Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Limping Man (1953)

Posted by Dan in the MW

"The Limping Man" is one of the many British films made with an American star in the lead in order to secure am American theatrical release. Many other Americans appeared in British productions as a result of the postwar quota bill passed by the Parliament to aid the British film industry.

In this case, the leading man is Lloyd Bridges playing a veteran returning to London hoping to rekindle a wartime romance with Moira Lister after a six year absence. Upon his arrival, Bridges stops to light a cigarette and borrows a light from a fellow passenger. During this momentary pause on the runway, a sniper lines up the unknown passenger in his rifle scope and shoots his target dead. All of the flight passengers are detained for questioning by Scotland Yard. Frank Prior (Bridges) fails to keep his appointment with Pauline French due to his being questioned, but he is confused to find that she never arrived at the airport terminal at all. As the last man to speak with the deceased, tentatively identified as Kendall Brown as the result of papers found on his body, Prior is closely watched by Inspector Braddock and Detective Cameron, a man with an eye for the ladies.

Reunited with Pauline, Frank is happy and relieved to find that she is still very much in love with him, but is concerned that she seems to be under a considerable strain. Pauline French is an actress and a Hemingway type of woman who races sports cars, boats and is a crack shot with a rifle. When Braddock and Cameron search Brown's lodgings which they located based upon a photo a beautiful woman in his pocket, they learn that Brown was involved with several women, including Pauline French. One other clue is that a man leaning on a crutch or a cane seems to have been walking on a lawn across from the airline terminal.

The film is dark and brooding. The riverfront and the London streets seem tired and weary in an almost Dickensian manner. The musical themes are moody and depressing. There is a general air of seediness about the entire production. Frank finds himself drawn into a maze that leads to a disreputable public house frequented by smugglers and into the bowels of a theater where a magician and his lovely assistant are the main attraction. Frank is torn by his love for Pauline and his concern that she was linked to the murdered man, who turns out to have been a criminal. Additionally, Pauline is being blackmailed by the possessor of her letters addressed to Brown.

Expatriate Cy Endfield directed the film under the pseudonym of Charles De La Tour. Endfield had relocated to Britain rather than face questioning and blacklisting during the HUAC hearings into Communist activities in the Hollywood film industry. Endfield and Bridges had previously worked together on the film "Try and Get Me."

There are some fine scenes in the film, including a television party (remember when people entertained guests if they were lucky enough to own a television set before such home entertainment products were commonplace!) crashed by Frank and Pauline as they flee from the police. Beware the Hollywood ending that mars an otherwise fine and entertaining "B" as in British picture.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Count the Hours (1953)

Posted by Nick Beal

Director Don Siegel's signature utilitarian style is taken to another level by the visual poetry of ace cinematographer John Alton in this 1953 meditation on the mediocrity of evil. 'Hours' opens like the best 'Whistler' picture you've ever seen as a brooding, shadowy presence looms ominously across the threshold of a remote rural homestead accompanied by an eerie theremin riff. (Sounding spookily similar to the theme from the old Quinn Martin sci-fi opus 'The Invaders'!). However, the intruder is not he who knows 'the many strange tales of those who have stepped into the shadows' but rather one who has made that long walk himself for the simple lure of hard currency and a modicum of revenge.

When the burglar is disturbed a brutal double slaying is precipitated and the finger of suspicion rapidly, and all-too conveniently, is pointed at migrant fruit picker George Braden (a wooden John Craven) a live-in, seasonal employee of the murdered farmer and his wife, and after sixteen hours under the hot lights Braden breaks and confesses to the murders. Slick DA Jim Gillespie (former Mercury Theatre actor Edgar Barrier-'Journey Into Fear', 'Flesh and Fantasy') persuades junior attorney Doug Madison (Macdonald Carey) to represent Braden-"...all you can do is enter a plea of Guilty"-but an encounter with Braden's pregnant wife Ellen (Theresa 'Pursued' Wright) convinces Madison of Braden's innocence. Accused and swiftly convicted the hours count down to Braden's appointment with the noose as Madison and Ellen desperately search for clues to the identity of the real killer.

'Hours' makes no bones about displaying the darker side of the human condition. Madison's crusade to free Braden quickly makes him a pariah in the local community and his law practice quickly spirals into decline. When Ellen's funds run out, the professional diver she has hired to search a lake bottom for the gun that will prove her husband's innocence tries to force himself upon her in lieu of cash. Madison's swanky, and rapidly disengaging, fiancée Paula (Dolores Mitchener) tells him he's simply "fighting windmills "and the whole town comes to believe that the attorney's interest in Ellen is less than altruistic. As for the forces of law and order, to DA Gillespie, Braden simply represents a hassle-free conviction. Another one put away. The breakthrough comes after a casual comment from the murdered couple's heir (and not coincidentally one of Braden's principal accusers) after Madison is called to prevent him evicting Ellen from his newly acquired property.

He tells of a former employee named Max Vern (the great Jack Elam)who had threatened to kill his uncle after a dispute over wages. The trail leads to a decaying ranchero and the sultry Gracie (played by Adele Mara as a kind of low-rent, redneck Gloria Grahame) who admits to having married Max for a dress and a 'pair of shoes' and boasting of his newly acquired wealth.

A drunken Max's return to find the cops in his front parlor triggers the movie's finest sequence as he takes flight through a nocturnal forest from a nightmare, brilliantly lit by Alton and rivaling similar scenes from movies with far bigger budgets. (Tourneur's 'Night of the Demon' and Kurosawa's 'Throne Of Blood' for example).

Despite confessing to the crime Vern is released on the testimony of creepy psychiatrist (Is there any other kind in the movies outside of 'Now Voyager'?) Doctor Seabright -"He would confess to anything if it was properly suggested to him"- and Braden's trip to the gallows is firmly back on schedule and only days away. Beaten and leaving town to start a new practice, Madison has a farewell drink with Ellen at 'The Flamingo', also a haunt of Max Vern, where a barman's chance remark opens the door to a final gambit to free Braden as the clock counts down the hours.

Resolutely a B-Movie and with plot holes you could drive a truck through 'Count the Hours' is a white-knuckle ride that nevertheless offers many incidental pleasures. Jack Elam's bug-eyed alcoholic psycho and Adele Mara's 'Gracie' are worth the price of admission alone and Don Siegel's direction and more particularly John Alton's cinematography at times would make you believe you're watching 'Citizen Kane'!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Point Blank (1967)

Based very loosely on Donald Westlake's crime novel 'The Hunter', John Boorman's dazzling 'Point Blank' is a fusion of 1960's New Wave aesthetics on a traditional Noir revenge plot - with decidedly fascinating results.

A man named Walker (Lee Marvin) assists his friend Mal Reese (John Vernon) in intercepting a large mob-money drop on Alcatraz island. They succeed, but Mal deems his cut insufficient - and guns Walker down as Walker's wife Lynne, who has been cheating with Reese, looks on.

One year later, with the help of a mysterious stranger named Yost (Keenan Wynn) - who is presumed to be a cop - Walker hunts down those who betrayed him, and ran off with his $93,000, leaving him for dead. First stop is Lynne's - who has her door smashed in and bed shot up before sitting down to answer Walker's unasked questions. She explains what happened with Mal, who has left her, and they turn in for the night - Walker taking the sofa. In the morning he finds that she has died overnight - an intentional drug overdose. With the address given him by a reluctant mob courier, Walker appears at the car dealership of Big John Stegman (Michael Strong), an organization member who knows Mal - and who accompanies Walker on what becomes the test-drive from Hell. Having jolted more needed info. from Big John - Walker seeks out Lynne's sister Chris (Angie Dickinson), at the nightclub she runs - and where Walker engages in a vicious backstage brawl with 2 thugs sent to cut short his quest.

