Van Johnson is on the Case! – Scene of the Crime (1949)

In Scene of the Crime we are treated to protagonist Van Johnson’s portrayal of a detective out to solve the murder of another cop who had been gunned down in the street while working a side job for a bookie.  The film was by no means the best crime or noir movie ever made but it was quite decent with some good performances from its actors, including the aforementioned Van Johnson.

The case took some twists and turns along the way with con-men and bookies, informants and double-crosses, but Van Johnson as Mike, was dogged in his determination to solve it.  Van Johnson was a leading man in Hollywood for many years, often playing the extremely squeaky-clean good guy, or the baby-face in most films he was in.  Romances, comedies and light-hearted fare was where you would most often find him, so it was nice to see him stretch his muscles a little bit to play a cop, albeit a good one that knows the score.

There are two women in the film as well for Mike to spend his time with, one being his wife played by Arlene Dahl and the other a nightclub songstress portrayed by Gloria De Haven.  Mike is in love with his wife Gloria, but as the case progresses he finds he must make nice to Lili to find out what she knows.  Of course, when spending time with a beautiful woman who has certain notions in mind, in this case altogether selfish, Mike cannot help but start to feel a little something for her.

Gloria De Haven is one of the real bright spots in the film as Lili and absolutely gorgeous.  She plays Mike like a fiddle and he does not even realize it until the end of the film.  At times it seems like she might be falling for Mike as well until we learn otherwise which lends credence to the saying ‘blinded by beauty.’  It is not to say that Arlene Dahl is not a beautiful woman either, and she cannot help but be jealous and a little scared for her man as well, as he gets deeper and deeper into the case.

Norman Lloyd is another highlight as the informant Sleeper.  His performance of the shifty snitch is spot on and he grates on your nerves just like you would expect him to with his constant ‘yuk yuks.’  It is also funny how the word ‘stinkin’’ was considered crass at the time the film was made and it shows how things have changed from then until now.  While much of the jargon they use has fallen out of use in today’s society, the film is not hard to follow because of it.

The movie, without meaning to, is also rife with clichés.  There is the jealous wife and the beautiful woman on the side, the detective and his older partner with failing health, the detective and his new partner fresh on the job, the wife who wants her husband to stop, the detective and his non-stop determination and so on and so on.  As the film was made in 1949, it is hard to say if they were clichés at this point in time, but for today’s audience, they will find that they have seen it all before.

When viewing this film, you might think to yourself that you have seen this before and you would not be completely wrong, due in no small part to the clichés that were just mentioned.  There have been many movies with comparable storylines that have come after, to greater or lesser effect, including television shows as well.  They say imitations are the sincerest form of flattery and when it comes to the crime genre, there is a lot of imitation to be found.  In no way does that make this a bad film, in fact the performances by our actors make it worth watching.  The film even boasts music from the great André Previn, composer of many a movie’s score.  So, while this will not be the greatest movie you have ever seen, it is a solid little crime-noir picture that will provide entertainment and divert your attention for the length of its duration.

3.5 out of 5

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