A sharp-shooting psychopath who hates woman goes on a killing
spree in San Francisco and is pursued by the police.
Director Edward Dmytryk started work on The Sniper just after he finished serving a 12 month jail sentence for refusing to co-operate with the infamous HUAC. Upon his release Dmytryk recanted and squealed to the HUAC naming names. Producer Stanley Kramer then offered him this Columbia production. Ironically, the veteran right-wing actor and HUAC collaborator, Adolphe Menjou, was signed to play an un-sartorial cop sans moustache. The NY-based Daily Worker was not impressed: “Movie director Edward Dmytryk, ex-member of the Hollywood Ten who turned informer for the FBI, is now palsy-walsy with his erstwhile foe – the rabid witch-hunter and haberdasher’s gentleman – Adolphe Menjou. Now Dmytryk and Menjou are together again – this time as friends. Menjou has a leading role in The Sniper, which Dmytryk, gone over to warmongering and restored to favor of the Big Money, is now directing for Stanley Kramer productions.”.
A solid b-production, The Sniper is a taut thriller, which does not quite come off as a film noir, although there are strong moments in this gritty story of a young loner battling a deep and violent pathological hatred of young woman. Shot on location on the streets of San Francisco, angle shots and off-kilter staging sustain the visual interest throughout, with those scenes in the seconds before the sniper shoots three of his victims being particularly suspenseful.
The acting is rather stolid and this weakens the drama. While the script attempts to explain the sniper’s pathology and sermonises on how the law should handle such offenders, there is little real depth to the portrayal. Filler scenes used to establish his immediate motivation are too obviously contrived, with the younger women he encounters socially being unnecessarily mean-spirited. But in a sequence in an amusement park, the pathology and the anger of the sniper are deftly explored without artifice and with chilling accuracy.
The police investigation has just too many convenient coincidences, and the meetings with the cops and the good burghers of ‘Frisco demanding action on the pursuit are too stagey by half. A fair b-thriller of considerable historical interest.