Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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The Distance in Immediate Violence

This piece of information comes at the beginning of a 1952 film about that most notorious of sex offender, The Sniper. Well, okay, shooting women from rooftops with a high-powered rifle doesn't quite qualify as a sex crime to most people. It's a bit strange when the police refer to him automatically as a sex offender after he's shot only two women--they apparently make no effort to see if there's anything besides a common sex linking the two victims. And yet, taken as a metaphor for sex crime that couldn't be discussed too directly by a Hollywood film in 1952, The Sniper is actually kind of effective. It makes an effort to be a serious insight into the mind of the sex criminal and to be an essay on how society ought to address mental health issues, but it's more effective in terms of mood and a sort of nightmarishly arbitrary portrait of brutality.

It's an ensemble cast of mostly new and B movie actors nominally headed up by Adolphe Menjou, a star from the 1920s and early 1930s, maybe best known to-day for Sternberg's Morocco. He plays the police lieutenant in charge of investigating the sniper crimes, but he doesn't show up for the first third of the movie and the bulk of the film follows the sniper himself, Eddie Miller, played by Arthur Franz with a peculiarly earnest desire to be caught by police alternating with a methodical fury for all womankind.

The two sides of his personality never quite coalesce properly and despite the fact that we spend more time with him than anyone else, we never quite feel like we know him. Nevertheless, there's something frighteningly effective about his hatred for women.

In one of the most effective scenes in the movie, he throws baseballs with perfect aim to drop a woman in a dunk tank at a carnival sideshow. She starts by taunting him and playing along, but gets quiet as she repeatedly has to climb out of the tank and back onto the seat. Everyone grows visibly uncomfortable at the strange spectacle of the angry man with perfect aim grimly hitting the target again and again until he's throwing baseballs directly at the woman in the cage before he stalks off.

Each time he shoots a woman, it's very effective, too, and despite the movie's attempts to humanise him, our sympathy is totally with the victims each time. The movie somehow makes them more than just random victims with a very short space of time to characterise them--particularly effective was the death of the first woman, played by Marie Windsor, who's shot as she pauses a moment to wipe the dust off a poster of herself outside the nightclub where she works.

She was introduced to us as a customer of Miller's cleaning service and she gives him the stained dress she's wearing at the time in a mildly flirtatious manner. She gives him a beer, but her manner changes when her boyfriend shows up and she has Eddie go drink his beer outside. She's established as a woman who's maybe a little vain, a little coquettish, but basically a good person, just right for the sort Eddie's twisted mind would cultivate an irrational hatred for.

We're introduced to a number of women who break Miller's balls in various ways, but mostly they feel like the two dimensional random weird jerks in Rambo or Fist of Fury. Windsor's is the only really effectively established female character, and mostly it seems strange the movie feels compelled to line up female antagonists for Eddie.

Richard Kiley's on hand as a criminal psychologist to deliver a speech about how violent misogyny needs to be caught and treated early and while that's certainly an appreciable message, the movie's a little too strange to go with it. The rifle seen as a phallic symbol used to harm women from a distance is kind of an effective shorthand for a man's body forced on a woman without connexion, the inherently combative nature of rape. It is a strange and disturbing film.

Tags: adolphe menjou, edward dmytryk, film noir, marie windsor, movies, richard kiley, sex crimes, snipers
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