Crime Wave (1954 film)

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Crime Wave
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndre de Toth
Written byBernard Gordon
Richard Wormser
Screenplay byCrane Wilbur
Based on"Criminal's Mark"
The Saturday Evening Post 1950
by John Hawkins and Ward Hawkins
Produced byBryan Foy
StarringSterling Hayden
Gene Nelson
Phyllis Kirk
CinematographyBert Glennon
Edited byThomas Reilly
Music byDavid Buttolph
Color processBlack and white
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • January 12, 1954 (1954-01-12) (United States)
Running time
74 minutes
CountryUnited States

Crime Wave (also known as The City Is Dark) is a 1954 American film noir starring Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson, and directed by Andre de Toth.[1] It was adapted from a short story which originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post - "Criminal Mark" by John and Ward Hawkins.[2]


'Doc' Penny and two other members of his gang, who have recently broken out of San Quentin, rob a gasoline station. In the process a police officer is killed and one of the gang members is wounded. As a city-wide search ensues, a hard-nosed detective named Lieutenant Sims searches records in an effort to determine if there is an ex-con in the vicinity of the thugs' abandoned vehicle who might give them shelter. Sims rejects professionalism and logic and operates on raw emotion. He feels that Steve Lacey is a likely candidate for the escapees to seek out, despite him leading an exemplary life since completing his prison sentence two years ago, and has an underling call the man. In fact, Steve regularly receives unwanted phone calls from ex-cons who pass through town and try to solicit money or other help from him. That night, Steve had already received an anonymous call from someone both he and his wife Ellen assumed to be yet another former prisoner, and when the police call, she persuades him to not pick up. Steve's unresponsiveness only confirms Sims's suspicions, and the detective sets out to check on him personally.

Gat Morgan, the wounded man, knocks at Steve's door. The escapee has already summoned a disreputable, alcoholic former doctor who is now a veterinarian, Otto Hessler, whom both men knew in prison. Steve demands Morgan leave, but he says he is "hurt bad" and cannot move. Shortly after he says this, he dies. The doctor arrives and confirms this, grabs his fee from the dead man's jacket, and leaves. Steve realizes that the other two escapees, Penny and Hastings, will likely arrive soon. Steve hesitates to call the police, believing they will jam him up over this, but Ellen prevails on him to phone his parole officer. Just as Steve makes the call, Sims arrives. The detective relentlessly grills Steve, espousing "once a crook, always a crook", and then takes him to jail, where he threatens the ex-con with fresh charges if he does not help catch Penny and Hastings. Steve refuses to cooperate, and after three days he is finally released.

When Steve and Ellen return home, Penny and Hastings turn up and impose themselves. Fearing for Ellen's safety, Steve resigns himself to hiding the two men for "a couple of days." Meanwhile, Sims visits Hessler and persuades him to go to Steve's to ascertain if he has heard, or expects to hear, from his old prison mates. The veterinarian does what he is told and happens to overhear men's voices in the apartment, though he does not see anyone other than Steve. After Hessler is shaken up by Steve and leaves, Hastings takes Steve's car and follows the doctor to the veterinary hospital. Before Hessler can call Sims to report what happened, Hastings murders him, but the killing is noisy and alerts someone in the hospital who calls the police.

Penny lays out the details of his plan to rob a bank. Steve initially refuses to take part in the heist, but Hastings returns and explains that he had to abandon Steve's car near the hospital to evade the police; with the car certain to be found and used to link Steve with Hessler's murder, Penny notes that Steve no longer has any choice about his involvement. The group departs the apartment to prepare for the bank job. As predicted, the car is soon found by Sims, who issues an all-points bulletin on Steve Lacey on a charge of murder.

Steve, Ellen, and the criminals rendezvous with two other thugs at a hideout. Steve's role in the bank job is to be the getaway driver. To ensure Steve's compliance, Ellen will stay behind with one of the thugs, Johnny Haslett, who will kill her if the robbery goes wrong. When the robbers pull the job, they are ambushed; the entire bank is staffed with plainclothes police officers. Penny is shot dead, and the other robbers are killed or captured. Steve takes off for the hideout, with Sims in pursuit. At the hideout, Steve fights off Johnny long enough for Sims to catch up.

Sims takes Steve and Ellen away in his car, with Steve convinced he will be sent back to prison. However, Sims reveals that the police learned of the robbery in advance thanks to a note that Steve left in his medicine cabinet. The detective then tersely lectures Steve about how he endangered the lives of himself and his wife by not informing the police about Penny and Hastings at the earliest opportunity, pointing out that the note could easily have been missed or misunderstood. He warns, "Next time, Lacey, call got trouble, you need help, call me." To the couple's relief, Sims drops them off and sends them home.



Location shooting at downtown Los Angeles' Wall Street in Crime Wave

Much of the film was shot on location in Los Angeles and in nearby Burbank and Glendale. At least one 1952 location, Sawyer's Pet Hospital at the corner of San Fernando Road and Alma Street in Glendale, is still standing and still a pet hospital, albeit with a different name.[when?] Several locations seen onscreen, like the Bank of America on the southwest corner of Brand Boulevard and Broadway in Glendale (where the film's big robbery attempt takes place), as well as the distinctive dental building across Brand Boulevard, have been torn down and replaced.

The final chase scene from the bank in Glendale to Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, though edited, follows the actual route, including Brand Boulevard and the Glendale Boulevard fork on the Hyperion Viaduct, until Steve Lacey reaches the house (possibly on Maple Street, just east of Los Angeles Street in the Chinatown district) where the crazed Johnny Haslett is holding Lacey's wife. The gas station in the film's opening scene, on Wall Street just south of East 3rd Street, near Boyd Street, has since been demolished. Other specific downtown Los Angeles locations include Los Angeles Union Station and the Los Angeles City Hall (including interiors of the Homicide Bureau). The final scene, where Lt. Sims sends Steve and Ellen home, was shot on the 200 block of North Main Street, with Sterling Hayden leaning against the side of the City Hall Building.


Crime Wave was first released in Italy and Britain in 1953. It premiered in the U.S. on January 12, 1954 in New York City.[3]


  1. ^ "The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time". Paste. August 9, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  2. ^ Crime Wave at IMDb.
  3. ^ "Crime Wave: Release Dates". Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Retrieved November 16, 2020.

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