Aggrieved that local tough guy Manny Cole (Brett Halsey) has taken his girlfriend Carole Fields (Carolyn Mitchell) away from him, teenager Jimmy Wallace (Jack Nicholson) confronts him and is given a beating for his trouble. Manny and his entourage retire to a nearby diner, leaving Jimmy in the alley, but he is planning his revenge, no matter how weak he is in the face of his adversary's strongarm tactics, and Carole might feel a pang of guilt, but she's still sticking with the bad boy. However, one of Manny's crew is carrying a loaded gun, and if that fell into Jimmy's hands who knows what could happen?
Although television director Justus Addis's name was on the credits, in this his sole project away from the small screen, the fingerprints of producer Roger Corman were all over it and proved to be identified with his output rather than anyone else's. Nevertheless, if there is any interest in The Cry Baby Killer, it's thanks to the star in the title role, Jack Nicholson, for whom this was his first appearance after Corman had spotted him in the acting class they both attended (the director wanted to learn more about the craft, rather than be a performer himself) and signed him up to star in this, or at least receive second billing.
Well, technically Nicholson was the focus of the drama, but in effect he was offscreen for fairly long stretches, even if he had the plum role when everyone was discussing him whether he was present or otherwise. What happens to Jimmy is that he grabs the gun in a scrap and shoots one of his tormentors; convinced he has committed murder, he bundles the cook Smoki Whitfield and a woman (Barbara Knduson) carrying a baby into the storeroom of the diner and holds them hostage as the cops arrive, represented by Porter (regular heavy Harry Lauter, getting a rare chance to play a hero of sorts) who tries to talk Jimmy down before anyone else gets hurt.
Though hostage thrillers were not spawned by this movie, it was instructive to view The Cry Baby Killer as a forefather of Sidney Lumet's nineteen-seventies true life adaptation Dog Day Afternoon, as they were interesting to compare. The plot was not identical - there was no robbery involved here in actor turned writer Leo Gordon's screenplay - but the way they played out were similar, especially in the manner the crisis became a media sensation, though only one channel shows up to cover Jimmy's crimes. Nevertheless, they do make a big deal out of what essentially was four people sitting in a cupboard for the sake of their ratings, and sure enough a crowd gathers having heard about the incident over the airwaves to see the situation play out for themselves.
The implication being that what the crowd, and indeed the viewers at home, are hoping to witness is an act of violence, either Jimmy gunning someone down or the police taking him down themselves. It should be pointed out that the title was a misnomer, as the panicky hostage-taker only injured someone and doesn't commit murder, but you imagine The Cry Baby Injurer was not quite as bankable a title. Also of note, this was only one of two films for Carolyn Mitchell, who married a resurgent Mickey Rooney shortly after; you could see why he was attracted to her as she certainly was beautiful, but she met a violent end after being stabbed to death by her lover in a murder-suicide, leaving four young children behind. This film was nowhere near as grim as her fate, but shaped up as a somewhat basic crime thriller with a lot of talk to make up for the lack of action; moments of interest, then, but never riveting. Music (check out the, um, "haunting" theme song!) by Gerald Fried.