MGM has really started to roll out the titles in their Limited Edition Collection. The result is that you’re going to start seeing titles that are quite obscure. While many of the names involved might be known to you, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of titles you’ve never heard of before. Even a movie lover like myself comes across a film from time to time that has managed to escape my notice. This time the film is The Killer Is Loose, and it has escaped my attention for about 50 years. Most of the time there’s a good reason why a film lives in obscurity. Usually it’s well deserved and to resurrect it now even under such limited conditions is a waste of time. But every now and then a film comes along that looks more like an unpolished gem and deserves a second look, even so many years later. This is just such a film.
Leon Poole (Corey) is about as unassuming fellow as you are likely to find anywhere. His old Army buddies called him Foggy because he always seemed like he was walking around lost in a fog. He works as a meek bank teller. It is there his ability to be invisible comes in handy. The bank is robbed, and the police soon come to the conclusion it had to be an inside job. Their number one suspect is none other than Poole himself. When Detective Sam Wagner (Cotten) comes to arrest Poole, he fires through the closed door and injures one of the cops. He shouts out the clichéd “You’ll never take me alive” line which causes the cops to bust in with their guns blazin’. Only it isn’t Leon Poole who gets shot, but his innocent bystander wife (Crawford). She’s killed, and it devastates Poole.
We skip to Poole’s trial where he is sentenced to 10 years. After just over two years he gets assigned to a low-security work farm. There he makes his escape and makes a beeline to get his revenge on Wagner. Except it isn’t Sam Wagner he’s after, but Lila (Fleming), his wife. A sort of eye-for-an-eye revenge. When a city-wide manhunt and dragnet fail to keep Poole away, the cops have just one more chance to protect Lila and the trap is set. Of course, we know that’s not going to go entirely to plan.
Joseph Cotten made a career out of film noir and other B movies, particularly westerns. He was most certainly the top name at the time in the film and received top billing. But this is not his best work. The real star here and the entire reason for watching is Wendell Corey as the criminal Leon Poole. The actor approached the role with an even-tempered deadpan style that really does make the character more cold-blooded than the script makes him out. He never raises his voice or gets too emotional beyond his original grief when his wife is shot. When he threatens Sam in the courtroom, it’s got to be about the most calmly-delivered threat I’ve ever seen. Yet, Corey is saying something quite differently in his eyes. He kills a few people who get in his way, but there is never any emotional change when he does. It’s all very calm and businesslike. The film itself is pretty much a standard B film typical of the day. It’s Wendell Corey in a subtle performance of his life that should have made this a memorable film. Fortunately, it’s like he has a second chance with this limited release. When MGM added this little known title to their DVD-R catalog, “These guys knew what they were doing.”