Today’s movie is Shield for Murder (1954) and it is badass. Edmond O’Brien is amazing as a bad guy. Director Howard W. Koch managed a bunch of really tough guys and beautiful dolls in this late Film Noir. I was amazed that movies this good are just floating around out in the inter-webs.
I’ll stop gushing. We have quite a few show veterans so I’ll get going with them.
John Agar, a part of the John Wayne group was cast as Detective. Sgt. Mark Brewster. Agar was covered in Episode 15 – The Undefeated (1969).
Carolyn Jones had a small role as bar girl Beth. Jones was covered in Episode 99 – The Big Heat (1953).
Tough guy Claude Akins played gangster Fat Michaels. Akins was covered in Episode 110 – The Caine Mutiny (1954).
Both Emile Meyer as the stern Capt. Gunnarson and Richard Deacon uncredited as The Professor were covered in Episode 35 – Blackboard Jungle (1955).
William Schallert had a small role as the Assistant District Attorney. Schallert was covered in Episode 14 – Band of Angels (1957).
Marlena English played the role of Patty Winters, the girlfriend of Detective Lt. Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien). Marlena English was born in San Diego in 1935. By the age of 12, she was nicked named Marla. The young beauty began modeling and acting in amateur theater. Marla won a local beauty contest in San Diego and this lead to her signing a contract with Paramount in 1952.
She started out playing small parts in movies like Red Garters (1954), Shield for Murder (1954), and Rear Window (1954). She got a big break when she was cast in The Mountain, a movie with Spencer Tracy that was being shot on location in France. For some reason, she withdrew from the project. The studio was so mad that they suspended her.
After this, it was all B-movies for Marla. These movies include Three Bad Sisters (1955), Runaway Daughters (1955), The She Creature (1955), Flesh and Spur (1955), Hell’s Horizon (1956) with John Ireland, and Voodoo Woman (1957). She is noted as a great screamer.
Then she walked away for it all at the age of 21.
She was married for 56 years and had five children. Marla died in at the age of 77 in 2012.
Vito Scotti played Joe the bartender and was uncredited. Scotti was born in Naples and was fairly dark skinned. At the age of seven, Scotti’s family moved to the USA. His mother became very popular in the Italian theater. At the theater, Scotti learned pantomime and farce. He began performing this work on stage and then moved to movies. He had a great career playing waiters, officials, and other small ethnic parts.
This movie starts hitting right out of the gate. A man walks down a dark street. He checks his watch and lights a cigarette. He screws a silencer onto his snub-nosed .38. He watches a man exchange something with two men in a car. When the car leaves, the man with the .38, grabs the man that was by the car and walks him into an alley. When you hear them talking, the man from the car is a money runner and the man with the gun is a cop. The cop is Lieutenant Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien), a veteran policeman with 16-years’ service. The money runner tries to pay the cop, but when Nolan says $25,000, the actual amount he is carrying, he knows he is being robbed. Nolan shoots the money runner in the back, takes the money, removes the silencer, and then yells “halt or I’ll shoot” before firing two shots into the air. A crowd of well-dressed citizens rushes into the alley as they wait for the police to arrive.
Unknown to Nolan, his crime has been witnessed by Deaf-mute Ernst Sternmuller (David Hughes). A dirty cop just can’t get a clean break. As the police car drives to the alley, the credits roll.
Nolan’s partner and good friend Sergeant Mark Brewster (John Agar) shows up. Nolan says the shot went wild and he killed him by accident. Brewster makes out the report. Brewster and Nolan make it back to the station and a reporter Cabot (Herbert Butterfield) is there waiting to get the story. Nolan goes straight to the Captain of Detectives, Captain Gunnarson (Emile Meyer). Gunnarson is no nonsense and sends him to pull his personnel file. Cabot goes to Brewster and asks for the story saying that Nolan killed two people the previous year and one the year before that. Brewster sticks with his buddy.
Gunnarson takes the file and calls in Brewster with the report, leaving Nolan waiting. When he finally lets Nolan in he rips into him saying that he had better learn to stop thinking with his trigger finger or he will be back as a beat cop. He then says he will stand up for him and a justified shooting.
Brewster recommends that Nolan get away for a while. Nolan says he is going to see his girlfriend Patty Winters (Marla English). Nolan still has the stolen money in his overcoat. Patty is rocking fishnet stocking and a laced back and off the shoulders back and nearly off the front. top. She has been promoted from cashier to cigarette girl. Nolan freaks and roughs up Patty and the bar owner a little before he demands she get dressed and leave.
Back at the station two “gangster” private detective arrives. They introduce themselves as Fat Michaels (Claude Akins) and Laddie O’Neil and say they are working for Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders). Packy is the gangster that owns the $25,000. They leave a clear message with Brewster that Packy wants to see Nolan, and they want the money back. Brewster asks for a day from Cabot before the story runs.
Nolan is playing kissy face with Patty. He takes her out to a new subdivision and gives her a tour of a model home. Patty is struck by the nice house. He shows her the kitchen first. Wow! He leaves her in the house for a minute and goes out back. He buries the money against the back of the house while Patty practices hosting dinner parties. Finally, Nolan asks Patty to marry him. After seeing the kitchen, of course, she says yes.
