Cast & Crew
Edward J. Montagne
In New York City's Central Park, a woman is found shot to death in a stolen car. Police captain Lundquist assigns the case to veteran homicide lieutenant Corrigan and Detective Frank Tobin, a college-educated "rookie" from the forensics bureau. Tobin immediately impresses the skeptical Corrigan when he examines the stolen car and deduces that the unidentified victim was not shot in the car and that her killer is a man of average height. Later, as the two detectives are about to enter the autopsy room at the police morgue, a crazed old man is caught cutting the victim's body with a knife. Tobin chases the old man into the morgue's basement and shoots him before he can attack Corrigan with the knife. Corrigan recognizes the old man as "Billy Alcohol," a longtime drunk, and speculates that he was paid by the woman's killer to mutilate her body.
The medical examiner then reveals that although Billy removed a tattoo from the victim's arm, a photograph of the tattoo had already been taken. In addition, the medical examiner notes that the corpse had fallen arches and purple ink on her thumb, suggesting that she may have been a waitress. Forensics chief Captain Gavin then announces that the fatal bullet was filled with sand to prevent ballistical identification. He also presents Tobin and Corrigan with an unusual grass sample found on the stolen car's gas pedal and advises them to talk with a botanist about its origins. While Corrigan leaves to conduct inquiries at restaurants around the city, Tobin discusses the case with attractive botanist Mary Mahan. Mary quickly identifies the grass sample as a species found only in the Midwest, but then uncovers a report that refers to an isolated sighting of it in the Bronx. Before Tobin can follow up on Mary's findings, he is ordered to accompany Corrigan, who was unsuccessful in his waitress search, to some tattoo parlors. One tattoo artist identifies the victim's tattoo as the work of Brooklyn parlor owner Johnny Marseille.
At Johnny's, the detectives learn that the woman came in twice to his parlor, first to get a joint tattoo with her husband, Merchant Marine Al Raditz, whose ship was sunk during the war, and a year later, to add a Marine emblem to it. After Johnny remembers that the woman worked in a Brooklyn café, Tobin and Corrigan canvas all the local "beaneries" and finally corner her boss, Joe Canko, who reluctantly informs them that her name was Lottie Morrell. Through information supplied by Joe, Tobin and Corrigan find Lottie's last known address in the Bronx and discover that she had a number of GI insurance policies under various names. As they are searching her apartment, the detectives realize they are being watched by someone, but are unable to catch the man. Later, after Lottie is identified as a convicted swindler and bigamist, Tobin joins Mary in a search for the Midwestern grass, but is called away to investigate Johnny's beating death.
From the murder scene, the police secure fingerprints that identify Johnny's killer as Raditz, Lottie's first husband, who, they learn, fled to Canada during the war. The detectives speculate that Raditz and Lottie were blackmailing each other, and that Raditz killed Lottie. Gavin then reports that a microscopic examination of sand taken from Raditz's bullet suggests that he was working as a granite cutter at the time of Lottie's murder. Putting the grass and sand clues together, Tobin has a hunch that Raditz might have been working on a tombstone at a Bronx cemetery the day he killed Lottie. Tobin's guess proves accurate as he discovers a recently dug gravesite where a patch of the Midwestern grass is growing.
Tracing the tombstone to Fisher Monumental, Tobin and Mary then question the owner, who, unknown to them, is being threatened into silence by a hidden Raditz. Eventually, however, Tobin deduces Raditz's presence and, after sending Mary to get backup, becomes involved in a shootout with the murderer. Although Tobin is wounded in the exchange, he kills Raditz just as Corrigan and the Bronx police arrive with Mary. After Corrigan chastises his partner for taking Raditz on singlehandedly, he blesses Tobin's budding romance with Mary.
Edward J. Montagne
Phil Reisman Jr.
The Tattooed Stranger
Inspired by the success of Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948), The Tattooed Stranger (1950) is a gritty, slice-of-life crime thriller from RKO that sprang from the studio's documentary short subjects on police work. Director Edward J. Montagne and producer Jay Bonafield used their own short, Crime Lab, as the basis for this fictionalized exploration of police forensics and interrogation.
