House is the better of the two, opening on the suburbian utopia of Hopkins Street on the morning of April 20. It’s a placid existence, complete with home delivery from the milkman. But when a phony postal worker knocks off a would-be trial witness on the watch of a rookie cop, there goes the neighborhood.
The detective in this one isn’t a P.I. at all, but newspaper managing editor Dave Joslin (Wayne Morris, of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory), much to the chagrin of his libel-fearing, bicarbonate-downing publisher (Alan Hale, The Adventures of Robin Hood).
As a result, Joslin is reassigned to assume the desk of the daily’s pseudonymous advice columnist, Dolly Trent, but he actually gets a lead on the murder case from a repeat lovelorn letter writer who comes to make a personal visit. Prepare yourself for an ol’ slipped Mickey!
In the grittier, aptly named Homicide, the detection falls to an actual detective, Lt. Landers (Robert Douglas, The Fountainhead), investigating the murder of a farmer near a lemon grove. As a drifter (Warren Douglas, Cry Vengeance) — not to mention the viewer — witness early on, the old man is killed by a couple of goons who pay him off to file a false report.
A grand jury buys the story and blames it on liquor, but not everyone does, including Landers, who must pose as an insurance investigator to get the answers he so desires. Speaking of desires, Helen Westcott (Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) sure become the target of his, what with her sultry uniform as a cigarette girl.
Both films are rather workmanlike in execution, free of directorial signatures in style. Yet both plunge right into their respective murder mysteries with an admirable swiftness to serve as comforting procedurals. Homicide even tries to evoke a little Naked City touch in its prologue: “They come … to murder or be murdered!” And we come to watch, glad that they do. —Rod Lott