WITHOUT WARNING (1952; starring Adam Williams, Edward Binns; directed by Arnold Laven; 75 min.)
CAN A LOW BUDGET film noir with B-actors be as riveting as great noirs like DOUBLE INDEMNITY, WHITE HEAT or THE BIG SLEEP?
WITHOUT WARNING is in the mold of documentary-like crime dramas such as CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1949; James Stewart) or a Dragnet TV episode but without Jack Webb’s monotonous narration.
Although we know early on that gardener Carl Martin (Adam Williams) commits despicable crimes (he dispatches his preferred prey–loose, thrill-seeking, busty blondes–using his garden shears as a weapon), the film doesn’t portray him in what you might call the stereotypically villainous manner. On first appearance, he’s an average, blue collar, lunch pail-type worker. Martin has uncontrollable compulsions, but he generates sympathy. Note, for instance, Martin’s desperately worried expression when he’s pursued on foot by police. There may be a reason to Carl’s madness, a result of a long-harbored, yet murkily explained, grudge he carries with regards to the wife he lost.
This being a 1950s movie, there is never any doubt Martin will be caught, dead or alive. It’s the process by which he is pursued, and Williams’ earnest performance that makes this film a notch above many other B-movie film noirs. (Note that the film’s violence and its ambiguous attitude towards the protagonist foreshadows Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960).
Besides Williams, acting kudos should go as well to Ed Binns, who co-stars as the clever detective hot on Carl’s trail, a guy who wants to keep the human pruning down to a minimum. There is also an amusingly droll lab technician, as well as the terrific, on-location photography in and around Los Angeles, including Chávez Ravine, before it became the home of the Dodgers. Binns and Williams appeared together again-in NORTH BY NORTHWEST-8 years later, in the same roles as policeman and gardener, respectively .
Although perhaps not quite on a par with DETOUR and other bargain basement film noir classics, WITHOUT WARNING nevertheless is one that noir fans shouldn’t do without.