Cabot lays it out for Brewster and he clearly says normal cops don’t kill and beat people for fun. Nolan drops Patty of at her apartment but Fat Michaels and Laddie are waiting in the shadows. They tell him that Packy wants to see him right away. When Nolan leaves the two hoods double back and grabs Patty. Brewster shows up and runs the two many off. Patty invites him in and he says he wants to talk about Nolan. She asks if Nolan is in trouble and says he is going to see Packy. Brewster lays out the entire premise of the theft. Patty tells of the house and the marriage plans. Brewster is doing everything he can to keep faith with his friend.
Nolan shows up a Packy’s place and he is welcomed in. Packy says he wants the money back that was taken from the money runner. The fight on the television reflects Nolan being knocked down. Packy says Nolan can’t hide anywhere if he doesn’t give the money back.
Packy is spreading the story to the newspaper. Captain Gunnarson is interested in the case as well with the newspaper story and the call to the station from Packy.
A beat cop brings a young punk into the station. Nolan talks to the kid and understands his whole back story. He gives him a little tough love and money to pay for the food he stole. Nolan says he did the same thing to Brewster many years before. The Assistant D.A. (William Schallert) comes out of the Captain’s office and starts going over the report of the killing with Nolan. At the same time, Deaf-mute Ernst Sternmuller arrives to tell about the killing he saw in the alley. He hands a note to Nolan saying he saw the killing. Ernst doesn’t recognize Nolan and Nolan says he will come see him later.
Brewster shows up at Patty’s house. He is checking Nolan’s movements and has them all mapped out. Patty says they were never apart from the time he picked her up at the club. Brewster gives her a warning to be careful until this is over.
Back at Ernst’s house, he writes out the full details on a pad of paper. Nolan arrives and sees the view of the murder was perfect from the house. Nolan starts trying to buy off Ernst but in a rage shoves him to the ground accidentally killing him. Nolan cleans off his prints and throws the dead body down the stairs. However, Nolan doesn’t see the written account.
Patty starts trying to track down Nolan but the police office says he went home sick. Nolan is sitting in a bar drinking double bourbons and smoking. The bartender Joe (Vito Scotti) keeps them coming. Nolan phones Patty’s work and home but can’t locate her. Beth (Carolyn Jones) rocking bleach blond hair moves in on Nolan. She gives him tough guy lessons on how to hold a cigarette. The duo moves to a booth.
Brewster gets assigned to the murder of Ernst. When he checks out the room, he finds the note pad and now knows that his friend is a killer.
Back in the bar, Beth has an odd triangle on her arm. She puts the lip lock on Nolan and he asks about the bruise. She doesn’t care where it came from and Nolan gets discussed. Nolan calls Patty and she lets him know the two gangsters came back and grabbed her. He then calls Packy and asks the two gangsters to come by the bar. Nolan switches his gun to the right side just before the two men come in. He grabs the men and savagely beats them with his pistol. He throws money on the table where Beth is and leaves.
When Nolan gets home, Brewster is there to take him in. Nolan tries to lie his way out of it. Brewster pulls his gun and tries to arrest Nolan. Nolan asks for a day head start. Brewster says no and Nolan jumps him and pulls a gun on him. Nolan starts to kill Brewster but then decides to just knock him out.
Nolan goes to Patty’s apartment and tries to get her to run away with him. He doesn’t tell her that he is on the run for murder. He becomes enraged that Brewster was at her house. He slaps her and leaves her crying on the bed.
Brewster takes the info to Captain Gunnarson and they begin an all-out search for Nolan so they can bring the bad cop in themselves. Nolan finds out they are looking for him. He changes into his beat uniform and is able to get past the cops looking for him.
Patty has disappeared from her house. Nolan uses some criminal connections to hide with the professor (Richard Deacon). The tickets and passports will cost Nolan $10,000 plus expenses for a total of $15,000. The deal will be made at Union High School that night.
Patty shows at the police station. She finally tells Brewster that Nolan was away from her for 5-minutes at the model home. Brewster knows that’s where the money is hidden. It looks like Patty and Brewster may be falling for each other.
The man with the tickets and passport shows up and Nolan pays him with a fake wad. Fat Michaels shows up with a beaten and bandaged head. Packy was behind the whole escape plan. Nolan breaks away and Fat Michaels wounds him. The two have a gunfight across the swimming pool, complete with screaming swimmers. Nolan jumps in a car and heads to the model home.
Brewster knows where Nolan is headed and he calls it in. They send every cop in the precinct towards the model home. Nolan makes it to the model home and shots one cop. He digs up the money. It’s too late the police are all around. He runs to the front of the house but is surrounded by a swarm of police cars. He fires at them and they are forced to gun him down. Brewster takes his badge and looks at it as the money lays scattered on the ground.
I guess what makes this movie so good is the way Nolan turns from good to evil or a happy moment goes from good too bad in a flash.
World-Famous Short Summary – Going for that cotton candy is like playing with fire.
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Beware the moors
 The San Diego Union-Tribune, Caroline Dipping, January 10, 2013
Shield for Murder (1954)
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