The Killer Is Loose

The Killer Is Loose is a 1956 American film noir crime film directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Joseph Cotten, Rhonda Fleming and Wendell Corey.[1]

The Killer Is Loose
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBudd Boetticher
Produced byRobert L. Jacks
Screenplay byHarold Medford
Story byJohn Hawkins
Ward Hawkins
StarringJoseph Cotten
Rhonda Fleming
Wendell Corey
Alan Hale Jr.
Music byLionel Newman
CinematographyLucien Ballard
Edited byGeorge A. Gittens
Crown Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • March 2, 1956 (1956-03-02)
Running time
73 minutes
CountryUnited States


An employee of a savings and loan company successfully robs a bank as an inside job. At first, bank employee Leon Poole (Wendell Corey) is considered a hero during the bank robbery, but the police quickly figure out he's involved in the crime. The cops catch up with Poole and his young wife at their apartment. Poole's wife is accidentally shot to death during a gunfight. Poole is arrested, convicted and sent to prison for the robbery.

While behind bars, Poole plans his escape and revenge on the policeman who killed his wife, Lt. Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten). Poole figures the best way to exact revenge is to kill Wagner's wife, Lila (Rhonda Fleming).

Poole escapes while working on a prison honor farm, murdering a guard. He kills again to gain access to a truck. Managing to avoid a highway roadblock set up by the police, Poole heads for the home of his former army sergeant, Otto Flanders, holding his wife captive and then killing Flanders in cold blood.

Wagner's wife is unaware that she is Poole's target. Wagner manages to get Lila safely out of town, but because she resents her husband's unwillingness to quit law enforcement, she decides to leave him for good. Lila then learns he was merely trying to protect her, so she heads back for their home, where Poole is waiting.



Budd Boetticher made the film with Lucien Ballard "the best cinematographer there ever was". They had made The Magnificent Matador and "when we got through with that, all the producers said, "don't let these two guys make a picture together ever again; they're tough as Hell; they don't care about the money; they're going to break the studio." I discovered that there was an eighteen-day picture called The Killer is Loose at Warner Brothers, so Lucien and I went there and we made it in fifteen days. And that put that rumor to rest. Joseph Cotten was the star a complete professional, always knew his lines."[2]

Critical reaction

The New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther, found nothing original about the film, calling the lead actors (Cotten and Corey) "first rate" and the crime film "third rate."[3]

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."[4]

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."[5]


  1. Crowther, Bosley. "New York Times: The Killer Is Loose". New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2008.
  2. Budd Boetticher: The Last Interview Wheeler, Winston Dixon. Film Criticism; Meadville Vol. 26, Iss. 3, (Spring 2002): 52-0_3.
  3. Crowther, Bosley. New York Times, film review March 3, 1956.
  4. The Killer Is Loose at AllMovie.
  5. Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, July 12, 1999. Last accessed: August 30, 2008.
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