April Showers: Follow Me Quietly (1949)
Though April showers may come your way, they bring the flowers that bloom in May, so if it's raining, have no regrets. It isn't raining rain, you know. It's raining violets. Join us as we play in the rain this month.
ADAM WILLIAMS: A simpler premise could hardly be created: when it rains, The Judge murders. Follow Me Quietly is about Police Lieutenant Harry Grant (William Lundigan) as he closes in on the trail of a serial killer who seems to be triggered by downpours. Meanwhile, ambitious reporter Ann Gorman (Dorothy Patrick) of the trashy Four Star Crime magazine is trying to get the scoop on the slayer who goes by the moniker The Judge.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: My expectations of this film left me ultimately disappointed. I was under the impression that this was noir, and although it has elements of the genre, it resembles a routine crime thriller more than a pessimistic noir. Our sympathy is always with the police, never with The Judge. We also never see the murders or even the prelude to the murders, only the aftermath.
AW: It feels like a story in a true crime magazine. The opening has the feel of a typewriter pounding out the story in as few words as possible. It’s a rainy night. We see the legs of a woman in heels and a raincoat pacing back and forth on the pavement. Leonid Raab’s tense music mirrors the movement of the lone female caught in the shower. The camera pans up to Dorothy Patrick’s face. She peers off into the distance, takes one last drag from a cigarette before flicking it away, and walks into The Tavern. Like the name of this establishment, everything in the movie is completely stripped down to the basics.
SG: Patrick was a John Robert Powers model who became known as the Chesterfield girl. She is lovely, and has spunk, but her part isn't developed enough to really allow her to stand out. This movie has style, but only up to a point. There is a nice scene between Grant and Gorman where she lights his cigarette and a variation on "Two Sleepy People" plays in the background. I would have liked their relationship to have been developed further. The rain sequences are nice, and efforts were made to put damp on the hats and shoulders of the policemen as they entered the crime scene out of the rain, and the wet stains were relatively consistent between shots. However, this film reminded me more of Dragnet than The Big Sleep, more grit than polish.
AW: This is the type of movie where the naïve reporter instructs the driver, “Follow that cab!” Where the grizzled police inspector growls, “I want results!” Where the jaded but pragmatic partner chastises the obsessive lieutenant, “Don’t you know when it’s time to quit?” Any one of these lines, any one of these scenarios, could be taken from the countless police procedurals which crowded radio, film, and television post-World War II. While the basic beats of the script have been rehashed countless times over the ensuing years, there’s still some distinctive moviemaking at work here.
SG: The reimagining of the confrontation with The Judge in the first investigation was well-choreographed. The fight sequence is authentically chaotic, but planned well enough never to reveal The Judge's face. Had there been more action scenes, I probably would have liked the film more.
AW: Regardless of how good a crime film is, it’s difficult to recall the specifics when the title is as dull as Follow Me Quietly. Now, if you remind me that this is the one where the police create a dummy of the serial killer, I’ll recall it instantly. Harry Grant announces to the force that instead of a bulleted list of characteristics or a simple sketch, the department has created a life-size dummy of the murderer to aid in his capture. The thing stands with its back to the audience, harshly spotlighted in front of the lineup background. After being “interviewed” (wherein Grant provides the voice via microphone), they spin the lifeless figure around to reveal the dummy’s blank face. It’s an early example of a jump scare, RKO’s stock in trade ever since that bus suddenly arrived in 1942’s Cat People. It’s here that the movie begins to feel uncanny, downright Lewton-esque. Listen to Grant’s outrage as he condemns spicy detective magazines—“polluting minds until some poor dope gets ideas and goes on a homicidal holiday”—and you get an uneasy feeling there is more to this movie than meets the eye.
SG: This is where the movie lost me. Are people really so unimaginative that they need a dummy without a face to picture who the potential killer could be? That dummy could have been anyone, proven by the many suspects the police dragged in to interrogate, including one man who issued a false confession after being berated for a period of time.
AW: It makes no logical sense, and that's why I love it. It's a surrealist image, almost like a Magritte painting, stuck in the middle of what seems to be an ordinary police procedural. There's a sense that Grant himself is being mapped onto the blank surface of the dummy. Grant’s partner matter-of-factly tells him, “You’re getting to be more like The Judge every day.” Indeed—at the end of the film, there’s a tense moment where Grant lurches toward the camera through cascading water, a look of animalistic savagery in his eyes. There are several traces that foreshadow this complete transference of rage such as Grant voicing the dummy and, later, pretending to be the murderer in the diner. One-hour 1940s programmers don’t usually invite such interpretations, but on this viewing, I thought perhaps that The Judge was not acting alone. The motivation for the murder of the suburban housewife was so vague that I revisited the second half of the film with the premise that Grant had taken over the killing spree in place of The Judge (this could’ve accounted for the quasi-supernatural scene where the dummy comes to life—it’s hard to read this scene literally). Ultimately, I don’t think this was the filmmakers’ intention but it’s the kind of movie that sticks in the mind as much for what it shows as what it doesn’t.
SG: Wait, that wasn't supposed to be real? I thought The Judge was meant to be taunting them, and that he intended the police inspector to be his next victim but his plan was foiled by the presence of his partner.
AW: That's what's in the script, but my imagination takes over.
There is some excellent pre-production work in this film such as the cover of Four Star Crime, the almost-too-realistic crime scene photos, and Grant’s glass-encased mementos of The Judge. For such a modest production, there’s an unusually concerted effort to make an impression. It must’ve paid off for director Richard Fleischer—his career survived the collapse of the studio system and stayed strong into the 1980s. He was able to revisit the idea of psychopathic killers in The Boston Strangler (1968), See No Evil (1971), and the absolutely harrowing 10 Rillington Place (1971). Although a little quaint by today’s standards, Follow Me Quietly still surprises. It’s a finely made, thoughtful B-picture. Four stars.
SG: This film recently ran at a screening put on by the Syracuse Cinephile Society and it went over well. Screenland's reviewer said, "Good police work, eerie atmosphere, and thrills galore make this a must for mystery fans." I just couldn't get into it. It wasn't enough of any one thing to really hook me. None of the characters stood out enough to grab me, The Judge was too mysterious and absent for me to be interested in his story or to invest myself in the case, the use of rain was impressive but there wasn't enough atmosphere in the interior scenes. Follow Me Quietly was fine but nothing special. Two stars.