Without Warning (1952)

“Always remember that you may be dealing with a homicidal maniac.”

Without Warning examines the serial killings of a string of beautiful blondes. Stabbed to death with gardening shears, the corpses show up within a fifteen-mile radius in Los Angeles, and the police quickly establish a pattern to the killings. Unfortunately, there are very few clues, and Lt. Pete Hamilton (Ed Binns) and Police Detective Sgt. Don Warde (Harlan Warde) realize that it’s just a matter of time before the killer strikes again.

Advertised as a film noir title, Without Warning is low on character development, and instead concentrates on how the police solve the murders. Viewers know the identity of the killer almost immediately, and the action follows his predatory coasting through Los Angeles. Dubbed “The Love Killer” for his penchant for tasty blondes, the introverted villian, Carl Martin (Adam Killer) plays the role with just the perfect amount of desperate hunger for the next dead blonde babe. The film’s heavy emphasis on forensics and the authoritative voice-over lend an air of faux documentary style to the film. Several times throughout the film, the detectives wander into police chemist Charlie’s (Byron Kane) crime lab, and Charlie always manages to brew up fresh coffee and fresh clues for the police. Clothing fibres, footprints, and lipstick stains all add to the forensic details.

Without Warning contains degrees of campiness and peculiarity that, strangely enough complement the story. For example, the police keep a half dressed dummy in their office for re-enactments, and she’s ‘murdered’ several times by all the nutters who confess to the crimes. The plot contains a not-so-subtle moral message–several of the victims are married women who meet a grizzly end when they sneak out to commit adultery. Some scenes involve close-ups–the film opens with a blonde in a motel flat on her back staring with dead, open eyes at the ceiling; another scene focuses on the killer’s shoe. So there’s a taste of the bizarre from director Arnold Laven that blends with all the seriousness of the murders and the relentlessness of the investigation. The film also manages to maintain a level of tense suspense as Carl hunts for his next gullible victim.

The print is superb, and while it can be argued that Without Warning isn’t strictly noir (the definition of noir seems to be expanding with the increased popularity of the genre), it’s a interesting little film to watch.

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Filed under Crime, Film Noir

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