Shield for Murder

Shield for Murder is a 1954 American film noir crime film co-directed by and starring Edmond O'Brien as a crooked police detective. It was based on the novel of the same name by William P. McGivern.[1]

Shield for Murder
Shield for Murder - Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEdmond O'Brien
Howard W. Koch
Produced byAubrey Schenck
Screenplay byRichard Alan Simmons
John C. Higgins
Based onthe novel Shield for Murder
by William P. McGivern
StarringEdmond O'Brien
Music byPaul Dunlap
CinematographyGordon Avil
Edited byJohn F. Schreyer
Color processBlack and white
Aubrey Schenck Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • September 1954 (1954-09)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States


Lieutenant Barney Nolan (Edmond O'Brien), a 16-year veteran of the police force, has had it with the world he inhabits. In a secluded alley late one night, he fatally shoots a bookmaker in the back and steals the $25,000 the man has on him. He then claims he had been forced to kill the man because he tried to escape custody. Sergeant Mark Brewster (John Agar), his friend and protégé, believes him, as does the Captain of Detectives, Captain Gunnarson (Emile Meyer). However, newspaper reporter Cabot (Herbert Butterfield) suspects otherwise.

Barney takes his girlfriend, Patty Winters (Marla English), to see a new, fully furnished house that is for sale, in which he suggests the two of them could build a wonderful life. He slips away to hide the money outside, in back of the home. When he returns and the two have a romantic moment; it is insinuated he asks Patty to marry him and, through a conversation later with Mark, it is clear that she says yes.

Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders), the dead man's boss, sends private investigators Fat Michaels (Claude Akins) and Laddie O'Neil to tell Barney he wants to see him. After Barney leaves, the two men accost Patty. Packy gives Barney one chance to return the money, but Barney is uncooperative.

From his apartment, deaf-mute Ernst Sternmuller witnessed the bookmaker's murder. He goes to the police station with a note explaining what he saw, but gives it to Barney, whom he does not recognize as the killer. After getting rid of Sternmuller with a promise that an officer will drop by, Barney later goes to the man's apartment to try to buy his silence. When he suddenly recognizes the clothing, Sternmuller realizes who Barney is. He refuses to take money to keep quiet. Barney furiously pushes the old man, who falls, strikes his head and dies. Barney stages things to appear accidental, unaware that Sternmuller had been writing on a large notepad the full account of the murder. Mark finds this narrative, which fully implicates Barney, while investigating Sternmuller's death.

Meanwhile, Barney drinks and fends off a flirtatious blonde Beth in the bar, a gleaming cameo by a pre-fame Carolyn Jones that almost steals the film. He repeatedly attempts to reach Patty on the phone and, when he finally does, she reveals that Michaels and O'Neil had approached her. Enraged, he telephones the two men to come meet him, on the pretense that he has the money with him. When they arrive, he savagely pistol whips them both into unconsciousness, unfortunately cutting short the Beth conversation with hysterics.

Barney goes home, where he discovers Mark is waiting to take him in. The two men struggle and Barney knocks Mark out after momentarily considering shooting him in the back of the head. He goes to Patty and persuades her to pack up and start a new life with him, telling her only that Packy is trying to frame him for an accidental shooting so he has decided to go away for a while. When he carelessly says that he has money 'saved', Patty realizes what Mark has suggested to her about Barney is true. They argue and he slaps her and leaves.

A recovered Mark takes the notepad with Sturnmuller's narrative to Gunnarson, who initiates a manhunt. Barney overhears this on his police car radio, retrieves his old police patrolman's uniform and goes into hiding. Through a shady acquaintance, he arranges for passage to Buenos Aires, but when he goes to pick up the ticket at a crowded high school pool, finds he has been set up - a bandaged Michaels is there. Barney had been attempting a swindle, as the 'money' he had handed over was nothing but newspaper clippings. He and Michaels shoot it out, while panicked swimmers dive for cover. Barney manages to kill the other man, then heads to the house to retrieve the money. By then, Mark has learned from Patty that the probability is that when the couple had visited the house, Barney had hidden the $25,000 there. The police converge on the house as Barney arrives. He shoots it out with them and manages to dig up the money, but as he emerges from the yard, he is confronted and, when he starts shooting, the police have no choice but to kill him.



Box officeEdit

According to producer Aubrey Schenck the film "grossed a lot of money, you wouldn't believe how much; on television it's made a fortune."[2]

Critical responseEdit

Film critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film, writing, "It was a well-executed, action-packed film noir, co-directed and acted by Edmond O'Brien. It punctures a lot of the idyllic dreams about living in suburbia, as the cop's middle-class goals are made dirty. His downfall is seen as choosing violence over love and greed over a sense of duty. He's a bad cop and a bad person who has hidden behind his police shield, which he used to protect himself from the law. All the good he might have had in him is wasted."[3]


  1. ^ Shield for Murder at IMDb.
  2. ^ Tom Weaver, It Came from Horrorwood: Interviews with Moviemakers in the SF and Horror Tradition McFarland, 2000 p 273
  3. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, September 11, 2001. Accessed: July 7, 2013.

External linksEdit