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The unsinkable Edgar G. Ulmer is credited with a couple of film noir classics. The fascinating Detour is considered an artistic no-budget noir masterpiece. Ulmer's expensively produced Ruthless (a new Olive Films Blu-ray will be reviewed here soon) is a misanthropic examination of a successful but much-despised All-American heel. But Ulmer made one more hardboiled tale of crime and punishment, the humble 1955 Allied Artists feature Murder is my Beat. The writer and producer is Aubrey Wisberg, who with Jack Pollexfen wrote Ulmer's The Man from Planet X, one of the first hits of the 1950s science fiction craze. Murder is my Beat is a regulation pulp fiction story of a wrong dame mixed up in a murder. With Ulmer doing his best to adapt to the semi-docu style then in vogue, the show is worthy of a look-see by interested fans of noir. Just don't expect a lost masterpiece.
Police Captain Bert Rawley (Robert Shayne) catches up with rogue detective Ray Patrick (Paul Langton) at a roadside motel somewhere in central California. We flash back several weeks earlier... The two men work a murder case in which the victim's body is left to char in a fireplace. The evidence points to bar singer Eden Lane (Barbara Payton) whose tawdry background all but guarantees her conviction. Ray is assigned to escort Eden to prison, even though he's convinced that she's really innocent. That's when Eden sees, or claims to see, the murdered man standing on a train platform, alive and well... somebody else was killed and Eden is innocent. Ray and Eden jump the train to track down the mystery man. They soon find Eden's old roommate Patsy Flint (Tracey Roberts) suspiciously relocated to the same small town, but then the trail goes cold. Eden disappears. With the flashback finished and Bert listening patiently in the motel room, Ray asks his former partner to hold off his arrest for 24 hours, so that they can pool their skills to find the real murderer.
Sadly, Murder is my Beat is most remembered as the last featured film appearance of the controversial Barbara Payton. The actress had made big news five years before as James Cagney's sexy girlfriend in the brutal crime drama Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. A looker with a face and figure seemingly made to adorn the covers of pulp mysteries, Payton's self-destructive involvement in various sordid scandals derailed her career, ruined her looks and ultimately destroyed her life. Her full story is easy to look up.
Murder is my Beat works the 'woman accused' noir plotline. Second-string leading man Paul Langton comes off rather well as a slightly weary seen-it-all cop who falls for a dame done wrong. Barbara Payton appears appropriately dejected and defeated at all times, an image that would seem to come naturally. Her personal problems seem to hang over the film like a dark cloud. The Aubrey Wisberg screenplay sets up a good mystery situation but allows the final acts to dawdle too much before the abbreviated wrap-up. Payton isn't given very much screen time. The two cops do a lot of talking in a dull motel room, discussing what has happened and what they ought to do next.
Unlike most investigative who-dunnits, Murder is my Beat gives us no line-up of colorful suspects. Ray and Bert hone in on a semi-elderly pair (Selena Royle & Roy Gordon), while the enticing Tracey Roberts prowls on the sidelines. A nosy, excitable landlord (Kate McKenna) reveals what she heard listening through a thin apartment wall. People talk about steamy affairs, blackmail attempts, etc., but what we see are mostly desultory scenes of the cops following their suspects. Los Angeles residents may chuckle as they recognize local streets and landmarks in what is supposed to be a town up north in the San Joaquin Valley. The Warner Archive's sharp transfer allows us to read street signs: Crenshaw Blvd, Van Ness Blvd. When the cops track Patsy Flint into a local church, it turns out to be St. Brendan's down on Third Street in Hancock Park. Ulmer's 1957 Daughter of Dr. Jekyll takes place in Scotland. Yet through some window blinds we can momentarily glimpse street traffic reportedly on 3rd Street, very near this same neighborhood.
The film has its technical ups and downs. Some of the rear projection setups are unconvincing, but a couple of scenes set on a train are quite good. A fistfight gives Ray a triangular scar on his left cheek. It later helps Bert identify one of the bad guys, who wears a ring with the same pattern. A fire is supposed to have obliterated the face and fingerprints of the corpse in the first scene, but all we see is a man with some charcoal rubbed onto his hands.
The saddest moment in the show may its ostensibly happy ending. Ms. Payton enters to thank her heroes for clearing her name. She wears a cheerful dress and is smiling, but there's just no joy visible in her eyes. The neutral camera coverage makes not comment one way or the other. Murder is my Beat doesn't exploit Ms. Payton's personal tragedy, but her sadness seems to put a damper on the whole show.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of Murder is my Beat is an excellent enhanced transfer of this rare "B" grade noir. The trimmings have an air of cheapness that almost seems appropriate to the subject matter. Al Glasser's music score sounds like generic needle-drop cues. The awkward main titles look as if they belong on an educational film. The film element has some dirt and small scratches but nothing serious, and the audio is in fine shape. Another exotic Edgar G. Ulmer film is out in a good presentation!
The WAC's jacket text takes the high road, and does not exploit Barbara Payton's tabloid traumas.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Murder Is My Beat rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.