The Tattoed Stranger, 1950. 9/10

A police procedural crime drama. The stranger is the murdered victim. Her case falls to Detective Frank Tobin (John Miles). Also involved are Captains Gavin and Lundquist (Rod McLennen, Frank Tweddell), Lieutenant Corrigan (Walter Kinsella), Dr. Mary Mahan (Patricia Barry), and Detective Del Vecchio (very early Jack Lord, doesn’t get to say “book ’em”). Sounding like bad guys’ names, there’s Aberfoyle (William Gibberson), Joe Canko (Henry Lasko), Fischer (Jim Boles), and Johnny Marseille (Arthur L. Jarrett).

On location setting; that’s interesting, a documentary touch. A black Buick abandoned in Central Park. And, a dead woman inside. The medical examiner and investigators converge on the ‘Jane Doe.’ Back at the police headquarters, Lundquist and Corrigan go over the bare bones of the case; Frank checks out the car.

Weirdly, a nutty-looking guy sneaks into the medical examination room trying to mess with the woman’s corpse. Pretty good cat-and-mouse chase on foot to catch ‘Billy Alcohol.’ Apparently, he was trying to deface her tattoo, presumably so she couldn’t be identified. They figure she was a waitress, which means canvassing about a million restaurants and employment agencies. A more mysterious clue is a whisp of some odd plant.

Frank checks it out with an expert, Dr. Mahan, that is Mary. The plant is native to the Midwest, but a type of it was found in some New York City lots. Next stop is tattoo parlors. They are led to Johnny; he did the tattoo job on the victim. He also knows who her boyfriend was–he had the same tattoo. Meanwhile Frank is working up the romantic subplot with Mary.

They finally find the ‘bean-pot’ where she worked. So the victim’s name was Lotty. Aha! Also, unbeknownst to the detectives, the guy with the matching tattoo was in the restaurant. Lotty’s former roommate steers the detectives to another hotel where Lotty also lived; apparently she was awful popular–a ton of aliases, four husbands, some exes. Another chase scene as the tattooed guy follows them; and they get wise and tail him. But he gets away and mugs the tattoo parlor guy.

More Mary/Frank stuff, pretty funny too. Anyway, the victim was into fraud, not to mention bigamy. Now, a picnic date to collect rare plant samples from various Bronx vacant lots. Johnny’s dead. Turns out the fingerprints at the scene belong to Lotty’s technically-dead husband number one. Tere’s another clue to ponder, this one involving building materials. Frank figures that a cemetery has both soil, stone, and plants. So, let’s look into it.

Conveniently, the first cemetery they visit is the suspicious one. Next stop is the tombstone works. Frank scopes out all of the crew; they all look creepy. In a back room, there’s a gun poking out a doorway. The boss is shot by the gunman; a cool shootout amongst the headstones. Frank’s wounded, but help arrives. Frank gets a clear shot, and drops him. That’s it.

This was much better than I thought. Far from being a dry procedural, this was very tense, and with its authentic atmosphere, compelling visually. The performances were surprisingly good; even the romance fit in well, adding some light touches to an otherwise gritty noir theme. Probably the best aspect was something stereotypical–Corrigan, the grizzled veteran, more-or-less good-naturedly bugging Frank, the newbie college boy.

That relationship is filled in so effortlessly and naturally, it not only adds to the authenticity, but also mirrors the action; from sarcastic and anxious, to jovial and reassuring. The pacing is so good that, paradoxically, for such a short film it seemed to cover a lot of ground, so that there’s the impression of complexity without any slow spots. I think it helps that there’s not only quick shifts in tone, but in also in exposition–interaction and dialogue are interspersed with action and scene shifts.

Very entertaining. Farmermouse liked that rare plant, so he ate up most of it. He gives The Tattoed Stranger nine tombstones. 9/10.

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