But his fighting tactics, which are quite literally below the belt, sideline them indefinitely. Finding Chris at her home, in a prone position eerily similar to a post-suicide Lynne's, Walker insists she aid him in his mission. She agrees to help
Walker penetrate Mal's home at the 'Huntley', a large heavily-guarded apt. building that few if any uninvited visitors survive entering or exiting. Mal's got it bad for Chris, so acting as a Trojan horse she agrees to meet him up in his penthouse lair, which will create the distraction needed for Walker to slip in, ghost-like. It works. With Chris nude in his bed, and an amusing 2nd distraction created across the street, Walker goes inside, upstairs, and drags a trembling Mal from his bed, still clutching the sheets while Chris dresses, relieved her role didn't require more. Walker demands his money from Mal - or at least the name of someone who can furnish him with it - but when Mal makes a move to escape he gets tangled in the sheets and accidentally spins off the balcony - plummeting nude to the street below.

Yost, having supervised Walker's every move, reappears and directs him to Carter - the next rung up the organization ladder, and the man Stegman and Mal have been taking orders from. Walker muscles his way into Carter's office demanding his money, which Carter instructs Stegman to provide at a payoff in the L.A. storm drains. Dragged by Walker to the meet, Carter is then pushed from the shadows - and met by a sniper's bullet - a bullet meant for Walker. The Carter-hired marksman, believing he's killed Walker, then takes out Big John before driving away. Walker, now forced to go even higher, opens the payoff bundle, and finds blank bills. Yost guides Walker to the home of Brewster (Carroll O'Connor), and brings Chris who now needs protection from the mob. They quarrel there, later make love, and await Brewster, who shows up with a quickly eliminated henchman. At gunpoint - Brewster phones a 'Fairfax' who scoffs at Walker's demand. Walker shoots the phone. Brewster, now petrified, takes Walker to another Alcatraz drop - promising him the cash. From the shadows - the paid sniper kills Brewster, who while dying identifies the also present Yost as 'Fairfax' - who as the actual head of the organization has used Walker to eliminate his competition. Fairfax offers the owed money and a cushy position to a hiding Walker - who silently slips into the shadows, his motives unclear.

'Point Blank' is at once an exiting and brutal revenge Noir, and an elliptical fragmented, art film influenced by New Wave filmmakers like Resnais and Antonioni. It's fairly apparent that the story is a revenge fantasy taking place in Walker's mind as he lay dying - this theory reinforced early during the credit sequence when a bullet-ridden Walker whispers "..a dream, a dream" and bizarre freeze-frames track his unlikely exit off Alcatraz. As is often the case in dreams, actions or activities are hampered or blocked altogether.

In 'Point Blank', despite it's violent reputation, Walker never actually kills anyone(!) He kills a bed, a car, a pay telescope, a phone. Characters repeatedly comment on Walker's very existence. They're surprised he's alive, or suggest that he really isn't. Marvin, at the top of his game here - and perfectly cast - brings exactly what is needed to this complex role, and not one bit more. He's the anti-hero as ghost - a man of action who sits zombified when there isn't a need for any. But when the chillingly determined, granite faced Walker is provoked - he detonates - and the effect is riveting.

Along with displaying a mesmerizing, rigorous color scheme (suits matching decor, dresses matching cars), and a consistently chilly use of widescreen isolation (characters divided by columns, doorways, or space),'Point Blank' is easily the sexiest of early neo-noirs. It is replete with stimulating images, and a strong homo-erotic undercurrent is present. When Walker asks Chris if she wants Mal, he follows up with "I want him", the meaning murky.
While struggling with Walker in the penthouse Mal pleads " Let me get dressed!" but Walker demands, "I want you this way". Semi-erotic compositions are lingered on throughout the film; Lynne's lifeless body in bed, buttocks raised and nearly revealed; Mal's slow unbuttoning of Chris' outfit; Stegman's salesman flirting with a sexy customer - who strokes the small dog he holds in his lap; etc., etc.

Despite the Technicolor, 'Point Blank' is Noir at it's pitch-blackest - for even Walker's dying fantasy betrays him. In death, as in life, he has been duped. Walker doesn't so much retreat during the film's puzzling coda - as dematerialize. His dream over, his point blank.

