At the Drive-In: “The Sniper” (1952)

The Sniper posterEddie Miller is a different breed of man. He’s the predecessor to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler. A sex fiend and a creep. A misunderstood misanthrope with a grudge against the opposite sex. He places himself low on the totem pole to those mingling minxes that look soooooo appetizing in flowing dresses and high heels. But why? Why would a handsome man place himself as inferior to women in an era when women are already burdened by ethics? I can sympathize with you, Eddie. You have feelings for women. But sensitivity and insecurity is a trap, and when women are given the advantage they will use their graceful manner and flirtatious machinations to manipulate men. They can discombobulate a man’s focus and cause confusion. It’s a difficult struggle. Eddie Miller wants a woman, but doesn’t understand their manners. He gives women a chance, but they don’t take it. And when those women fail Eddie’s test they become targets through a sniper’s scope.

The Sniper is part character study, part police procedural, and largely a social commentary within the genre of film noir. The protagonist is an antagonist. A deviant outside of society and misunderstood by the system. However, the system is not the grab-all-the-money-while-you-can type. The system, in the case of The Sniper, is societal pressures. Relationship pressures. It’s unusual for a middle-aged man or woman to live alone and not be married (especially during the 1950’s atomic age). There must be something wrong with a person not having a spouse. “He’s strange”, they say. It’s this kind of pressure that drives a man insane. He begins to view himself as inferior. He’s at the bottom of the heap and desperately wiggling towards the surface where all the normal people dwell. But he can’t. He’s too weak and doesn’t have the strength. All he has is a rifle from the previous war and the silly thoughts that go ’round and ’round in his head telling him to use it. It starts as a game for Eddie Miller. He points his rifle out the window and locks on a target. A young couple returning home after a joyous rendezvous. Jealousy and hatred make him pull the trigger. CLICK – the rifle’s empty. This man is in serious trouble and screaming for help!

The Sniper2

But help doesn’t come in a film noir. According to James Ellroy, film noir is described as, “You’re fucked” and the city in which you live in doesn’t give a fuck. San Francisco is such a lovely city too. So full of romantic alleys, nooks and crannies. Little places to slip away with a lover. Just not this San Francisco. The San Francisco in The Sniper is a maze of loneliness and despair. Another town without pity. It’s stairways and alleyways are all different directions for a man to take. More roads leading to even more roads, leading to waterfronts and walkways, leading to nowhere in particular. It’s a trap. A trap in which the female population dominates the male population, yet the game is still the same. Just because there’s less men in a city doesn’t mean that a man’s chances for an affair of the sinful kind are any easier. He must still play the game and Eddie Miller does not want to play any more. He’s got a new game that he’d like to play with women – murder! And San Francisco is his game board.

Don’t worry, Eddie Miller is not entirely alone. There’s a pair of detectives hot on his trail who’d very much like to meet him. They’ve learned a lot about Eddie through the prompting of a psychiatrist and his criminal profiling. Sex offenders have patterns. This isn’t the work of a peeping Tom or a rapist whose methods have escalated to murder. This is a violent man with a violent past whose had a brewing hatred for women and whose fiendish fetishes have tipped him over the edge. Madness is just around the corner, lurking in the dark recesses of Eddie Miller’s mind. All it required was just a little push. A push that came from a woman. But can men blame women for all their troubles? If women did not exist would men still have the motivation to kill? Probably so. Women impart a lot of anxieties and emotions on men, but not all men are victims to a woman’s influence. A strong man with a strong sense of identity can control those emotions and anxieties. Eddie Miller allowed women to get the better of him and he paid the price. He’s fucked for life! He’s got a one-way ticket to the big green room and when the pellets drop and he inhales the fumes, he’ll wish he had been a stronger man.

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