A busy Los Angeles intersection is still an Old West crossroads to Budd Boetticher, he tilts down from a street sign to a hood in fedora and shades in a shot that goes right into À Bout de Souffle. Manning the loan company counter is the soldier once dubbed "Corporal Foggy the Jungle Killer" (Wendell Corey), his back to the camera until a robbery alarm reveals a broad, heavy brow and anxious eyes behind thick specs. It’s an inside job, the police catch up with him and his beloved wife dies in a shootout; "I wasn’t even alive before her," he eulogizes, cradling her body. At the trial, he turns his blank gaze on the wife (Rhonda Fleming) of the cop responsible (Joseph Cotten). "Ever get used to it," the shaken woman asks another policeman’s mate. "No, but you get numb." From there it’s the slender trail separating prison camp and suburban neighborhood, the vengeful fugitive’s trajectory escalating from farm scythe to .357 Magnum. On an even keel between the noir of crime expressionism and the gris of police procedural, Boetticher contemplates Corey’s psycho-schnook in fascinated horror, the "obliquely slanted type" who’s a walking study in nearsighted, masculine obsession. With revolver in hand, he invades the kitchen of his former army sergeant (John Larch) and remembers wartime taunting and redemptive love, a near-frieze of bluff and revelation suddenly exploded like a milk bottle shattered by a bullet -- ten minutes worth more than the entirety of The Desperate Hours. The rope-tight storytelling builds to a remarkable climax in which stakeout rifles, shortwave transmitters and cross-dressing killers chip away at the bogus sanctuary of suburbia. The arena cleared, Boetticher is ready to ride into the desert with Randolph Scott. With Michael Pate, Alan Hale Jr., Virginia Christine, and Dee J. Thompson. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce