Under the Gun

Edward Dmytryk was fresh from the Hollywood Ten when he made The Sniper (1952), which I wrote about over at Movie Mezzanine. It’s an especially intense little noir, lingering as it does over the pained face of its title character, who’s played by Arthur Franz in what I swear is one of the 1950s’ most underrated performances. Rarely have I seen an actor capture psychosis so vividly, yet with surprising subtlety. The closest thing Franz has to a co-star is Adolphe Menjou—a leader of the Hollywood witchhunts, as a matter of fact—as police detective “Frank Kafka.” Yeah, it’s a surprisingly literate thriller!

Incidentally, in that piece I mention Dmytryk’s “bisected compositions,” and I’d like to briefly expand on that. I’m consistently impressed by the mise-en-scène in this movie, as Franz is pressed to one side of the frame and something about the world he loathes (stranger, coworker, dunk tank woman, smokestack painter, landlady) occupies the other. It’s such an economical use of screen space, such a visceral way of visualizing misanthropy, and thanks to Dmytryk’s bold use of lines and angles, it also results in some beautiful compositions. The Sniper is top-shelf noir in an pulpy, unassuming package.

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