Without Warning!

WITHOUT WARNING! a minor crime item from 1952, done on a dime-store budget of $100,000, was the first effort from the team of Levy-Gardner-Laven, three fellows who met up in the Army and decided to form their own company. Arnold Laven directed, Arthur Gardner and Jules Levy were the producers. Done in the vein of the documentary-style police procedurals popular at the time (Naked City, He Walked By Night), alternating between creepy and crummy, its lurid storyline and deranged protagonist fit into a subcategory that had traction that year, dealing with characters who were psychologically unbalanced (nice way put it). *

Screws loosened by his wife’s unfaithfulness, Los Angeles gardening contractor ‘Carl Martin’ (Adam Williams) lives in a shack overlooking a gulch, and takes out his manhood issues on two-timing blondes he picks up in bars, murdering them with a pair of garden shears. A slim piece of evidence puts detectives on the hunt, but remorseless, baby-faced Carl is motivated by madness, and his next fixation is nice girl ‘Jane Saunders’ (Meg Randall), who’s not cheating on her spouse but is separated from him: that’s sufficient kill-logic for Carl.

Since this was an era when horrific murders weren’t shown in graphic detail, we’re spared that grisly aspect. Initially the film holds the promise of tension and pursuit that can be well-mined, with familiar bad guy Williams given a rare lead, and dependable Edward Binns as the head investigator. Two definite plusses are the music score and location filming. The dramatic score was done by Herschel Burke Gilbert, who later handled the exemplary scoring for The Rifleman. Cameraman Joseph F. Biroc gets some vintage shots of the L.A. that was, including Chavez Ravine, a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood that was razed to make way for Dodger Stadium, and the clumsily executed chase was done under one of the new-fangled freeway interchanges (the Future of Traffic is here!) that would shortly strangle the sprawl.

That foolishly arranged chase, and the final laughably choregraphed confrontation are a pity: they, along with William Raynor’s too-simple script, and a poor performance from Miss Randall, fumble things after a decent first act.

77 minutes, with Harlan Warde, Robert Shayne, Angela Stephens (sultry blonde of interest), Connie Vera, Robert Foulk. **

* Nutcases of ’52. Considerably better was The Sniper, with Arthur Franz as a woman-hater who acts out his impulses. Beware, My Lovely had WW1 era schizophrenic Robert Ryan threatening Ida Lupino (they’d just been nicer to each other in the fine noir On Dangerous Ground). Don’t Bother To Knock had Richard Widmark dealing with unhinged babysitter Marilyn Monroe. As for the production trio who made this, Levy-Gardner-Leven, their their ensuing movie credits are mix of the good and the lame, their great success coming on TV with The Rifleman.

** The victimized vixen played by Angela Stevens didn’t make a wise partner pick in the movie, but a few years later, the actress had a costly non-fiction brush with sharp objects. She sued a dress shop owner for $36,500 (in 2022 that’s $378,550) after a “wild and vicious” ocelot attacked her in the store, biting the heck out of her arms and legs. Attacked. In a dress shop. By an ocelot. “Hoo-ray for Hol-ly-wood….”

Angela Stevens, 1925-2016. Maybe that ocelot was “just glad to see her.”

 

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