Written by Dave

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Nocturne (1946)

Posted by Ian W. Hill

Susan Flanders: "He was a ladykiller. But don’t get any ideas. I ain’t no lady."

The very start of Nocturne is not promising. The RKO logo is accompanied by a insipid trill that leads into an uninteresting romantic arrangement of the title song. The first credits are typeset in a way that suggests a 1930s backstage Broadway comedy, placed over footage of Los Angeles at night. However, a number of the names in the credits are reassuring: Virginia Huston, Joseph Pevney, Queenie Smith, etc., and some are more interesting: the story is co-credited to Frank Fenton, later an actor in the last NOTW, Port of New York, and uncredited co-writer of OUT OF THE PAST; the photographer is Harry Wild, of Murder, My Sweet and the non-Orson Welles-directed sections of The Magnificent Ambersons; the producer (and certainly an uncredited co-writer) is Alfred Hitchcock’s right-hand lady and story editor, Joan Harrison, during a brief attempt at striking out on her own; and the sets are co-designed by another frequent Hitchcock collaborator, Robert Boyle.

The music is by Leigh Harline, who has done good work elsewhere (Pickup on South Street), but whose work here is uneven. The title song, which features heavily in the plot, is fine, and does the job of being instantly recognizable when it needs to be, and it serves well when rearranged as background music, but the music is too often shrill and distracting. It may be my copy, but when the dialogue is turned up to a reasonable level, some of the string cues are painful on the ears.

The director is Edwin L. Marin, and this is the only film of his I’ve seen. He made about 50 films, ending his career with a few noirs and a handful of westerns before dying fairly young. His work doesn’t seem hugely distinguished here, but is more than competent. Scenes are staged efficiently and pleasantly, the camera work is well-composed, the dialogue rhythm is snappy - Marin seems to be one of the many fine RKO craftsmen who did solid, good, impersonal work on well-made movies.

However, once the camera, which has moved backwards from downtown L.A. into the hills during the credits, moves into a matte painting of a house and towards a man at a piano, the noir atmosphere begins to close in. At the piano is Keith Vincent, played by Edward Ashley, and a fine cad he is, speaking poison with a honeyed voice in the George Sanders/Tom Conway mode to a woman, “Dolores,” who sits in the shadows of this otherwise bright room. He is bidding her a curt farewell after a brief affair, placing her as one more conquest among the many women he keeps photos of on his wall. For each woman, he wrote a song, and he plays a medley of them, ending with “Dolores’s” song, “Nocturne,” talking his way through the lyrics (and, it must be said, doing an atrocious and distracting job of miming the piano playing). Before he can finish writing the song down, there is a shot, and Vincent crumples to the floor, dead.

FLASH. And the police are on the scene, taking photos and making callous remarks. Among the cops is homicide detective Joe Warne (yes, “Warne,” not “Warner,” no matter what IMBd says), played by George Raft. I’ve never been a big fan of Raft, but my opinion of him in this film changes every time I see it - sometimes he seems wonderfully casual, calm, and underplayed, sometimes he seems wooden and uncomfortable. Strange performance.

The killing of Vincent has been staged as a suicide, and the other cops, bored and boring, are more than willing to accept that and move on. Warne decides to pursue it further, getting help from Vincent’s housekeeper Susan (Myrna Dell, stealing scenes with some of the best one-liners in the film) and his houseboy (unfortunately uncredited even on IMDb, which lists EVERYONE else in the film, including actors in deleted scenes) at the scene of the crime, and from his mother at home. The scenes between Raft and Mabel Paige as his mother are the best in the film, a comfortable, relaxed portrayal of a loving relationship that also functions as a partnership, as she trades ideas with him on his cases while feeding him and, ultimately, protecting him from forces trying to stop him pursuing the case.

Warne discovers that what he considered a lead - the sheet music for "Nocturne" dedicated "to Dolores" - isn’t much of a lead at all as Vincent called all his lady friends "Dolores." So, taking the photos off Vincent’s wall, he begins to track down all of the women in the photos. How he does this isn’t explained. He just seems to walk though a montage until he finds them.

