Written by Joe D on September 26th, 2009

I got the DVD of Arnold Laven’s film Without Warning! and watched it last night.

Psycho Killer Carl Martin

It’s a good film that features some incredible 50’s Los Angeles locations. The killer offs his first victim at a sleazy motel, they never show the actual killing in this film just the aftermath. The first one is great, a huge close up of the upside down face of the victim, this is an early cinematic use of this disturbing image, later used to great effect in Apocalypse Now for example. The police investigate and we are off on a cat and mouse chase throughout the seedy side of L.A. There is some early forensic science used to track the murderer, fibers from his torn suit jacket, and it’s interesting how the killer figures out that he could be traced by these means and so burns his expensive new suit. He also refrains from killing a blonde victim when she writes his name on a receipt, stamps the time on it and locks it in a safe. He realizes this damming document would lead the police directly to him so he must not act on his blood lust.

Chavez Ravine- In all it’s glory!

We see the killer at home, he lives in Chavez Ravine, a working class community with a birds eye view of downtown Los Angeles and City Hall. This is pre Dodger Stadium Chavez Ravine, a big community that was wiped out by bulldozers in the name of progress. Some people wouldn’t leave and were ripped out of their homes, kicking and screaming, as bulldozers crushed their domiciles and their slice of the American Dream.
An Unwilling To Move Resident is Dragged Out Of Her Chavez Ravine Home!

Check out Ry Cooder’s album for a musical re-telling of the story. Also Chavez Ravine is one of the most popular dumping spots for serial killers so having their protagonist live their was a stroke of psychological cinema verite.


The killer takes one of his victims under the Brand New not yet opened Hollywood Freeway and it’s cool to get a glimpse of the nascent road system before hordes of angry commuters descended on it.
The lead actor Adam Williams is very good as Carl Martin gardner/killer but I found the investigating police kind of stiff. There is a tense climatic scene where the daughter of the nursery owner delivers an orchid to the killer, realizes he’s the killer and has to hang around and have a cup of tea with him while he tells her of his failed marriage. If you dig 50’s L.A. crime, check this movie out. James Ellroy would drool over this film.

2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Nov

    It’s also interesting how some of the cast in WITHOUT WARNING repeated their character functions in Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST:

    The killer gardener in WITHOUT WARNING is played by the actor who was James Mason’s hired gun/gardener in NxNW.

    The detective in WW was the detective investigating Cary Grant’s drunk driving case in NxNW.

    And the psychiatrist in WW was one of the guys at the Plaza Hotel restaurant with Cary before he was abducted in NxNW.

  2. Nov
    Joe D

    Maybe Hitchcock saw this film and liked the casting? Or he would cast by watching other films for similar characters? Quite a coincidence if it is one.

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