I want to report a murder. Sit down. Where was this murder committed? San Francisco, last night. Who was murdered? I was…
That opening line is probably the best I’ve ever heard in a murder mystery. The film starts with credits rolling as the protagonist walks down a police station hallway and delivers those lines. The movie soon shifts gears and rewinds back to where the whole mess started. Accountant Frank Bigelow takes a vacation to San Francisco, joins up with a bunch of visiting salesmen and spends the night partying. When he wakes up not feeling quite right, medical tests show that he’s been poisoned with a “Luminous Toxin” and has around 48 hours to live. The poison was probably administered in a spiked alcoholic drink and it has been in his system too long for anything to be done about it. After a second opinion confirms the diagnosis, Bigelow flees rather than enter a hospital.
It’s never good news when a doctor tells you to sit down first.
This starts a wild pursuit for his killers through the streets of San Francisco. Bigelow will encounter corrupt businessmen, gangsters and feuding lovers all with their own secrets and no reason to trust him. This one has more red herrings than the San Francisco fish market. Most of the second half of the film involves Bigelow running down one blind alley after another. Always acutely aware that his time is running out.
Someone doesn’t like Bigelow snooping around.
The motives and reasons for these red herrings are generally well thought out and the story paces well. Giving a good impression of a desperate dying man looking for answers.
The film’s copyrights were not properly renewed and it went into the public domain. This means that is a fairly easy film to see. Unfortunately most copies are poor quality TV or VHS cuts and all have issues with fading, damage, scratchy sound and even missing frames. The film itself is well shot, with plenty of great location shots of 1950s San Francisco.
Exterior shot of San Francisco circa 1950
One issue I do have involves the score and the distracting sound effects added during the hotel and party scene. For a while, you can tell whenever Bigelow is looking at a pretty girl. This is because someone felt the need to add an obnoxious clarinet wolf whistle every time he does. Fortunately the movie calms down after this.
The rest of the score is fairly generic jazz. It’s not really fair to judge visual and sound quality due to the badly degraded quality of the available prints. A fully restored version of the film might do it more justice.
There was a remake of this film made in 1988 starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan following roughly the same story arc.
Verdict 3 Gavels out of 5
After an electrifying start, the film bogs down in background detail. It does pick up nicely midway through and definitely delivers at the end. An interesting film that isn’t afraid to take risks.