The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) is a b-noir from a director who made only three movies in the early 50s, Earl McEvoy. The movie was lensed by Joe Biroc and stars the under-rated Evelyn Keyes, who passed away last year, and appeared to advantage in Joseph Losey’s The Prowler (1951) and Robert Rossen’s Johnny O’Clock (1947). Keyes plays an accomplice to a hood, who after a job in Cuba, returns to NYC with smallpox, in a dramatisation of the New York smallpox scare of 1946. Keyes is brilliant as ‘the killer’ and dominates the film, which in the light of the current swine flu scare, is a well-crafted docu-drama which deftly weaves the drama of the woman’s noir story and how a city of over 8 million people has to mobilise to deal with such a threat, with vignettes on how the illness is transmitted, and a continuing story arc of the fate of the killer’s first ‘victim’, a young working-class girl.
An interesting segue is how these old Hollywood b-pictures weaved wonderful vignettes and comic moments into the story. Two such scenes stand out in this movie. A milkman is infected and there is a scene in the sick man’s bedroom when the inoculation team visits. The poor guy’s persona is eloquently evoked by his wife’s harping but deeply loving commentary on her husband – before she realises the gravity of his illness. The other scene cuts to a Brooklyn street with kids playing on the road in front of a bar. The kids scramble as a police car pulls up. They gather on the footpath to check it out. As a burly detective steps out of the car, one kid pipes up and asks for the low-down “Hey Bub…”. The cop replies “Beat it kid.” The bar is closed so the cops after getting the form from the kids, drive off, and the kids jump back on the road shooting air tommy guns after the car.