Joe: “I didn’t kill him! I didn’t! I didn’t! I didn’t!”
Joe’s desperate plea for innocence can be heard loud and clear at court. However images speak louder than words in this short but great movie.
For several film critics this is the first true film noir. Indeed the camera angles, the shadows, the use of light (which reminds us clearly of the German school), the flashbacks are all typically noir. The photography by Nicholas Musuraca is a key element in the film and the scene of Mike’s nightmare is simply fascinating.
A journalist called Mike Ward (John McGuire) declares in court as a witness of a crime. As a result of his testimony a man called Joe is wrongly sentenced to death. Some days after he sees a stranger around the guesthouse where he lives. He tries to follow him but the stranger escapes.
Later he is also wrongly accused of killing a man sleeping in the room next to his. So Mike is now a victim of the system that had wrongly condemned Joe.
Mike’s girlfriend, Jane (Margaret Tallichet), comes across the stranger – an insane man evaded from the mental hospital and the case is “happily solved”.
Jane: Why do they want to lock you up?
The Stranger: So they can hurt me. They put you in a shirt with long sleeves and they pour ice water on you.
However in spite of the “happy end” we can’t forget the atmosphere of ambiguity present in all the movie. The vision of justice is also negative (the absent minded judge and the sleeping member of the jury are two evident metaphors of its faults). Moreover the successful reporter sometimes seems as hysterical as the insane man…We also have to point out the excellent performance of Peter Lorre as the stranger – an enigmatic presence which seems to be hidden in every shadow, at every corner of the staircase…