It wasn't uncommon for the filmmakers behind mid-century noirs to fuse the then trendy themes of psychoanalysis and assorted related social problems to their hard-boiled storylines. Noirs as disparate as 'Crossfire', 'The Dark Mirror', and 'He Walked by Night' delved, to varying depths, into the tortured souls of their lead characters, and gave them a showcase in the form of an 80 minute matinee.
One such film - Edward Dmytryk's engrossing and refreshingly balanced 'The Sniper' (1952) focuses on an alienated young San Franciscan Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz), a dry-cleaning driver with a deep-seated resentment towards women. Though the origins of his psychosis remain somewhat murky, we're lead to believe that he's the product of an abusive mother - and as a result his relationships with all women are fraught with dysfunction.
Living a solitary existence in a furnished room, Eddie flirts with the idea of using his high-powered rifle to anonymously murder a happy young woman from his high window - but he fights the urge and hampers his ability by badly burning his trigger hand. While getting it treated, a gentle hospital worker suspects self-infliction, and coaxes some info. from him regarding his psych.-patient past. Seems that Eddie has done time for battery, and feels the urge flaring up again - but when the worker turns his attention to other patients, and Eddie's psych. doctor proves unreachable, his cries for help go unanswered - and the fire re-ignites.
Shortly thereafter, Eddie targets an attractive work customer (Marie Windsor), an entertainer who expressed mild interest but ultimately passes him over. Leaving work late one night she is caught between his crosshairs and is 'punished' - her body smashing through a glass display case in one of noir's more disturbing murder scenes.
Enter Lt. Kafka(!) (Adolphe Menjou), and Sgt. Ferris (Gerald Mohr). Assigned to the case and determined to crack it, the two begin their hunt for a suspect just as a second woman falls victim to Eddie's sharp-shooting skills - the unsuspecting target a barfly who humiliated him. During a jarringly tacky line-up scene replete with would-be comedy-relief suspects, we meet Dr. Kent (an earnest Richard Kiley) who though at odds with his cop counterparts proves he has Eddie's number when he later suggests to the city's blustering officials that proper treatment for captured sex offenders - not jail time -would've prevented this and other 'Eddies'.
More insensitive and indifferent people unwittingly stoke Eddie's coals, and more women are gunned down. Following a chilling sequence at a carnival where an increasingly hostile Eddie frightens onlookers with his hand/eye coordination, Kafka and crew close-in by finding a piece of his hand-bandage at a crime scene and confirming his i.d. with the hospital. Atop a roof and seconds away from taking another life, Eddie shoots a would-be witness before high-tailing it home where the police surround him, break in, and find him sitting quietly - a tear of relief streaming down his cheek.
Dmytryk, no stranger to noir, sets a dry and non-sensational tone that elevates his work out of the 'b' movie ranks. But, this is Franz's film. His beautifully rendered portrayal of a fringe-dwelling tortured soul is a 50's noir highlight. His average looks and strong acting abilities combine to create a character not unlike a 50's 'Taxi Driver'. Psychologically alienated, he's a storm in a bottle - ill-equipped to live within societal boundaries.