And this is where the disparity between the fine playing, dialogue, and staging in Nocturne and the rather plodding and clumsy plotting starts really happening, and it just keeps up. The plot is actually rather simple and should be easy to follow, but somehow it keeps becoming confused. I recently saw an episode of COLUMBO also written by Jonathan Latimer, credited screenwriter here, and it had much the same problem: excellent snappy dialogue, spoken well by good actors; plotting somehow seeming too complex for a fairly simple story.

Still, in Warne’s search for the other women we get some nice cameos from a number of good character actors, most notably Queenie Smith as the roommate of a girl who recently killed herself after her life was "ruined" by Vincent (though the film is, obviously, under the Code, and never steps over the line, there is a pleasantly "adult" quality to the characters and plot that is sometimes muted in other noirs - without being blatant about it, the sexual implications of Vincent’s affairs are clear).

Searching for the subject of a missing photo takes Warne first to a photographer (a neat classic “gay”-stereotype cameo from John Banner, later of Hogan's Heroes and Rocky Jones), and then to that subject herself, Frances Ransom, played by Lynn Bari. I don’t remember Bari in anything else (I saw her in Shock a long time ago), but she is certainly beautiful and charming here, with a refreshing “grown-up” quality in a leading lady. She’s been around, and knows the score, but she isn’t hardened, just aware. It is also implied that Frances, who works off-and-on as a movie extra, but lives like a princess, relies on a rotating number of bed partners for her money.

Through Frances, Warne also meets her younger sister Carol (Virginia Huston, more luminous than in Out of the Past, even if a bit "stagy"), a nightclub singer, and her piano player "Fingers" (Joseph Pevney, as sly and terrific as he will be in Thieves' Highway, here acting on the same lot where he would later direct 14 of the best original Star Trek episodes). "Fingers" also has a big dumb assistant, Torp (Bern Hoffman, a lovable, if lethal, lug) who has been shadowing Warne and is apparently working as muscle for the killer.

Warne has concluded that Frances is the killer, having checked out her extremely elaborate alibi to discover none of it is true (but providing nice period L.A. locations, including the Pantages theatre, the Brown Derby, and what I think is the same drugstore where Neville Brand buys it in D.O.A.). But he is suspended from the force for continuing his attempt to prove Vincent’s killing as anything but suicide. Doesn’t matter, he just goes on as if it hasn’t happened.

At the same time, Warne and Frances are apparently falling in love. As Raft and Bari banter well, but don’t seem to have any actual chemistry, we have to take this on trust.

Warne continues to investigate. His fellow cops begin chasing him. Susan, the housekeeper, who knew more than she was telling and attempts blackmail, is horribly beaten, and the photographer is murdered. Another murder set up as a fake suicide is attempted to place Vincent’s death on an innocent head.

Finally, with the (accidental) help of his mom, Warne figures out how exactly the fake suicide was pulled (quite elaborately, which one character even describes, as if trying to take the curse off it, "like something from a detective story"). But he still gets the identity of the real killer wrong, until that killer confesses to protect another.

The well-played and staged climax of the film is then followed by a quick, clumsy wrap-up that implies that all of Warne’s problems with his fellow police have vanished instantly, that Frances is not the loose woman she painted herself to be, and that Frances and Warne are running off to live happily ever after. Well, at least it’s quick.

Frances: "Isn’t there some kind of law about accessories after the fact?"
Warne: "That depends on whose accessory you are."

Nocturne is by no means top-drawer noir, but it is better than its reputation, or rather lack-of-reputation, would suggest. In researching a recent noir project I read almost two dozen books on noir, and apart from an occasional mention of the title (usually just in a list of Raft’s credits), only one book discussed the film at all (but got many of the plot elements completely wrong!).

Nocturne is a nice solid little movie that gets the job done, and is a pleasant way to spend 87 minutes or so. I’ve actually watched it more than a number of much better noir films that I love very much because it is a "comfortable" movie, with vivid characters that are fun to spend time with speaking some great, crackling dialogue.

