The Tattooed Stranger (Warner Archive) Review

A police procedural with a great name and an intriguing premise, The Tattooed Stranger is nonetheless a big disappointment full of missed potential, primarily as a result of its tone. It starts in New York City's Central Park where a dead woman is found inside an automobile. The cops have little to go on since the victim has no identification. She was apparently killed by a shotgun, in another location and not while inside the car. This being a 1950 film, there's no visible blood to test. Instead, the homicide team assigned to the case must locate some clues amid this rather unusual crime scene. The two men - Tobin (John Miles), a newly transferred college graduate, and Corrigan (Walter Kinsella), a crusty veteran - have competing approaches. Tobin puts his trust in science while Corrigan believes old-fashioned detective work is most effective. Believe it or not, one of their big breaks turns out to be some grass found inside the car.

This grass then leads Tobin to a pretty botanist (Patricia White) and the young cop finds romance amid a murder case. Corrigan is meanwhile out hoofing it and putting two and two together rather than going out to the Bronx with doctor hot stuff. The other major development is alluded to in the film's title - the victim has a tattoo on her arm (which actually ends up being two tattoos). This allows for a scene early on where the cops visit a tattoo parlor together and crack wise about the freaks who get inked. Our modern tattooed culture might get a kick out of how tattoos are received by the police in this movie. One heavily-tattooed man is looked at in disbelief while getting some work done at the shop. That our victim seems to have gotten around, so to speak, probably wasn't so helpful in breaking down those barriers of preconception about persons with color inserted into their skin.

The science and forensics angle makes The Tattooed Stranger at least a little novel, especially since we see the skepticism of the old guard balanced against a younger, more educated alternative. Still, it isn't done nearly as well or with as much ambition as Mystery Street, which was released in the same year. There's also an unrelated problem where the tone of the picture carries little reverence at all for the seriousness of the job these men are doing and the victims involved. An almost inappropriate amount of humor is attempted, even beyond any potential aims of conveying cynicism. The Tobin character comes across especially poorly in this regard, making it regrettable that the movie spends so much of its hour-plus running time with him. Acting-wise, neither lead is particularly effective, and it's worth noting that this was the last credited screen role for Miles and the only feature film for Kinsella.

On the positive side, the picture, which was directed by Edward J. Montagne (whose other credits include the fifties television series Man Against Crime and the Don Knotts vehicle The Reluctant Astronaut), uses its New York City exteriors well and nicely captures a cheap, grimy feel for the city. The budget was probably quite small, having been made for RKO and with a nondescript cast which also briefly includes Jack Lord in an uncredited bit part. This frugality is evident at times during interior scenes, with the police station looking particularly claustrophobic. Fans of NYC-set crime dramas of this era such as The Naked City might still want to give this one a look considering the interesting use of locations. Also worth praising is the film's simple yet neat structure where the opening introduces us to the dead body and we follow the particulars of the case in a very straightforward, lean way. There's no time given to much outside this main thread. Even the murderer is never followed or even identified during the investigation. We stay with the detectives, knowing no more than they do. By film's end, the focus still remains on the case, with a cloying but brief digression for the romance between cop and botanist.


The Disc

The Tattooed Stranger was made for RKO and its rights now rest with Warner Bros. in R1. The WB released the film on DVD-R as part of its Warner Archive Collection. It hasn't been remastered but the progressive transfer, in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, actually looks decent most of the time. Contrast is fairly good and the image is occasionally soft but not muddy. For an RKO title of this era, this is more than fine, if somewhat inconsistent. Only the many instances of damage seriously mar the presentation. Scratches, including a long vertical line the length of the frame, and other marks persist throughout the movie.

The English mono audio is weak, though not overly hindered by damage in the track. Volume is low and sometimes cuts out. There likely were inherent imperfections in the original recording owing to the small budget. Subtitles would have helped but they haven't been included by Warner Bros.

Nothing in the way of bonus material here.


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