He Walked by Night: Special Edition Blu-ray Review

Moodily efffective film noir beautifully rendered on disc. 4.5 Stars

He Walked by Night brings a slightly modified true crime story to the screen with a mesmerizing lead performance and action so fascinatingly taut and realistically mounted that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the action from its first violent act until its last inevitable gunshot.

He Walked by Night (1948)
Released: 10 May 1949
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 79 min
Director: Alfred L. Werker, Anthony Mann
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
Cast: Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell
Writer(s): Crane Wilbur (story), Crane Wilbur (screenplay), John C. Higgins (screenplay), Harry Essex (additional dialogue)
Plot: This film-noir piece, told in semi-documentary style, follows police on the hunt for a resourceful criminal who shoots and kills a cop.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Other
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 19 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 11/07/2017
MSRP: $39.99

The Production: 4.5/5

Another stunning docudrama film noir from Eagle-Lion studios produced in the late 1940s and received with excitement by critics and public, He Walked by Night brings a slightly modified true crime story to the screen with a mesmerizing lead performance and action so fascinatingly taut and realistically mounted that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the action from its first violent act until its last inevitable gunshot. This Classic Flix Blu-ray brings another pristine noir transfer to a welcome public with enough bonus material to make the package a must buy for film aficionados.

Electronics expert Roy Morgan (Richard Basehart) steals parts from various radio and electronics shops around Los Angeles in order to fashion his more sophisticated and elaborate technological inventions which he can rent out for top dollar. But when he’s almost caught breaking into a shop by a passing policeman, he shoots and kills the off duty officer and thus becomes a wanted man hunted unmercifully by Captain Breen (Roy Roberts) and his two best homicide detectives Marty Brennan (Scott Brady) and Chuck Jones (James Cardwell). But Morgan is a very cool customer always remaining a step in front of the law due to his scanning of the police band to always know the progression of the case against him. It takes the combined efforts of all of the various police precincts in Los Angeles and sterling work by forensics expert Lee Whitey (Jack Webb) for the police to have a chance of apprehending this dangerous criminal.

The script by John C. Higgins, Crane Wilbur, and Harry Essex rings true from first moment to last, utilizing the monotone narration by Reed Hadley and portraying the Los Angeles area in all its varying environs and population. Scenes jump back and forth between the police doing their jobs and Morgan making elaborate preparations to first distract the police (by engaging in a series of liquor store robberies in various disguises) and then to map out escape routes should his true identity ever be traced to his current address. Alfred Werker directs most of the film in a very orthodox style aided immeasurably by the supremely talented cinematographer John Alton whose set-ups feature low-key lighting and chiaroscuro shadow effects that heighten the film’s ambiance of danger and unease constantly. But even the well-lit scenes can make one sit up and take notice or squirm unmercifully. A group effort to come up with a sketch of the killer is fascinating to see come together, and a later sequence where Morgan probes into his body for a bullet and then removes it is almost unbearable to watch even though the camera rarely leaves the face of the criminal enduring the agony of his own self-surgery in order to extract the projectile. It’s sequences like these and the film’s pièce de résistance, the climactic pursuit of the killer through the underground tunnels of Los Angeles (allegedly directed by Anthony Mann and preceding by a year the similarly filmed climax for The Third Man) that lifts this excellent crime drama into another league, a first-rate police procedural that never telegraphs for an instant where it’s going or what will happen.

Richard Basehart is absolutely magnetic as the seldom speaking Roy Morgan. Cagey and physically and mentally adept, Basehart’s Morgan wears of smirk of self-satisfaction through most of the movie, and yet when the dragnet begins to tighten, his sneer turns to the snarl of a caged tiger waiting to pounce and slowly begins showing the fear of imminent capture in the elaborate and extended tunnel sequence. Much more straightforward and direct performances are offered by Scott Brady and James Cardwell as the two police sergeants on the case, Brady always in search of a match for his cigarette and Cardwell the ever-supportive partner even when things go against him midway through the film. Roy Roberts lends another of his stalwart supporting performances as the even-tempered police captain determined to get his man. Jack Webb is very effective in several scenes as the brilliant forensics expert whose knowledge of explosives and ballistics are vital in cracking the case. (Webb would take his experiences in this film with the film’s technical advisor Marty Wynn to craft Dragnet a few years later.) Whit Bissell has some strong scenes as a frightened shop owner hoodwinked by Morgan and who later serves as a lure for the police to capture him. Among the other famous faces on display for a scene or two during the movie are Frank Cady, Jack Bailey, John Dehner, Tommy Kelly, and Byron Foulger.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully represented in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Apart from some very slight line twitter, this is another masterful restoration with superb sharpness that relays lots of details in facial features in close-ups and a grayscale that’s second to none, very important in a film that plays so much with light and shadow as this one does. It’s also clean as a whistle with not a trace of dirt or debris. The film has been divided into 19 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is solid as a rock with dialogue beautifully rendered and mixed with surety with galvanizing atmospheric effects (gunshots, running water, echoes in the underground tunnels) and Leonid Raab’s very spare score which rarely reveals itself in a film that’s mostly played out without music. There are no age-related problems with hiss, crackle, or flutter.

