Day 11 of Noirvember: Barney Nolan in Shield for Murder (1954)

Today we’re looking at a cop who’s so dirty you can barely see him in the Noirvember spotlight – Barney Nolan in Shield for Murder (1954).

Barney is on a mission.


For a noir, the story of Shield for Murder is a fairly straightforward one. Veteran police detective Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien) kills a bookie in a dark alley and pockets the $25 thousand the dead man had on him – he wants to use the money to buy a brand-new house (complete with white picket fence) for his beloved girlfriend (Marla English). It looks like Barney will easily get away with the murder – but what he doesn’t know is that the entire crime was witnessed by a deaf-mute resident of an apartment overlooking the alley. Not so easy, after all…


We first meet Barney on a dark, shadowy street, striding with purpose and clad in a trench coat and black fedora. He stops in a doorway, pops a cigarette between his lips, and affixes his revolver with a silencer, all the while eyeing a man transacting some kind of (shady looking) business with two other fellas in a car. When the man steps away from the vehicle, Barney goes into action, slinging a chummy arm around the man’s shoulders and leading him into a nearby alley. The man looks at Barney with terrified eyes – and with good reason; a few seconds later, Barney plugs him in the back. After taking his bankroll, Barney yells, “Stop, or I’ll shoot!”, fires his gun in the air, and waits for the police to arrive. Roll credits.


Because he is, hands-down, one of the most dastardly officers of the law that you’ll find in all of film noir. He doesn’t hesitate to commit cold-blooded murder. Or steal. Or pistol-whip a guy in a crowded restaurant. Or deceive (and, worse, threaten to kill) his best friend and partner. But he also has a tender side  – he loves his girl and he fantasizes about a life with her that’s clean and beautiful and new. Too bad he takes the wrong path to make his dreams come true. (I’m a poet, and I don’t even know it!)


“For 16 years I’ve been a cop. For 16 years I’ve been living in dirt, and take it from me, some of it’s bound to rub off on you. You get to hate people – everyone you meet. I’m sick of them. The racket boys, the strong arms, the stoolies, the hooligans. I’m through with them all.”


Edmond O’Brien was born on September 10, 1915, in New York City. After seeing a Broadway play as a teenager, he determined to be an actor, and he later dropped out of Fordham University to accept a scholarship from New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse Dramatic School. He honed his craft playing stock in Connecticut and Yonkers, then landed his first Broadway role, in Daughters of Atreus. This was followed by several more Broadway productions (including John Gielgud’s Hamlet), and after a chance meeting with Orson Welles, he was hired for several of the Boy Wonder’s radio programs. A few years later, while O’Brien was appearing in Maurice Evans’s Henry IV, Hollywood beckoned, and he was tapped for his big screen debut, playing a bit part as an inmate in Prison Break (1938). Less than a decade later, he stepped through the shadows into noir, starring with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946). For more on Shield for Murder, click here.

And join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 12 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 11, 2021.

8 Responses to “Day 11 of Noirvember: Barney Nolan in Shield for Murder (1954)”

  1. Great start to the film

  2. After Shield for Murder, there is a period where you look at every noir cop as if he’s on the wrong side. Of course, some are, but it certainly skewers your viewing for a while.

  3. I have never seen this movie! Thank you for introducing me to a new noir!

  4. O’Brien was so great at playing these types of messy men, he had that sweaty meltdown energy perfected.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: