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"In the annals of crime of any great city, there is always one case that for sheer savagery will never be forgotten. No professional criminal could ever match its fury, for it is the record of murder without reason, of fear and of terror of a killer who strikes without warning."
So begins the story of the garden shear wielding love-killer, at large in 1951 Los Angeles, who has a murderous penchant for blondes.
Originally released through United Artists, on DVD by Dark Sky Films as part of their "lost noir" series, directed by Arnold Laven, this is a little-known gem that I find unique for many reasons, which I will be discussing below.
Opening outside a motel with blaring jazz music, the police are investigating the murder of a lovely blonde who was killed by a large pair of gardening shears. It is determined that the woman was in her twenties and married, although her husband is clearly not in the picture. As the cops probe the scene, our love-killer, boyish gardener Carl Martin (Adam Williams, North By Northwest), collapses into bed, awakening the next day to head to a local gardening supply store, where he spots the owner's comely daughter Jane (Meg Randall) who is helping out her dad while her husband is overseas. (And let me just add, there is a little girl, Carmencita, who has the tendency to show up in some of the most inopportune moments for Carl). The police, meanwhile, think that the latest murder is linked to one a month earlier - the similarities are striking.Read more ›
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Super DVD of Forgotten Film Noir GemAug. 11 2005
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Not only has this well-made, nearly forgotten Film Noir been rescued from oblivion by MPI, but they have used a nearly perfect print. The experience of watching an obscure film like this is greatly enhanced when the picture and sound quality are this good. This DVD deserves a special Film Noir award.
As for WITHOUT WARNING itself, it turns out to be well worth the wait for those Noir fans who have long wished they could see this legendary movie. The direction is tight, the acting mostly very good, and the look of the film is priceless because it captures so many LA locations that are no longer in existence, or that have been drastically altered over 50-plus years. On the visual level alone, WITHOUT WARNING is a must-see. For a movie of this length (77 min) and low budget, we get several nicely executed edge-of-your-seat thrills. However, the intelligent sceenplay provides plenty of dramatic interest as well. This is one of many 'police procedural' Noirs, but it's several cuts above most others: the narration is concise and mostly unobtrusive, and the scenes of 1950s-style police forensics are all interesting and even feature a degree of humor from a witty lab technician. Best of all is the intrigue. An early example of a serial killer Noir, WITHOUT WARNING compares favorably with THE SNIPER (from the same period)--in its close observation of a killer at work, interspersed with police attempts to track him down--but it's much less sympathetic to the perpetrator in this case. A movie of this type needs a lead actor who can gain audience interest and hold it. This is the case with THE SNIPER, and it's also true in WITHOUT WARNING. Let's hope Adam Williams is around to see the beautiful DVD issue of his great lead performance as Carl Martin. This is a fully realized characterization: tormented, enraged, clever, and pathetic. Williams makes it all believable, and he is ultimately responsible for making the film work so well.
As a supplement, the DVD has a gallery of posters and lobby cards
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Rough, smart thriller, available at last!Dec 20 2005
David J. Hogan
- Published on Amazon.com
Deft combination of murder thriller and police procedural is presented via a pristine, shimmering b&w print highlighting solid work by the creepily appealing young character actor Adam Williams (where are you now, Adam?)as an unflamboyant but remorseless killer of blondes, and Meg Randall, as the focal female who eventually finds herself in dire straits. Nice turns, too, by the understated Ed Binns as the police detective assigned to bring the monster to heel, and by Angela Stevens, a pretty Columbia contract starlet (The Three Stooges, Creature with the Atom Brain, numerous westerns) who, in this UA release, steams the screen as a randy goodtime girl who comes to a bad end. Smartly produced and directed by the highly competent Levy-Gardner-Laven team (The Rifleman, The Monster that Challenged the World, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue). Shock moments, notably a wowser near the beginning of the picture, are apt to knock you back in your seat. The photo gallery is welcome; menu and DVD case designs are imaginative and appealing. And as other reviewers have noted, Without Warning also is a priceless visual and aural record of "lost" L.A., particularly Chavez Ravine. The whole bargain-priced package is a gem that can't be recommended too highly.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"It was a mixed assortment of the mild and the defiant."June 1 2006
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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.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Decent noir--half smart, half dumbOct. 28 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
This is not bad for a 1952 noir, but is not as substantial as other films of the same year--I'm particularly thinking of Narrow Margin with the great Marie Windsor, and especially of the similarly-themed film The Sniper, also about a serial killer.
A big part of the reason for the three stars rather than four or five is the acting and the script, both of which are, for the most part, straightforward and pedestrian with a few flashes here and there of smarts. But you do have the by then standard "stentorian voice" of a voiceover narrator intoning the details of how the cops follow up leads to catch the killers. You do have the lab guys, complete with glasses and their, you know, "quirky ways" that include drinking tea out of a beaker and subtly showing up the "dumb street cops" how smart they (the lab guys) are and how unsmart the cops are. And of course you do have the innocent female victim, in the form of the daughter of a semi-crusty older guy who loves his daughter, blah, blah.
On the other hand, you also have something that could make your eyes widen and your jaw drop, if just a little bit, and that is a bad girl who, in so many words, practically begs the killer to let her have it--not meaning murder, but sex. The scene in which the two of them are in her car next to each other is fraught with sexual tension and is way ahead of its time. Not only that, but the obvious equating of sex with death is so ripe in that scene that it says more than anything else in the film does about the killer and why he does what he does. This was a really great scene.
Ed Binns is on hand to give the film somewhat more polish; he plays one of the two cops after the killer, Carl Martin, who works as a gardener. Carl's thing is to bump off blondes who are young and good looking. And somehow either he finds the married one, or they find him. The fact that it's never made clear just how he winds up with married blondes points to the psychological undertones used in the story, and that's not at all a bad thing.
There are some scenes--or at least lines--here and there, that actually appear to look forward to more contemporary films and they are slightly startling in their modernity. So this is an unusual mixture of the pedestrian and the intelligent. It's definitely of its period and is not at all bad. It's an interesting noir that's at least worth seeing if not owning. If you're a noir fiend like me, you'll want it for your collection. In my estimation, it ranks along with B noirs like Blonde Ice and Quicksand as representative of their period but not in what could be called the "seminal noirs" which are films like Out of the Past, Murder My Sweet, Double Indemnity, and Black Angel.
Still, it's a solid decent effort.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"And while the killer slept the machinery of the law slipped into gear."Oct. 4 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
I'm happy that this little known noir gem is finally available on DVD, especially with such a crisp picture, but I wish they had thrown in some extras. Maybe a few trailers, an audio commentary would have been great.
Carl Martin is a mild mannered lawn care guy. He seems normal enough with a respectable job and a cozy house, but I knew something was wrong with him the second he started madly stabbing a woman in the back with a pair of 5 inch pruning shears.
Try as he might Carl ain't the smoothest killer the world has ever seen and the cops are on his trail thanks to some fibers he left at a crime scene and some dirt at another. But how many women will die before the cop's hard work pays off?
Despite the obvious low budget and a first time director WITHOUT WARNING! was entertaining from beginning to end. I'll definitely watch it again.