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Film / The Sniper

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The Sniper is a 1952 American Film Noir, directed by Edward Dmytryk, written by Harry Brown and based on a story by Edna and Edward Anhalt. The film features Adolphe Menjou, Arthur Franz, Gerald Mohr and Marie Windsor.

Eddie Miller, a delivery man, struggles with his hatred of women. This hatred is exacerbated if he feels drawn to a woman who turns out to be unattainable, he tends to see this as a personal affront. Also, he is especially bothered when he sees women with their significant others. Miller knows he is disturbed and, out of despair, burns himself by pressing his right hand to an electric stove. The doctor treating him in an emergency room suspects he might need psychological help, but gets too busy to follow through.

Miller begins a killing spree as a sniper by shooting women from far distances with an M1 carbine. Trying to be caught, he writes an anonymous letter to the police begging them to stop him. As the killings continue, a psychologist has the keys (early criminal profiling techniques) to finding the killer.

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No relation to Sniper, the action film series with Tom Berenger.


Tropes in The Sniper include:

  • Anti-Climax: Despite expectations of a violent shootout, Eddie Miller meekly surrenders when the police catch up with him: a pitiful figure cowering on his bedroom floor.
  • Antagonist Title: Eddie Miller, the eponymous sniper, has aspects of being a Villain Protagonist, but ultimately more of the film is devoted to the police efforts to catch him than to him and his crimes.
  • Cold Sniper: Eddie Miller calmly and dispassionately dispatches his targets. However, when he is not on a rooftop with his carbine, he is a emotional wreck.
  • Destroy the Evidence: Miller rips up the dress he brought home from the home of his first victim and burns it in the furnace in the basement.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Lt. Kafka experiences a minor one (in that it does not immediately bust the case) while complaining to Sgt. Ferris about the tips coming from the public, including one from the woman in the dunk tank talking about Miller hurling baseballs at her.
    Lt. Kafka: "A letter from a man who says..." <Beat> "Baseballs?" (gets a thoughtful look on his face and gets up and hurries from the room)
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  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Eddie Miller is a tightly compressed ball of rage waiting the smallest trigger—usually provided by a woman—to set him off. The best illustration probably occurs at the amusement park, where he goes from pitching baseballs with pinpoint accuracy at the trigger plate for the dunk tank to hurling them directly at the woman in the tank.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Eddie Miller is suffering from full-blown psychotic misogyny, caused by issues involving his mother in his childhood (although what they are is never elaborated). He eventually snaps and becomes a Serial Killer targeting brunette women under 30. Police psychiatrist Dr. Kent, an early version of The Profiler, correctly identifies that the police should be looking for man with history of crimes of violence against women.
  • The Peeping Tom: The police start calling in every known sex offender in the city to quiz them. One of the offenders in the first batch is a peeping tom. It is watching his interview that convinces Dr. Kent that this is the wrong tactic. As he explains to Lt. Kafka, sex offenders stick to a particular type of crime, and they need to be looking for someone with a history of violence against women, not peeping toms.
  • Police Procedural: Half the film shows the police manhunt for the eponymous killer, including showing how much of it is laborious legwork following avenues of investigation that ultimately go nowhere; while all the while the public is expecting them to work miracles.
  • The Profiler: Dr. James G. Kent, the police psychiatrist, may represent one of the earliest examples on film.
  • Revealing Injury: Miller is ultimately exposed due to the burn on his right hand. When he leaves the bandage behind at the scene of of one his crimes, the police realise that the sniper has a burnt hand. On reading that information, his supervisor realises that he might be killer and goes to the police. When Miller gets home, his landlady sees the burn on his palm and the gig is up. Ironically, Miller gave himself the burn in attempt to suppress his desire to kill.
  • Reluctant Psycho: Eddie Miller knows that what he is doing is wrong but cannot stop himself. The night before he commits his first murder he deliberately burns his hand on a hotplate in an attempt to have himself committed to a psych ward. This almost succeeds, but a wave of patients from a major accident causes the doctor to forget about Eddie. After his murder, Eddie sends an anonymous note to the police begging them to catch him before he kills again.
  • Self-Harm: Eddie Miller attempts to overcome his impulse to kill by deliberately burning his hand on hotplate.
  • Serial Killer: Miller targets brunette women under 30.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: A patrolman shoots out the lock on Miller's door with a Tommy gun.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The teenager prowling the rooftops with an inoperative rifle while the police are conducting a manhunt for a sniper. Unusually for a film of the time, it is made clear that the boy is suffering from psychiatric problems and Lt. Kafka, who had been on the verge of letting him go, instead has him committed to receive psychiatric help before he turns into the next sniper.


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