Follow Me Quietly, 1949. 8/10

A very taut, fast-paced crime drama. Nothing wasted here; there’s really only four characters of note: the police lieutenant and his partner, the lieutenant’s love interest, and the villain. Interestingly, the villain is a serial killer, a self-styled ‘Judge’ who kills to eradicate evil.

Looming over the action, snappy dialogue, and the pursuit of the Judge, is the continuing appearance of a dummy or duplicate Judge. That element lifts Follow Me Quietly out of a typical crime drama genre into the psychological film noir world. The actual dummy that the Lieutenant (William Lundigan) uses to help witnesses identify the killer is the most obvious double or ‘fake Judge’.

Another actor plays a mixed-up ‘fake Judge’ who confesses, but isn’t credible. He resembles the actual Judge (Edwin Max), and has the same nervous demeanor. The Lieutenant, in an eerie scene at his office, talks to the dummy; it turns out that it’s a ‘fake dummy’. It does take a bit too much suspension of disbelief, as many reviewers mention, to but that someone could sneak into police headquarters and hide in an office. We don’t know that the person (pretending to be the dummy) is the Judge, however. Maybe it’s someone messing with the detective with a macabre practical joke.

The dummy or doppelganger motif is further explored by having the dummy pose–sitting and looking at a book–for the waitress. She also tells the Lieutenant that he looked a lot like the Judge when he sat in the diner. All of these doubles, fakes, dummies, etc., refer back to the lieutenant.

This is not to say that the Judge is merely a projection of his over-worked, stressed-out self; maybe the Judge represents what could happen to a man, like the lieutenant, who gives in to his fears. His steely persona makes it all the more believable that such a person could snap.

In folding all of these elements together, though, a couple of loose ends threaten to unravel the otherwise superb Follow Me Quietly. As noted by many others, the Judge’s victims are hardly deserving of his vigilante-like crusade. The ones we see are ordinary, decent people, and there’s nothing to indicate that any of the victims are ne’er-do-well criminal types.

So what’s the Judge’s motive? If he were a guy used-up by life, he’d most likely go after those he felt had wronged him. But he seems to have chosen his victims at random. The other problem is Lundigan’s wooden, even petrified performance. In a crime drama, usually the love interest is a distraction; but here Dorothy Patrick’s Ann is a welcome counterpoint.

I felt the ending worked well. When the Judge starts running away, he looks back on a totally deserted street; as if life is abandoning him. The industrial plant makes a nightmarish urban maze that traps the Judge. I would’ve liked a scene, maybe with the Judge in his bleak hotel room, where we find out something about him. He’s an enigma, not quite real.

Follow Me Quietly takes us on a noir roller coaster ride that’s definitely worth a few dead ends. 8/10.

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