The Killer That Stalked New York: A Hidden Gem With Plenty of Charm and Relevance

The world is anything but alright right now, a deadly virus is harvesting the lives of thousands and the souls of the rest, everybody is hiding at home and fearing what is yet to come. In the midst of my self-isolation, which is not entirely due to the virus and has been for a long time a regular part of my life, I came upon a little hidden gem from 1950 that tells the story of the world we’re living in now, but with added glamour and suspense which is of course a key component of any film noir. While Earl McEvoy’s 1950 film, The Killer That Stalked New York, is not by any means a classic or even a great film, it still holds plenty of charm and ambiance to interest those that have perhaps exhausted the film noir canon and are always in search for something new to quench their unquenchable thirst for this highly addictive movie genre.

The plot of The Killer That Stalked New York is inspired by true events, and more precisely, a news article about a pandemic that almost broke out in New York in the 1940’s, and tells the story of Sheila Bennet, a dame that smuggled diamonds from Cuba, unaware that she’s bringing with her smallpox and threatening the lives of eight million people; what she is aware of, however, is that she is being followed by a federal agent. As she tries to sell the diamonds along with her gangster lover, Matt, while shaking the cops, and as the doctors try to identify the source of the pandemic and stop it before it’s too late, two quests and pursuits continually entwine until they reach a common and fiery climax, that is, since this is a film noir, emblematic of the fatalism this genre endorses and worships.

While I am glad that this film has a short runtime of 75 minutes, that keeps short and sweet, and hides the fact that not much about it is impressive or exceptional, it also prevents either of the two plots from fully developing or having any real strength. The love triangle between Sheila, Matt and Francie feels bland and unmotivated, which is expected since its entire screen time doesn’t add up to ten whole minutes. We know nothing about the lives of these three characters, why they act the way they do and how they got to this point even. But on the other hand, Dr. Ben Wood’s quest to save the city feels much more important, and is indeed, a lot more present in the film. While not the protagonist, his character feels the most complete and thorough, with motives and flaws, and most crucially, a drive.

The most impressive thing about The Killer That Stalked New York is that it was shot on location, which is a very rare thing for films made in that period. The cinematography, while again, nothing exceptional, is still pretty good, but just like the film, gets better and better as it progresses, reaching a pinnacle in the last five minutes, when the two characters of Sheila and Ben Wood, along with the viewers, are on edge. This is the story of a killer unaware of her deadliness and weapon, “Death didn't sneak into town riding the rods or huddled in a boxcar. It came in on a streamliner, first class, extra fare, right into the Pennsylvania Station, big as life. And when it finally stepped out of its drawing room and onto the platform, it was something to whistle at. It wore lipstick, nylons and a beautifully tailored coat that sported a silver dancing girl. Souvenir of Cuba. Its name was Sheila Bennet.” The fact that an entire city is fighting against an unknown, an innocent and naive unknown, is what gives the film both its suspense and sense of danger.
Even with a very unorthodox plot in the medium of noir, and a protagonist that is rarely seen in a genre where the bad guys usually carry guns, The Killer That Stalked New York fails to be something that is truly exceptional, but that does not stop it from being a very fun little movie. If you have an hour or so to spare in these times of trouble, forget about your troubles and watch someone else’s. 


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