Someday Wagner, I’m gonna settle with you for it. I’m certainly gonna settle with you for it.
The Killer is Loose has holes — blast it with a Tommy gun it has such holes. It’s a little movie with a story that churns single-mindedly forward until its title character sprawls dead on a well-kept suburban lawn and all is once again right with the world — you can get back to your TV dinner now. It asks us to swallow a lot: happenstance, strange motivations, coincidences and contrivances — maybe even a miracle or two. The story unfolds so rapidly that you’ve gotta wait until the end to pick your nits — stop to raise an eyebrow and it just moves on without you, scoffers be damned. Who cares what happened to the other bank robbers? So what if the bank has a house safe instead of a vault!
A bank employee desperate for cash plans and successfully robs a bank as an inside job. At first the bank employee Poole (Wendell Corey) is considered a hero during the bank robbery but the police quickly figure out he’s involved in the crime. The police catch up with Poole and his young wife at their apartment. Poole’s wife is accidentally shot to death by the police during the gunfight. Poole is arrested, convicted and sent to prison for the robbery.
While behind bars, Poole plans his escape and revenge on the men that killed his wife, especially the leader of the police raid, Lt. Wagner (Joseph Cotten). Poole figures the best way to extract revenge is to kill Wagner’s wife, Lila (Rhonda Fleming). Now, the only way for the cops to recapture the robber is for a wary Wagner to use his wife as live bait.
New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther found nothing original about the film calling the lead actors (Cotten and Corey) "first rate" and the crime film "third rate."
Critic Bruce Eder gave a more favorable review and wrote, "Budd Boetticher was a filmmaker of consummate skill and many surprises, as anyone who’s seen his best Western dramas can attest. The Killer Is Loose (1956) only enhances his reputation in a totally unrelated genre, and in a stylistic mode that’s about as far as he could get from his most familiar work. Using a cast of conventional—albeit top-flight—Hollywood professionals, Boetticher takes them out of the studio and puts them into an almost totally location-shot drama, and turns them loose in that naturalistic setting. The result is an array of performances that are as arresting as the script is filled with improbabilities; indeed, the narrative momentum of Boetticher’s direction, coupled with a handful of excellent performances, overcomes a script that is just a little too heavy on coincidences to otherwise play true."
More recently, critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "A typical 1950s noir, distinguished by its rapid pace and taut script, that delves mainly into the character of the villain—making him out to be someone who went over-the-edge when he couldn’t take being ridiculed as a failure, anymore…The suburban atmosphere and the no-nonsense style of telling the story add to the blandness of the story and the failure to elicit anything out of the ordinary to the build-up of the suspense that comes with the climax. The result is a watchable film which could be seen for the sense of nostalgia of the 1950s it evokes, a time when it was more receptive for noir to work as well as it does."
The Dirty Lowdown