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July 17, 2018

I Walk Alone


Byron Haskin - 1947
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

The movie that I like to retitle, "When Burt met Kirk". This marked the first pairing of the two actors, the fourth film for both. The difference is that Burt Lancaster had already achieved star billing in his second role, while Kirk Douglas was still considered a supporting player. In his commentary track, Troy Howarth mentions the friendship between the two actors, but the nature of their personal relationship is open to some debate as discussed in Kate Buford's biography.

Burt Lancaster, seemingly ready to burst out of his suit, plays the ex-con, free after fourteen years, ready to rejoin former bootlegging partner Kirk Douglas. Lancaster expects that Douglas will still keep the agreement they made when they last saw each other regarding sharing any wealth. Douglas has gone legit, from running a low-rent speakeasy to now owning a high class night club. The film takes plays over the course of one very long night.

Haskin's film is not considered part of the canon, but for someone unfamiliar with film noir, there are two scenes that serve as perfect illustrations. The accountant of a nightclub, played by Wendell Corey, has walked out on boss Douglas. He realizes that he is being followed by a hitman. Just prior to that moment, Corey is seen in a dimly lit drug store phone booth, desperately trying to contact Lancaster. Sneaking out the back way, Corey walks, then runs down the street, framed in an overhead dolly shot at a slight diagonal angle. He is being followed by the elongated shadow of the hit man. Corey is off-screen, to the right of the camera when gunfire is heard. The dolly shot continues moving to the right, with the sidewalk lit with the light of a store across the street, the store letters seen on the sidewalk, a trail of drops of blood, stopping on Corey's dead body.

Following that scene, Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott confront Kirk Douglas at his New Jersey mansion. Douglas seems to have control with the gun at hand. A desk lamp is knocked over. Douglas is seen in silhouette, with only moonlight, shooting in the direction of Lancaster's voice. Lancaster and Scott are barely visible, hiding in the shadows, counting until Douglas is out of bullets.

I Walk Alone was Haskin's first directorial credit in twenty years. Starting as a silent era cinematographer, he also directed four now lost silent films around 1927. Going back to cinematography and special effects, with uncredited direction on Action in the North Atlantic, Haskin worked for producer Hal Wallis on several films when both were at Warner Brothers. How much of the visual expressiveness should be credited to Haskin, I can't really say, although in retrospect, I Walk Alone could almost pass for a Warner Brothers movie. The handful of films I've seen by Haskin also indicate some thematic continuity in the corrupting nature of self-perceived power with The Boss, with a screenplay by an uncredited Dalton Trumbo, The Naked Jungle and Haskin's last theatrical film, The Power.

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowthers took time to be a public scold in his review, noting, "It is notable that the slant of sympathy is very strong toward the mug who did the 'stretch,' as though he were some kind of martyr. Nice thing! Producer Hal Wallis should read the Code." Burt Lancaster was hardly the first actor to play an ex-con who the audience would root for. Pushing the production code a bit more was the presentation of Douglas' open relationship between his night club's chanteuse played by Scott, and the socialite played by Kristine Miller, who is also open about her flings. I Walk Alone is visually dynamic, but keep the ears open for the still charged sexual banter.

i walk alone german poster.jpg

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 17, 2018 10:00 AM