HE WALKED BY NIGHT. Eagle-Lion Films, 1948. Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell, James Cardwell, Jack Webb. Director: Alfred L. Werker, with Anthony Mann (uncredited).

   He Walked by Night was one of those movies that I knew existed and had always intended to watch. But for some reason, I never seemed to get around to doing so. Until now, that is. The verdict is mixed. On the one hand, there’s some excellent staging and cinematography — particularly in the last 20 minutes or so — in this true crime-inspired police procedural/film noir.

   But the story, as far as it goes, is a particularly thin one, with far less character development than one would hope for in a movie so intently focused on the ways in which a criminal eluded the police for so long.

   Richard Basehart portrays Roy Martin (alias Roy Morgan), a loner with a penchant for electronics who commits a crime spree in the greater Los Angeles area in the late 1940s.

   Among his crimes is the cold-blooded murder of a LA police officer. It’s up to the LAPD to hunt him down and bring him to justice. Leading the effort is Sgt. Marty Brennan (Scott Brady) who gets some much-needed technical assistance from a police forensics expert (Jack Webb).

   You wouldn’t know it from watching the movie, which gives next to no explanation for the crimes depicted on screen, but the backstory to the criminal portrayed by Basehart in He Walked by Night helps shed some light as to his possible motivations in carrying out his reign of burglary, robbery, and murder.

   The character of Roy Martin was based on the real life criminal exploits of Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker, a former Glendale, California, police department employee who engaged in a crime spree in LA County in 1945-46. Walker, a Cal Tech drop out who witnessed Japanese atrocities during his service in World War II, was likely traumatized by his combat experiences and the subsequent guilt he felt for surviving an attack that killed many of his fellow soldiers.

   Because of this lack of character development, the film ends up being a middling police procedural that, with a little bit of tweaking, could have been a far more formidable crime film. Still, there are enough gritty moments, particularly during the final sequence in which the LAPD hunts down Roy Martin in tunnels under Los Angeles, which should please film noir fans.