In the end, Nocturne reminds me most of that opening scene, with Ashley beautifully speaking his vicious monologue while horribly bouncing his hands around randomly on the prop piano in front of him - beautiful lyrics and melody over a ham-fisted tune.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Port of New York (1949)

Posted by Dan in the Middle West

This is another in a series of police investigation procedurals in the Eagle-Lion tradition (although the credits list this as a Samba Production, the same credit used in "The Amazing Mister X," this was probably an independent production company, there is internal evidence to show that Eagle-Lion personnel and resources were involved in the film). It is probably not as well known as "He Walked By Night," "T-Men," or "Trapped," but it is quite good in its own way. Aubrey Schenk, the producer of "T-Men," is the producer here with Lazlo Benedek directing. Eugene Ling, a writer with a series of noir credits, including "Shock" and "Behind Locked Doors," is one of those listed as working on the storyline. This film may not be quite as strong as the other police procedurals since it is a bit derivative. It also seems to be patterned in a way after "The Naked City" in that many scenes were filmed on location in New York. I only wish that a better print was available to me.

Scott Brady of "He Walked By Night" plays a similar role in "Port of New York."
K. T. Stevens is an attractive female drug smuggler who wants out of the racket. Neville Brand has a minor supporting role as a heavy and Yul Brynner is Paul Vicola, the ruthless head of a narcotics ring who is willing to kill without hesitation anytime his criminal enterprise appears to be remotely threatened. This is Brynner's first film credit and he had not shaved his head yet.

Special mention must be made of Arthur Blake as the third rate night club performer Dolly Carney. The highlight of his act is an impression of Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh. Carney is also a junkie who tried to curry favor by running an errand for Leo Stasser (William Challee) who is one of Vicola's partners. Blake barely made an impression in Hollywood having spent years as an uncredited film extra. He is a weak and effeminate man and he alternates between whining and threatening to sue the Feds who have taken him into custody. His only friend is a show girl Lilly Long (Lynne Carter), who likes him, but "not in that way." In one beautiful shot, an oblivious Carney asks Stasser, "What are you going to do Leo?" while George Diskant has the shadow of an opening window pass across his face. Next thing, you know Carney is being shoveled off of a sidewalk since the drug cartel was afraid that he had talked.

The intrepid investigators this time out are US Customs officials trying to capture a million dollar shipment of pure heroin. The film is of interest in that it is one of the earliest efforts to depict narcotic trafficking in a serious manner. Earlier films, seemed to be more of the exploitative "Reefer Madness" variety with Dave O'Brien grinning like a loon. Carney even begins to sweat it out during an interrogation as he needs a fix.

Reed Hadley must have been occupied, so an uncredited Chet Huntley handles the narration chores. A decade later, Huntley would be an anchor on the NBC Nightly News, better known as the Huntley-Brinkley Report.

On a negative note, Sol Kaplan's musical score sometimes overwhelms the dialogue and can be jarring at times.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Street with No Name (1948)

This film is appropriate as an emergency fill and purely a coincidence with Jay’s post this morning on Widmark. I, too, viewed the film in recent days after failing on a couple of occasions to get through its early government propaganda and cheesy patriotic opening theme march. I bought it along with Nightmare Alley upon on its DVD releasebut it sat on my shelf for a good 1 ½ months before I finally forced my way through to the decent movie inside. While this isn’t a great film by any means, it’s well worth viewing for noir fans for myriad reasons.

I don’t know if J. Edgar Hoover had stock in 20th Century Fox but a number of films from that in the late 1940s lot begin with the hokey government rigmarole -- House on 92nd Street, Call Northside 777, Panic in the Streets, et al -- set this kind of staid official tempo. And of course, other studios utilized this format as well. Street With No Name might be the most insufferable at the outset, what with Hoover’s scary warning over a teletype that if gangsterism continued to go unchecked, 3 of 4 Americans would eventually be a victim of violent crime. We can only imagine how that must have played in Peoria in 1948. But the dramatic film itself might be one of the best.

