Shield for Murder

Stars and is directed by Edmond O’Brien.  With John Agar, Emile Meyer, Claude Akins and Carolyn Jones.

I meant to mention in the previous Daily Film Blogs where I had watched the respective films.

Finding Altamira – Netflix streaming

White Heat – TCM

Shield for Murder (1954) appeared on Channel 278 (Comcast): Charge! It repeats many of its movies in between its many infomercials. Some of them I won’t be watching:

Muscle Beach Party (1964)    It’s a Bikini World (1967)     The Honkers (1972)       Fuzz (1972)

I wanted to write about Shield for Murder because I had neglected its star, Edmond O’Brien in my previous blog about White Heat. In the latter, O’Brien infiltrates Cody Garrett’s gang for the Treasure Department. His character, HankFallon/Vic Pardo , goes undercover in prisons as a specialty. He gains Cody’s confidence pretending to have idolized Cody since childhood. Only very late in the final caper at the chemical plant does Cody learn the truth.

CODY: A copper, a copper, how do you like that boys? A copper and his name is Fallon. And we went for it, I went for it. Treated him like a kid brother. And I was gonna split fifty-fifty with a copper!

O’Brien found his way into many great and classic films: The Killers (1946); D.O.A. (1950); The Hitch-Hiker (1953); The Bigamist (1953); The Barefoot Contessa (1954); 1984 (1956); Up Periscope (1959). But the 1960s may have seen him execute his greatest roles in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, as the newspaper editor who receives a horrific thrashing from Lee Marvin; Seven Days in May (1964), as a Senator investigating a potential overthrow of the U.S. Government; and The Wild Bunch (1969), as Sykes, the elder statesman of the Bunch.

Shield for Murder forces O’Brien’s dirty cop into murdering a bookie and taking twenty-five thousand dollars before the opening credits. In his own words: For 16 years I’ve been living in dirt, and take it from me, some of it’s bound to rub off on you.  You get to hate people.  Everyone you meet.  I’m sick of them. The racket boys, the strongarms, the stoolies, the hooligans.  I’m through with them all.” He wants the money to get a suburban home, fully furnished, for himself and his fiancé. It’s the shortcut to the American Dream.

Inevitably, he can’t pull it off. A gangster is after him for the money. He has other “justified” killings on his record. His best friend tries not to doubt him. But there is a witness, a deaf and dumb man. O’Brien dispenses with him and any chance for the audience to sympathize. Later, he pistol whips two thugs (including Akins) at a restaurant, perhaps the best scene of the film, whence the other customers watching it become both paralyzed and hysterical. Soon, evidence emerges that he was at the deaf man’s apartment. The Captain (Meyer) allows the police reporter to run a front-page story on the Murdering Cop.

On the run, abandoning his girl, O’Brien tries to get to Argentina, willing to spend most of his money to get tickets and papers. He’s set up by the hoods at a swimming pool at a school and narrowly escapes (the second best scene), killing Akins and soon heading for his dream house where he buried the money. The cops are waiting and shoot him on the front lawn.

The Rogue Cop movie is a standard movie and television trope. After watching Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant (1992), there’s no place to take this them. Keitel excites more sympathy from the audience, curiously, than does the ‘softer’ O’Brien. A serviceable if blunt film, Shield for Murder, did not let itself go structurally, as was done in Pushover (1954), with Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak, where you want the cop to get the money and the woman.




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