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Three men gun down Solly Pitts, 'rebel' against the racket-ridden Longshoremen's Union. Before dying, Pitts tells his wife 'Cockeye' Cook was one of the killers...but won't repeat it to the police, nor will anyone else help them. It seems it's a dockyard tradition to handle private battles without help. Bill Keating, new to the D.A.'s office, is just naive enough to think he can make a case against Cook; but his efforts seem to be leading only to further violence... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
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On The Waterfront revisited; no masterpiece, but an alert social commentary
Eclipsed by the accomplishment and reputation of On The Waterfront three years earlier, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue mines a similar vein: corruption in the longshoremen's unions and the violent struggle for their control. And while the earlier movie remains the heavyweight champ , its younger brother can be considered a worthy contender, too. (Its title, by the way, comes from an unrelated George Balanchine ballet of two decades earlier, with music by Richard Rogers retained as the film score.)
While On The Waterfront centered on the lives on the dockworkers embroiled in struggles beyond their control, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue focuses on the Suits who try to prosecute the shooting and later death of one of those workers. Richard Egan plays the young turk in the District Attorney's office who must penetrate the operative code of silence and win the trust of the men working the piers and their families they're scared, and have no reason to put themselves on the line for what they see as a callous bureaucracy with few teeth.
Egan finally wins over the victim's wife (Jan Sterling) and a few of his cronies, but along the way discovers that wheels turn within wheels. A former prosecutor, now some sort of lobbyist, drags him to meet the slick operator who calls the shots on the waterfront (Walter Matthau, before he became the shambliest of straight men), who tries to buy him off. (Fortunately, the movie entertains no theories about the source Communists? Organized crime? of the corruption.) But Egan soldiers on, finally persuading his superiors to bring an indictment despite unreliable witnesses and holes in his case.
And this is the movie's most interesting aspect: How the connections and history linking the police, the district attorney and the legal system (Dan Duryea, with a moustache, is another former prosecutor who lives high as a defense lawyer) compromise whatever justice may ultimately be meted out.
While influenced heavily by the noir cycle that was coming to an end, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue shades more heavily toward social commentary; its upbeat ending, too, is anathema to the pessimism of hard-core noir. Still, its good to see Charles McGraw as a police detective, even if he is sporting a silvery mane of hair.
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