Almost a full 10 minutes at the start of the film come off like a government training documentary with on-location scenes at FBI labs in Washington and agent training facilities in Quantico, Va. As stated, I had to turn it off a couple of times (I did the same thing with 92nd Street when I watched that film as well). I simply didn't believe it was going to shift gears the way it did but I kept returning to reviews that said hang in there. That's my best advice if you haven't seen it: Hang in there.

If you can stick out the opening, Street With No Name settles into a pretty entertaining little film with a great grimy urban look. It kicks in at the point Mark Stevens is finally selected by FBI honcho Lloyd Nolan to go undercover in Richard Widmark’s military-style gang of thieves and get enough info to tip off the FBI on a major heist.

Widmark drives the film as the central criminal Alec Stiles. He’s not the loony laughing creep of Kiss of Death but a more intellectually sinister character with a paranoia about germs and dirty air. He uses an inhaler. He beats his wife. He seems to have some sort of kooky relationship with one of his henchmen, who possesses the perfect thug nickname of Shivvy. He doesn’t trust anybody and has an intuitive sense when something isn’t quite right.

In short, in just his second film role, Widmark crafts a villain with fascinating and frightening depth. Stevens, on the other hand, is a little more one-dimensional as the undercover agent. Even when he’s chain-smoking and acting tough, he isn’t terribly convincing. Doesn’t matter. Widmark carries everybody along to the climax.

The plot is papier-mache. The FBI is trying to bust up Stiles’ gang and also pin a murder on him by matching bullets from his special luger, which he keeps in a dark cellar vault along with with gang’s arsenal of other weapons. When Stevens sees the luger upon his first visit to the vault and asks one of the henchman if he can use it, Shivvy immediately dissuades him and gives him another one. That sets up the best scene in the movie -- and the climactic one -- when Stevens goes to the vault alone to try and get a fired slug from the luger so the FBI can attempt to match it with some they have on file. Widmark smells a rat, goes to the location and sees a flashlight in the window and the final confrontation plays out.

This film convinced me I need to have every Widmark noir in my collection and maybe some more non-noirs as well. The man is simply a brilliant actor and it’s a shame he never won an Academy Award for any of his superbly played roles. His daughter has apparently pushed for an honorary statuette for several years but Widmark himself, who is now in his 90s, wants no part of the pursuit. Good for him. Oscar or no, he will forever be an icon on The Blackboard.

The movie itself? Ultimately, it’s a solid watch. The dark nighttime location street scenes, shot by in L.A. by cinematographer Joe MacDonald (Dark Corner, Panic in the Streets, Call Northside 777) are wonderful while the basement vault scenes, shot in almost pitch-black, are as effective as you’ll find in noir. It’s quite a contrast to the bright sunlight shots of Washington D.C. that open the film.

The movie also offers a few familiar noir character actors. John McIntyre, in a different kind of role for him, plays an undercover agent to decent effect (he’s a street bum). Nolan, as stated, is wasted as the FBI boss in charge of the case. Ed Begley is also in the film, as if anyone would ever notice. He has no real dramatic scenes as a police chief. He’s totally slumming. What a waste.

Barbara Lawrence had potential as Widmark’s abused bleach-blond moll, but her role is underdeveloped. Her best scene is when she walks past the gang’s card game and verbally exposes one of the player’s good hands, but that’s as feisty as she ever gets. The beating Widmark gives her in the film might as brutal as any act of spousal abuse in the 1940s or 1950s. It’s positively chilling. He’s not just slapping. He’s slamming.

One can only imagine director William Keighley’s marching orders from Fox about how to go about making this film, but once the opening FBI nonsense is dispensed with, the dramatic scenes are in expert hands. Keighley, if nothing else, knew how to direct a film with bad guys in it. In the 30’s, he was in the chair for such films as G Men, Bullets or Ballots, Each Dawn I Die and Brother Rat. This was one of his final films and probably his last good one.

If you can stomach the first 10 minutes and the corny conclusion, noirheads should enjoy this Street With No Name. I did, once I got to the meat of the drama and the first scene with the great Richard Widmark.


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