faithless actress – are corrupted by Miles Ravenscourt, an amoral “gentleman.” Because they need money, they let Miles lure them into his scheme to rob a postal van with a large cash cargo.
The 1948 film HE WALKED BY NIGHT starring Richard Basehart was loosely based on the 1946 crime spree of William Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker.
Jack Webb played a forensics specialist in HE WALKED BY NIGHT, and while filming the movie he had an epiphany — what if there was a radio show based on real life police work? Webb’s brainstorm would become a radio show, TV series, and a film (two films actually, one in 1954 starring Webb, and a comedy remake in 1987 starring Dan Ackroyd). The radio program debuted on June 2, 1949 with an episode entitled ROBBERY.
Episode two, HOMICIDE – THE NICKEL PLATED GUN, aired on June 10, 1949. This digitally remastered copy is courtesy of the National Archives.
Who was the real Erwin Walker? He had been a civilian employee of the Glendale Police Department prior to being drafted into the U.S. Army. He was very near-sighted, and would have been classified as unfit for service if not for his remarkable skills in electronics. Walker was sent to the Philippines where his non-combat unit ended up in a three day fight for their lives with a contingent of Japanese army paratroopers.
Walker survived the war physically, but mentally he was broken. His crime spree began even before his release from the army. In August 1945, he entered an Army Ordnance warehouse at night, stealing seven 45-caliber Thompson sub-machine guns, twelve .45-caliber pistols, six .38-caliber revolvers, ammunition, holsters, and magazines.
On April 25, 1946, Walker was on his way to sell some stolen motion picture equipment to a man named William Starr. Starr had suspected that Walker (who was calling himself Paul C. Norris) had stolen the equipment and he phoned the cops. As Walker approached Starr’s home he was confronted by two LAPD Hollywood Division detectives, Lt. Colin C. Forbes, and his partner Sgt. Stewart W. Johnson. Walker opened fire — he wounded both cops and then he disappeared into the subterranean storm drains of Los Angeles.
Walker managed to evade capture, and early on Wednesday, June 5, 1946, he drove to a meat market at the corner of Los Feliz Boulevard and Brunswick Avenue in Glendale, where he was rousted by a suspicious California Highway patrolman, Loren Cornwell Roosevelt. Instead of producing his I.D when Roosevelt asked to see it, Walker pulled out a weapon and fired. Then the cop killer once again vanished into the storm drains of the city.
Walker would later testify that he’d fired at Roosevelt only after the cop had shot at him first. It was a lie. Walker also stated that he fired twice — but Roosevelt had died in the hospital with nine slugs in him. The investigation revealed that the fatal rounds had likely been fired from one of the Thompson sub-machine guns Walker kept with him.
A psychopath, his dog, and a gun — from HE WALKED BY NIGHT
LAPD was tipped off that Walker was living in a duplex at 1831 1/2 N. Argyle Avenue. In the early morning hours of December 20, 1946, using a key provided by the landlord, detectives Wynn, Donahue, and Rombeau entered Walker’s apartment.
Walker came up quick and reached for the Thompson he kept on the bed beside him. He struggled with the cops, but they shot him twice in the shoulder and finally subdued him by cracking his skull with the butt of a pistol. Walker was in custody at last.
Walker entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but the trial judge found him sane. Walker was tried and convicted for Officer Roosevelt’s murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber.
While on death row awaiting execution, a shrink diagnosed Walker with paranoid schizophrenia. Thirty-six hours before his scheduled execution Walker was found unconscious with a length of radio headphone cord wrapped around his neck. He was revived and his execution was postponed indefinitely while he underwent an extensive psych evaluation.
Walker was declared insane and committed to the Mendocino State Hospital where he received electroshock therapy, and spent his free time reading chemistry textbooks.
During the early 1970s Walker attempted to get his conviction overturned, but the courts denied his petitions. However, he did manage to get a ruling that deleted the portion of his life sentence that excluded any possibility of parole.
Walker had managed to successfully work the system and cheat the executioner. The convicted cop killer was paroled in 1974! Upon his release he legally changed his name, got a job as a chemist, and disappeared from public view.
Walker died in 1982. He had never once expressed remorse for the anguish he had caused the victims of his crimes. If there is a hell, he is certain to burn for eternity.
HE WALKED BY NIGHT is in the public domain and if you have never seen it, here’s your chance.