This RKO quickie -- it's done in 60 minutes -- has a formidable pedigree. Richard Fleischer is the credited director, while Anthony Mann shares a story credit and reportedly did some directing, too. That and the police procedural elements in the story will remind some of He Walked By Night, another film for which Mann was a silent partner behind-the-camera, but it doesn't help Follow Me Quietly to suggest that comparison. He Walked is a minor masterpiece while Follow Me is merely minor. This time the cops are hunting a strangler who leaves notes identifying him as The Judge, if not jury and executioner as well. Our old friend the pesky female reporter is on hand, too, and as is often the case in such stories the conflict between journalist and gendarme is metaphoric foreplay. Cop (William Lundigan) resents Reporter (Dorothy Patrick) because he thinks her paper's an exploitation rag. She takes his insults personally, but her dogged efforts to get his cooperation for a story about the Judge investigation becomes a kind of mating dance. Fleischer, Mann et al make this as blatant as the Production Code permitted; Reporter follows Cop home and badgers him to sign an authorization form while he's taking a shower. The negotiations continue as he prepares for bed, and as he gets into bed. Finally, he asks: "What are you waiting for?" Just as you wonder what he means, she realizes he wants her to get out and start her story. Believe it or not, this is better done than the main mystery story. As a procedural, Follow Me Quietly wants to show off the latest police methods and focuses on one in particular to its utter ruin.
Virtually a co-star of the picture is the law's secret weapon against the Judge: a dummy. I had better call it a mannequin, but they call it a dummy. Built life-size, based on incomplete descriptions of the killer, the idea is to give potential witnesses a kind of 3-D point of reference to jog their memories. The cops show it off to themselves like it's some awesome thing. Lundigan sets it up on the lineup, back to the audience, and interviews it, another voice providing the sort of answers that might be expected from a serial killer. The demonstration climaxes as the recorded voice declares, "I like to kill!" At which point Lundigan turns the dummy around and the soundtrack provides a shock cue for the revelation of its blank face! So the Question is running around killing people; I knew there was something fishy about that guy. After this debacle, and without a trace of flop sweat, the filmmakers press on, convinced of the ... I still don't know what quality of the dummy. We even get a scene in which Lundigan lectures the seated dummy, gets a fake scare when his partner (Jeff Corey) walks in and starts talking, and both leave -- only for us to see that this was not the dummy but the Judge himself, who for reasons known only to the writers has decided to sneak into headquarters, take the dummy's place, and spy on the cops, confident as only the writers could make him that no one would notice a living man in the chair. That's the magic of the movies for you.
Yet the dummy does contribute somewhat to the resolution of the mystery. The Judge himself contributes more by finally leaving a colossal clue at the latest murder scene. Our killer, maybe following a model he'd recently read of, brought a true crime magazine to the victim's home and left it on her floor. It's an issue from the previous year, yet in near-mint condition. From this our intrepid girl reporter finally makes herself useful by deducing that the Judge must have bought it from a second-hand book store. Once they find a store that sells such stuff, the cops figure their man must live in the neighborhood. The dummy gives one more performance as a seated diner at a diner, poring over a magazine, to impress a waitress who identifies it as "Charlie" until the incredible reveal, complete with shock cue, of the dummy's blank face! This sets up a stakeout and a climactic pursuit that no doubt owes inspiration to He Walked By Night, though the setting slightly anticipates White Heat, which would come out later in 1949. Ironically, at the supreme moment the defeated Judge literally becomes a dummy as he takes the big fall. You, too, may feel a little like a dummy for having sat through the picture. With Fleischer and Mann at work it can't be without a few worthwhile moments. The moment when the Judge, at the threshold of his home, realizes that things are too quiet, is a good one, and I always enjoy an appearance by Frank (Mr. McDougal) Ferguson, who here plays a fighting newspaper editor who manages to fight off a Judge attack, only to stumble backwards out a window and die dictating his first-person account of the incident. Follow Me Quietly could have been a good film if its creators didn't get collectively obsesses with an idea that renders the whole thing slightly absurd, if not a singular piece of noir surrealism.