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When FBI Agent Zack Stewart is killed, Agent John Ripley takes over the three cases he was working on, hoping one will lead to his killer. The first involves gangster Joe Walpo and Ripley finds his hideout through Joe's girl friend, Connie Anderson. Joe is killed but it is established he was 400 miles away when Stewart was murdered. The next involves a car-theft gang which Ripley breaks up by using one of the gang, Vince Angelino and his wife Julie. The last case involves Kate Martell, the victim of an extortionist who threatens to kidnap her child unless she pays him $10,000. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Wonderfully complex and dramatic, if not quite perfectly formed
Down Three Dark Streets (1954)
An FBI man has been killed, and the suspects are related to the three cases the agent was working one when he died. So all three cases become priorities, thinking that by solving them all, the cop killer will come to light.
The title of the movie is a cue that this is in some ways a three part movie, with three basically distinct, if intertwined plots. But what holds it together is a single character, an FBI agent played by Broderick Crawford. And it's Crawford who holds it together beautifully. He plays his part with cool, somber, and weary reserve (and if you know Crawford in his more famous roles, such as "All the King's Men" or even more in "Born Yesterday").
Each of the three stories is layered up as you go, which makes it interestingly complex, and in each there is one leading woman connected to a suspect. Ruth Roman is the most powerful of these three, though the other two are bit weak. Luckily, the weakest of these, Ruth Hyer, loses relevance so that Roman and Marisa Pavan (playing a blind woman fairly well) carry their shares. And in a way you never quite notice the uneven acting because the events tumble one after another, through lots of changes of location, and from one plot to the next. It's filmed with economy but good drama. And the story, which might lose some viewers because of its complexity, also has the beauty of not being obvious, with lots of good dialog.
Why isn't it quite a classic? There's something awkward about the many parts that have to be connected, and an occasional odd aspect, like the unlikely ruse of a blanket carried as Roman's child into her car (it looks very much like a blanket). Still, there is a lot of suspense throughout, dark alleys, drives at night, phones that ring and aren't answered, all along waiting for something and not knowing what. An intense example is when Roman takes a senselessness lonely walk in a cemetery and a car pulls up.
"I'm waiting for a friend." "Maybe I'm that friend you're waiting for."
This is good movie-making, and it makes for a good movie. Then, to cap it off, it has what is maybe the best vintage use of the famous Hollywood letters on the hill overlooking movieland. Odd to say, but I think the movie is worth watching for that alone. This is exactly when the industry was falling apart (legally and literally), and the letters were no accident. There is also a nice use of that trope of money blowing away in the wind (made more archetypal in "The Killing" in 1958). The last line? "Sometimes you meet some nice people in this business." Perfect.
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