A theatrical production and exhibition dynamo, the oft-bought-and-sold RKO Radio Pictures established itself as one of the chief studios for film noir, that fatalistic, shadowy cross-pollination of mystery, crime drama and horror that became one of the twentieth century's most influential filmic styles (or genres, depending on one's critical stance). Along with Universal, RKO churned out some of the most important noir films including such cornerstones as Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past (1947), Val Lewton's astonishing string of noir horror hybrids like The Seventh Victim (1943), and Richard Fleischer's The Narrow Margin (1952). The noir definitions only partially apply to The Tattooed Stranger, which has no existentially anguished private eyes or seductive femmes fatales; only Tobin's pessimistic job outcome and the grimy, sinister urban setting betray the film's RKO origins. As indebted as it is to past works, this film also looks ahead to a number of watersheds. The fictionalized 'true crime' approach was about to explode later that decade on television courtesy of Naked City (the show, not the film), while the 'mockumentary' approach would only achieve full public acceptance decades later. For further proof, one need look no further than the proliferation of shows like Law and Order and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (not to mention their various offshoots) to note that this film would not have been out of place if made today.
By the time The Tattooed Stranger was released, RKO had undergone massive changes due to a high-profile regime change. Aviation legend and eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes was already notorious in Hollywood for his lavish WWI spectacle, Hell's Angels (1930), and the scandalous, widely censored Jane Russell Western, The Outlaw (1943). Hughes assumed control of RKO in July of 1948, followed by a flurry of employment cuts and personnel changes. Despite his increasingly eccentric behavior including a legendary germ phobia, Hughes managed to get a few lofty projects off the ground, albeit shakily; the John Wayne fighter saga Jet Pilot (1957) began rolling in 1949, and the occasional prestige title like Fritz Lang's Clash by Night (1952) managed to squeak out amidst Hughes' pet projects designed for Jane Russell. A lower profile release, The Tattooed Stranger was a typical programmer for the period and, thanks to an absence of heavyweight names behind or in front of the cameras, was completed quickly and modestly.
By 1952, RKO was embroiled in a McCarthy-era Red scare involving Hughes' well-publicized legal battles with blacklisted writer Paul Jarrico, leading to a public statement and policy change from Hughes: 'We are going to screen everyone in a creative or executive capacity. It is my determination to make RKO one studio where the work of Communist sympathizers will not be used'. (Betty Lasky's RKO: The Biggest Little Major of Them All). After changing hands back and forth between Hughes and a corporation with ties to organized crime, RKO was finally sold off to TV in 1955.
The collapse of RKO curtailed any further New York crime sagas for Montagne and Bonafield; the former went on to several TV assignments and a string of popular Don Knotts comedies including the perennial The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966). However, the most colorful fate was reserved for the private man whose money funded the film itself; Hughes became increasingly reclusive after his tenure with RKO, becoming an elusive mystery even greater than that of The Tattooed Stranger.
Producer: Jay Bonafield, Douglas Travers
Director: Edward Montagne
Screenplay: Philip H. Reisman, Jr.
Cinematography: William O. Steiner
Film Editing: David Cooper
Art Direction: Sam Corso, William Saulter
Music: Alan Shulman
Cast: John Miles (Det. Frank Tobin), Patricia Barry (Dr. Mary Mahan), Walter Kinsella (Lt. Corrigan), Frank Tweddell (Capt. Lundquist), Rod McLennan (Capt. Gavin), Henry Lasko (Joe Canko).
by Nathaniel Thompson
The Tattooed Stranger
According to modern sources, this film was inspired by producer Jay Bonafield and director Edward J. Montague's two-reel documentary Crime Lab, which was released in 1948 as part of RKO's "This Is America" series. Many reviewers commented on the documentary-like style of the picture. According to a news item and reviews, in addition to studio filming at RKO Pathé in Harlem, location shooting was done around New York City, including Central Park, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The budget of The Tattooed Stranger was a modest $124,000, according to modern sources. The film marked the motion picture debut of Jack Lord who went on to star in the popular television series Hawaii Five-O, which ran on the CBS network from 1968 through 1980.