John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane

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Movie Review: The Street With No Name (1948)

The night after I watched Pitfall (reviewed here), I decided to watch The Street With No Name (1948), a movie that came out the same year. The difference is...interesting.

This film noir was directed by William Keighley, and stars Mark Stevens, Richard Widmark, Lloyd Nolan, and Barbara Lawrence, along with Ed Begley and John McIntire in supporting roles. The basic plot of the movie goes something like this... A crime wave, including a holdup and killing at a nightclub and a bank robbery in which a guard is killed, has hit Center City. A squad of FBI agents headed by inspector George A. Briggs (Lloyd Nolan) meets with local FBI field officer Richard Atkins, police chief Bernard Harmatz (Ed Begley), and commissioner Ralph Demory (Howard Smith). After Briggs interrogates suspect Robert Danker, who claims he was not involved in either killing and that he has been framed, various tests are run at the FBI laboratory in Washington that exonerate Danker. Later, Danker, who has been bailed out by "John Smith," is found stabbed to death. At the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Briggs briefs agent Gene Cordell (Mark Stevens), who is going undercover in Center City to try to infiltrate the gang responsible. Given the identity of George Manley, Cordell arrives in Center City and takes a room at the skid row hotel that Danker was in. His fellow agent Cy Gordon (John McIntire) is set up in a similar hotel across the street from him. Eventually recruited into the gang responsible for the deaths of Danker and the others, run by Alec Stiles Richard Widmark), Cordell arranges to bring down the gang, but almost falls as a traitor in the police department is revealed. After Gordon is almost fatally wounded, Cordell corners Stiles and kills him.

I know that some folks who are noir fans are also fans of the documentary-cum-drama film noirs that are so common in the late '40s and into the 1950s, but I can't say that I am one of them. The first 15 to 20 minutes of this film is about the hype that J. Edgar Hoover was trying to give the FBI at the time, and is all about the FBI vs. gangsters, but once that part of the movie is done, the story revs up to speed and is all about FBI agent Gene Cordell/George Manley versus the psychopathic gangster Alec Stiles. Mark Stevens is merely adequate in the role of Cordell, although he acquits himself well enough in the final twenty minutes of the film. His performance is low key, reminiscent of his role as Bradford Galt in The Dark Corner. Unfortunately, he just can't compete with Richard Widmark. The Street With No Name is one of Widmark's first movies, and here he reworks the role that he made famous in Kiss of Death, but ramped down somewhat. While played in a menacing fashion, Widmark's Alec Stiles is not as evil and psychopathic as he was in Kiss of Death, but comes across as the cold and calculating mobster with an edge to him. His scenes are literally screen stealers, no matter who is sharing the screen with him, and his true nature as the psychopath concealed behind a veneer of the civilized is brought home to the audience in the final half hour. The attractive Barbara Lawrence appears in the movie as Stiles's long-time suffering wife and moll, but she is a minor character here that merely serves as one of Stiles's means of venting about his life and his situation and all.

The film gets some approval on my part from the fact that it is based on FBI files, and was shot largely on location whenever possible. The movie is a statement on corruption, and just how tough and rough it can get for those who try to infiltrate very powerful, influential gangs to bring them down along with their bosses. The tension in the film comes from the relationship between Cordell and Stiles, and how they go about their dance, with the audience knowing full well that one of them has to die at the end of it all. If the movie falls down on the "noir scale" at all, it is in how the movie was filmed. While the film has a dark, gritty plot with the elements of realism added in, with lots of scenes shot outdoors on rainy nights, Street merely gives a nod to the chiaroscuro (can never spell that right!) nature of film noir, as there are quite a few day scenes and/or scenes that are shot in very well lit rooms (such as the boxing gym and the FBI offices). It's second failure in regards to the noir genre is the lack of a strong female character. Barbara Lawrence does her best, but the role of Judy is minimal, and this is sad as she could have been a pivotal character in terms of getting into the head of Alec Stiles.

(As you can see, I have not done a comparison between the film and Pitfall, simply because there is no comparison. While both movies were made during the same period of time, and released the same year), Pitfall is by far the superior movie, and features all the core elements that make up the noir genre of filmmaking. I could go on and on about some of the differences between the two movies, but shall not.)

So, while I liked elements of The Street With No Name, I can only give the film a 6 out of 10 rating. It was all right for what it tried to be, but just didn't work on certain levels for me. The saving grace of this movie is the performance of Richard Widmark.

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