This expedient B noir opens with the most peculiar of narrative devices. The only guess is it’s somehow tied to the film’s roots in serial radio drama. A pack of poker-playing, late-night newshounds is chewing the fat, and out of their nattering comes the story of Tony Cochrane (William Gargan).
The real film starts in a kid’s bedroom. A father talks cops and robbers with his son along with roller skates and going fishing like they used to. The boy watches his “Pops” leave before entreating him to “Keep his nose clean.”
Gargan, a gruff, marble-mouthed type, fits the role of the nondescript detective on a beat, though he doesn’t seem like much of a family man. It’s not the only seemingly incongruity around him. His doting, overly angelic wife (Ms. Jeff Donnell), a typical noir staple, wants to see more of him because she loves him dearly. Expectedly, her very presence sets up an uneasy queasiness in the cinemagoer’s stomach. Where there exists a “noir angel” her foil must be nearby — a woman whose feet go down to death.
Sure enough, he’s knee-deep in a clandestine affair. He’s got another dame and what a vicious creature of deception she is. We’ve jumped from the seat of matrimony and domestic tranquility to the front seat of his car stashed away in some neglected place all the more convenient for necking.
Janis Carter doesn’t get too many kudos these days, even in noir circles, but a picture like Night Editor alone is worthy of hoisting her out of the shadows into a place of ill-repute. It’s more than scummy and vindictive enough to put her on the map.
Granted, a lot of the film’s dialogue is clunky but some of it is also too delicious to pass up in terms of noir-speak. One opening exchange between the surreptitious lovers springs to mind, “You’re just no good for me. We both add up to zero. You’re worse than blood poisoning.”
This is fertile ground for something devastating to happen. It turns out we don’t have to wait around because Cochrane and Jill happen to witness a nighttime murder just across the road. It’s the kind of punchy jolt movies like this thrive on.
Instantly the dramatic situation is placed before us conveniently because our protagonist is a cop — bound by some sense of morals and justice — he’s not completely ditched his conscience yet.
Still, her pleading words ring in his ears as he sticks out his gun to apprehend the killer. It’ll be a scandal. His wife and kid will suffer. And the worst part: She’s right. So the assailant runs off into the night and for the rest of the picture, he’s got to wrestle with his decision. It’s a petrifying situation to be in, and it’s got him all twisted up inside.
Soon enough, news of the murder breaks, and the game is afoot as Tony is called on to help with the case (and simultaneously looks to cover his tracks). Ole (Paul E. Burns) is his amiable colleague at the police station. Although he’s more Swedish and less imposing, he shares some overlapping qualities with Barton Keyes, employing the same kind of uncanny intuition. But, best of all, he’s a loyal friend.
Meanwhile, the newshounds sitting around the station wait with bated breath for scraps. There’s a feeling the case could blow wide open at any moment. It just so happens his gal is a smarmy high society gal where it counts, married to an affluent old boy. She’s a trophy wife out on the prowl. However, she’s also got another budding love affair — no doubt one of many — but this one is of particular importance.
A flattering man named Loring who works at the local bank holds the keys to the case. Except only Tony and Jill know it. When she effectively provides him a fictitious alibi, Tony is all but forced to live a lie and eat his words as she walks off with another man. Truth is often created by the people who speak first, and there’s no way for him to easily refute her.
What’s before him now is an extension of his living nightmare. No girl, no relief, and, of course, his home life has suffered due to his increasing aloofness. There’s little recourse but to take a stand against Julia — with one final stab at veracity — lest the lies eat him alive.
It’s a foregone conclusion. Their final confrontation cannot end well. There’s too much between them, of both malice and consequence, for any decision to resolve itself smoothly. And so in the kitchen, sure enough, he lets her know he’s going to talk — someone’s going to believe him.
Her reaction is almost cute. The doe eyes. The breathiness. The physical touch and the vaguely genuine show of sincerity. There’s an inkling that it might be true. But even if it is, she’s predisposed toward the violence and self-preservation all but ingrained in her very nature.
He staggers out into the living room in a near surreal state, with a new resolve and calm cast over him. Still, we’ve witnessed something bearing irrevocable consequences. Out on the doorstep stand the authorities. Surely, this is the end…Then, he crumples to the ground — the dramatic exclamation point to a sordid procedural.
Sadly this quagmire of fatalism was not to be, all but remedied by the same hokey radio program hoax as the editors tie the story up with an ending fit for an innocuous Disney movie. Until this final false step of pollyannaism, Night Editor more than earns its keep as a wanton noir gem. You just have to look between the bylines.