Being as woefully uninformed as I am, I'd never even heard of the American noir feature Without Warning! (1952) until Dark Sky Films released it onto DVD, but supposedly it's a rather obscure film considered `lost', one that's apparently been found, and found good...in my own, humble opinion. Written by William Raynor (Target Earth, "McHale's Navy", "Get Smart"), and directed by Arnold Laven (The Monster That Challenged the World, "The Rifleman", "The Six Million Dollar Man"), the film stars Adam Williams (Vice Squad, The Proud and Profane, Fear Strikes Out), in his first, major film role. Also appearing is Meg Randall (Criss Cross, Ma and Pa Kettle), Ed Binns (12 Angry Men, North by Northwest), Harlan Warde (Donovan's Brain, A Cry in the Night), Byron Kane (The Big Heat, Gog), and Angela Stevens (Creature with the Atom Brain, Devil Goddess).
As the film opens we see a man, who we later learn is named Carl Martin (Williams) leaving a Hollywood motel room in the middle of the night in a bit of a rush, most likely due to the fact he just murdered a woman. The body is found, and the police, including Lt. Pete Hamilton (Binns), make the scene. Turns out this isn't Carl's first victim, as the police identify the odd wounds (inflicted by a gardening tool) as being similar of those in a previous unsolved murder. As the investigations plods forward, we see Carl, a gardener by trade, carrying on with his normal routine. The police have a few clues, but nothing really substantial, along with a theory about Carl's modus operandi...seems he likes his women blonde, married, unscrupulous, and slightly tipsy (hey, who doesn't?), and he tends to strike at certain time of the month. Time passes and Carl eventually hooks up with another good time girl, but this time he nearly gets nicked as two motorcycle policemen stumble upon the scene (Carl took his date to a secluded underpass). As Carl is swallowed up in the sea of anonymity a large city tends to offer, the police press forward, collecting more and more evidence, along with constructing a profile of the elusive killer with the aide of a police psychologist. The authorities go so far as to set a trap, knowing what kind of bait the killer prefers, but Carl manages to get away yet again. Oh, by the way, it's probably worth mentioning that the guy who runs the nursery where Carl buys his supplies from has a new employee named Jane (Randall), who, along with being a pretty young blonde, is also his daughter. Let's just say this does not go unnoticed by Carl (he lika, he lika a lot)...eventually enough clues pile up to lead the authorities to Carl's doorstep, but will they be in time to nab this fiend before he strikes again?
I enjoyed this film as I thought, overall, it was a fairly solid crime drama with a strong sense of direction (this was Lavin's first feature), and a number of good performances. There were some aspects of the story I found a little hinky, the main one being how the character of Carl, who seemed genuinely sloppy in terms of leaving evidence behind, would have these moments of clarity, destroying certain pieces of incriminating evidence. Case in point, after the opening sequence, Carl discovered part of his sport coat had been torn (a piece of the fabric was recovered at the crime scene). He decided to take the coat in and get it fixed, but decided against it at the last moment for fear the police might have found the piece left behind and eventually be able to link it back to Carl (which, in fact, is what the police were trying to do, so much so they issued a bulletin to various tailors in the area to be on the lookout for someone bringing in a coat for repair made of a certain material). At the last moment, just before giving the coat over to a tailor, Carl has second thoughts and ends up destroying the garment. Why would he all of the sudden worry so much about a piece of a sport jacket, especially since he'd left so much else behind, specifically his fingerprints? Ah well...the story is divided up into two parts, one being Carl, and the other being the investigation, the parts eventually coming together at the end. I did like the forensics stuff, as there was quite a lot of detail given out as far as the kind of evidence collected at crime scenes, and how it's examined. I did think it funny how the main scientist brewed his own coffee in a set-up in his lab, serving it up in beakers and such...this seems a dangerous practice, as one might accidentally grab a beaker of hydrochloric acid instead of a cup o' joe. Live and learn, I suppose...another aspect I thought odd was how accurate the police psychologist was in terms of describing Carl's motivation behind his actions...talk about being dead on...as I said, I thought the performances were solid overall, my favorite being Ed Binns, who played the lead detective on the case. Generally the criminal is more interesting in stories like these, but I found Binns' character charismatic and well put together. He was an obviously intelligent and generally easygoing type, one who is now struggling to solve a series of brutal and senseless murders. That's not to say Williams didn't come off well in his role. One element I really liked about his character was he never really took it over the top. He didn't seem overly intelligent, but he did have enough brains (and luck) to keep the authorities at bay for a while. The story does move along well, wasting little time on unnecessary elements, wrapping up in a nice, tight little climatic finish. While watching this film I couldn't help wonder about where Carl lived...he resided in house that had seen better days, up in the Hollywood hills, property which I'm sure now goes for an exceedingly premium price, given the view he had...something else worth mentioning...I thought the dialog good, nothing too fancy, but I thought it interesting the narrator should have some of the best lines, including this one, at the beginning, after the second victim is found...
Narrator: They located the victim's husband and brought him in to identify the body. He'd been working all night and hadn't even known his wife was on the loose.
On the loose? Did he normally keep her chained up in the yard? Perhaps he might have if he'd known she was out all night gallivanting around with strange men while he busted his ash working night jobs just to keep her in stockings and bon bons...
The picture quality, presented in fullscreen (1.33:1), on this Dark Sky Films DVD release looks very sharp, clean, and crisp. There are some flaws in the print, but nothing extensive or extreme. The audio comes through most excellent, sound very clear. As far as extras go, there's a photo gallery featuring about ten publicity shots and English subtitles. The one aspect I didn't care for about this release was the artwork used on the DVD cover...it's kind of ugly and a poor representation of the film (in my opinion), but it shouldn't keep you from seeing this feature, especially if you're a fan of film noir.