Special Features: 4.5/5

Audio Commentary: a delight from beginning to end featuring two of the most learned film historians working today: Alan K. Rode and Julie Kirgo. Filled with knowledge on many of the members of the film’s cast and the varying locations around Los Angeles where certain scenes were filmed, this commentary track is a must listen.

Below the Surface: He Walked by Night (11:47, HD): excellent critical summary of the film’s great strengths with contributions by, among others, historians Alan Rode, Julie Kirgo, Courtney Joyner, Todd McCarthy and cinematographer Richard Crudo

Art Gallery: twenty-four stills and poster art from around the world which can be advanced manually or automatically.

Twenty-four Page Booklet: filled with interesting stills and posters along with a comprehensive essay on the film and its legacy by critic Max Alvarez.

Overall: 4.5/5

Another winner from Classic Flix who is rapidly making a name for itself with these brilliant Blu-ray restorations of classic films noir, He Walked by Night is a release not-to-be-missed. Its compelling crime story and devastating central performance enhanced by moody direction and stupendous camerawork make it a classic of its kind. Highly recommended!

Published by

Matt Hough

author,editor

15 Comments

  1. Thanks for that review.

    I'm no fan of screen caps but I have to admit the one posted looks a lot sharper than the images I recall from the DVD. As this disc comes for the same people who gave us T-Men on Blu-ray, I'm buying.

  2. I will be watching this the day I receive it! I cannot wait to see what ClassicFlix has done with one of my favorite films.

    a BIG THANKS Matt for a review that whets my appetite for this disc! :thumbsup:

  3. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough

    He Walked by Night: Special Edition Blu-ray Review
    [​IMG]

    He Walked by Night brings a slightly modified true crime story to the screen with a mesmerizing lead performance and action so fascinatingly taut and realistically mounted that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the action from its first violent act until its last inevitable gunshot.

    [review]

    I might just listen to the audio commentary first thing. Thanks for the excellent review.

  4. Richard Gallagher

    I'm happy to hear that that they did as fine a job with They Walked by Night as they did with T-Men. I'm now confident that Raw Deal will be just as good!

    They certainly did! The care and affection this company has for their product is very obvious.

  5. Matt Hough

    They certainly did! The care and affection this company has for their product is very obvious.

    Thanks Matt for the great review. And we're glad our care and treatment of these very special Mann/Alton films doesn't go unnoticed.

    RAW DEAL will complete the trifecta and you won't be disappointed.

    – David

  6. It's reviews like these that make it difficult to catch up on my other BD purchases that were inspired by reviews like yours;
    which, come to think of it, are one and the same.:thumbs-up-smiley:
    Nice to know that we are far from ever running out of choices.:)
    In other words, I'll be adding this one to the list.:cool:

  7. Classic Flix has done some great work on PD and neglected films. However, I was a disappointed in HE WALKED BY NIGHT. UCLA restored the film about a year ago and it played at their last screening series. I realize UCLA require a fee for licensing their work out, but I thought the new Blu Ray didn’t look as good, and certainly didn’t sound as good as the UCLA restoration. The sound seemed noise gated much too much. The few music underscore cues were sort of fading in and out at such a low volume, and many scenes just have dialog without hearing any of the subtle foley or background sound. I suspect they did an automatic de-noising process. If they had used the UCLA restoration, a required credit would have stated that at the head of the film.

  8. Hi John,

    Sorry that was your impression, but we did our research and looked into the restoration done by UCLA. We even sent a test of our scan to them to see if what we had was superior. The concluded our material, licensed from MGM, was indeed superior and that their's was inferior. Had it been the reverse we would have opted for their material.

