Review: Fred Zinnemann’s “Kid Glove Killer,” Starring Van Heflin

Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt in
Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt in "Kid Glove Killer"

After several years directing shorts, Austrian filmmaker Fred Zinnemann got his shot to direct his first American feature in 1942 at MGM. Though in the fifties he would go on to make such star-studded classics as From Here to Eternity and High Noon, the director began with a cheap crime story shot in three weeks1 called Kid Glove Killer. Zinnemann’s film isn’t exactly a dazzling debut, but it’s a sturdy enough B picture, featuring a typically idiosyncratic performance from Van Heflin.

Heflin plays Gordon McKay, a police chemist tasked with solving the murder of Mayor Daniels (Samuel S. Hinds). McKay and his assistant, Jane Mitchell (Marsha Hunt), study suspect after suspect—not knowing that the killer is Mitchell’s new boyfriend, special prosecutor Gerald Ladimer (Lee Bowman). But as McKay begins to come close to solving the case, Ladimer and his mob associates decide he may need to be disposed of as well.

It was Heflin’s first leading role, and much like in Johnny Eager, the actor takes a thinly written character and makes him distinctive. He plays McKay as a mumbly introvert, but one who is firmly driven to do the right thing. Hunt is charming, and the rest of the cast are adequate enough, but Heflin towers over them. The screenplay by Allen Rivkin and John C. Higgins is a decent procedural story with a strong focus on minute scientific details, though it ends on an unnecessary romantic note. Zinnemann and Heflin would both do much better work later on, but Kid Glove Killer is a reasonable enough showcase of both of their talents at this point in their respective careers.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD

For More on Kid Glove Killer

Read the review in The New York Times

Read the review in Variety

Watch the Trailer

References   [ + ]

1. Fred Zinnemann, A Life in the Movies (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 46