The Mugger (1958)

Film Title: The Muggerthemugger

Year: 1958

Studio: United Artists

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Genre: Film Noir

Starring:

  • Kent Smith
  • Nan Martin
  • James Franciscus
  • Leonard Stone

Review

Right away, the title of this film jumps out as something dark and ominous on a chilly evening, not in a small town but in a big city, partially hidden in the shadows. It seems raw and emotionless; in fact, there is nothing particularly explosive about it, unless you’re one of the victims. Before the plot even unfolded, I imagined a social deviant lurking around unnoticed, waiting to attack random citizens and confusing law enforcement every step of the way. I was just about spot on.

Pete Graham is a police psychologist with a calm demeanor and a penchant for attracting the attention of numerous women. It’s a good combination to have, especially since Pete is immediately drawn into investigating a series of muggings taking place in the city, all seemingly perpetrated by one man with a vendetta against the fairer sex. Each female victim is grabbed, shaken, and cut on the cheek with a sharp knife, shortly before the assailant grabs their purse and runs into the night. For most women, this would be traumatic enough to keep them indoors for months after being attacked. But oddly, none of the victims appear too disturbed; rather, they are nonchalant when Pete questions them, almost frustratingly so.

As time rolls on, the muggings continue and the police hit nothing but dead ends. Despite the frequency, no one manages to see anything or get a good look at the man responsible, until Pete latches on to a trail of clues that lands him in the middle of several different sordid affairs. It takes quite a while before the police can piece together a motive. Aside from cutting his victims, the mugger doesn’t inflict any other damage. None of the women are sexually assaulted or beaten up; the cut on the cheek seems like more of an insult than an attempt to cause physical harm. But soon enough, one of the victims turns up dead – a reckless, young girl whom Pete has tried to help in the past. This launches a renewed interest in identifying the mugger. From that point on, the city becomes Pete’s personal sniffing ground.

I will admit, The Mugger would probably bore a lot of viewers. By modern standards, and perhaps even 1950s standards, it’s a bit slow moving, which is surprising at 74 minutes long. It isn’t that nothing happens, but what does happen is somewhat lackluster. Even the muggings themselves are yawn-inducing. When someone isn’t being attacked, there’s a lot of Pete walking around and talking to different people but getting nowhere. Granted, it’s probably a more accurate depiction of actual police work, but the majority of audiences aren’t too keen on watching an hour of minutiae in exchange for fifteen minutes of closure. But again, that is for most viewers, and I’m not most viewers. What I took away from this film is something else entirely.

If you can imagine being a fly on the wall during a police investigation, The Mugger will not be lost on you, because that is essentially what the viewer is meant to be. There aren’t really any seat-gripping moments or big reveals. Even the discovery of the mugger himself is uneventful. It almost happens too abruptly when it’s all said and done. Still, this film worked for me mainly because of Kent Smith. Something about his screen presence was just enough to keep the remote control away. His character is outwardly reserved and collected, so much so that one wonders if his mind is going in the opposite direction.

On Video

MGM¬†released The Mugger on October 18, 2011. The transfer is sufficient enough, but I’m more satisfied that it got any kind of release. Films of this ilk are often thought meaningless and dated. As a result, they never see the digital light of day. Completists who want to devour any noirish crime film available will surely want to give this one a shot.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, we can’t expect every film to blow us away. For every hardboiled noir and crime drama, there is a loopy gumshoe wandering the streets without any ideas. But if you’re like me and can find enjoyment in the troubled life of the average detective, you might open up a dark new world for yourself with films like these.

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