    As far as the sound, it was restored, but like film material itself, options are limited here too.

    Bottom line, we used be best available materials and did a lot of work just to get it where it is, and barring any new materials being unearthed, the film will never look or sound better than it does.

    David Kawas
    ClassicFlix Founder/Producer

  9. ClassicFlix

    Hi John,

    Sorry that was your impression, but we did our research and looked into the restoration done by UCLA. We even sent a test of our scan to them to see if what we had was superior. They concluded our material, licensed from MGM, was indeed superior and that their's was inferior. Had it been the reverse we would have opted for their material.

    As far as the sound, it was restored, but like film material itself, options are limited here too.

    Bottom line, we used be best available materials and did a lot of work just to get it where it is, and barring any new materials being unearthed, the film will never look or sound better than it does.

    David Kawas
    ClassicFlix Founder/Producer

    I accept your explanation. I didn't have the UCLA restoration at hand, only my memory, and so I commented on memory alone. All your recent restorations are superb.

    Also, the first film I bought from you was MISS ANNIE ROONEY. What a beautiful restoration and the film was much better than I remembered, thanks to the work you and your team did. I do realize doing restorations with orphan or independent films that are in poor shape and more often than not, no original negative or sound elements survive, your job is very difficult. That we have them looking as best they can is because of companies like you, and there are so few of these companies that would risk the time and money to make these important and neglected films available in versions that comes close to what they looked like when first released theatrically. So, I am a huge fan of Classic Flix, despite stupidly posting comments that are most likely untrue.

    And if you are not too angry with me on this, I was wondering if there is a possibility of doing the Bobby Breen films in the late 30s? I have no idea what survives on those, but the availability on DVD is a sad affair. Originally, RKO released them through their deal with Sol Lesser, but I think they were released to television in the 50s through Variety Films, which changed the credits and what we have left is some of the worst looking and sounding films one can imagine. I can only hope that RKO fine grains or even negatives might be collecting dust somewhere in a vault.

    In any event, film fans of classic films should support releases such as you do. And I thank you for your catalog and its expansion, including so many of fine films.

    John

  10. John Morgan

    I accept your explanation. I didn't have the UCLA restoration at hand, only my memory, and so I commented on memory alone. All your recent restorations are superb.

    Also, the first film I bought from you was MISS ANNIE ROONEY. What a beautiful restoration and the film was much better than I remembered, thanks to the work you and your team did. I do realize doing restorations with orphan or independent films that are in poor shape and more often than not, no original negative or sound elements survive, your job is very difficult. That we have them looking as best they can is because of companies like you, and there are so few of these companies that would risk the time and money to make these important and neglected films available in versions that comes close to what they looked like when first released theatrically. So, I am a huge fan of Classic Flix, despite stupidly posting comments that are most likely untrue.

    And if you are not too angry with me on this, I was wondering if there is a possibility of doing the Bobby Breen films in the late 30s? I have no idea what survives on those, but the availability on DVD is a sad affair. Originally, RKO released them through their deal with Sol Lesser, but I think they were released to television in the 50s through Variety Films, which changed the credits and what we have left is some of the worst looking and sounding films one can imagine. I can only hope that RKO fine grains or even negatives might be collecting dust somewhere in a vault.

    In any event, film fans of classic films should support releases such as you do. And I thank you for your catalog and its expansion, including so many of fine films.

    John

    Hi John,

    Not angry in the least bit John, and thank you VERY MUCH for supporting what we're doing by purchasing our films. My purpose in responding was just wanted to make sure the record is straight in terms the quality we are striving to achieve with our label.

    Regarding ROONEY, I agree it is a very sharp, good looking restoration that we spent a good amount to restore. I realize that it's Shirley's "awkward teen period" and that many people pan the film, but I think it is charming and very underrated. No Shirley Temple fan, or "Jivin' Jack & Jill" fan should be without it.

    Regarding Breen, not sure about those, but I'll keep them in mind. By the way, I haven't checked out any specific Breen releases from Roan Group that I can recall, but Roan always did put out some decent to above average transfers.

    David

    Just for fun, here's a clip of Peggy Ryan and Roland Dupree cutting a rug from ROONEY:​

  11. Hello David Kawas

    Amazon Canada doesn't have "He Walked by Night" in stock yet. Do you have any inside information as to when it will be available in Canada. Looking forward to purchasing this title.

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