Ed Monigan is a Los Angeles policeman… or he was, at least, until being shot one night in the middle of the street. A young couple witnessed the shooting, but the shooter escaped in a getaway car.
Detective Mike Conovan (Van Johnson) takes on the case, assisted by fellow veteran detective Fred Piper (John McIntire) and a rookie detective they call “C. C.” (Tom Drake), because he dresses and acts like a “carbon copy” of Mike.
Mike, Fred, and C. C. begin their investigation, learning from the witnesses that the perpetrator had a “twisted left hand” and dark scars on his face. With these being their only clues to work from, the men try to solve the case of the murdered cop.
Scene of the Crime was directed by Roy Rowland. The screenplay was written by Charles Schnee.
The opening credits of the film roll over footage of old-school forensic investigation, showing a ballistics test done to match the markings on a bullet. After the credits roll, we discover that the bullet in question killed a plainclothes policeman… and so, the story begins. It’s an attention-grabbing opening, and the film continues on an equally attention-grabbing path, with a fascinating investigation and a mood of mystery.
Scene of the Crime has noir-ish elements: Gloria DeHaven’s secretive showgirl character of Lili, not quite a femme fatale but a little bit sneaky; shadowy cinematography; a murder case; a cops-vs.-criminals plot with a few criminal cops thrown in. But I would classify this more as a police procedural, best when viewed by those interested in wordier mysteries and films focused on the details of police work. The spotlight shines on interrogations, informants, the progress made toward discovering the truth about Ed Monigan through thorough investigation.
Tom Drake’s character is a great addition to the film, a rookie investigator working with two more experienced detectives and attempting to learn from them. The dynamic between Drake and Johnson is particularly interesting to watch. They don’t call the rookie “C. C.” for no reason. In Johnson’s character, the viewer sees the future of “C. C.”
Since the film is on the wordy side and those character dynamics play such a part in keeping things interesting, another benefit to Scene of the Crime is the caliber of the performances. Drake and Johnson are both very good, very believable as detectives.
Two of the film’s strongest performers, however, are the women in Mike’s life. Gloria DeHaven is great as Lili. She’s involved with shady people, but somehow doesn’t seem totally shady herself (at first, at least), and she’s very flirty with Mike. Arlene Dahl is somewhat Lili’s opposite as Mike’s wife. They have fun together and are clearly a loving couple, but her fears regarding her husband’s job influence her life greatly. She lives in constant worry that he’s doing to be killed on the job, which lends some depth to the film’s portrayal of the life of a detective.
With its habit of explaining every little step of the investigation in detail, Scene of the Crime isn’t quite as action-packed as it could be (or quite as memorable), but it’s still a pretty great watch with very good performances and a solid mystery story. The score: 3.5/5