Down Three Dark Streets (1954)
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RUTH ROMAN, MARISA PAVAN and MARTHA HYER are the three women connected to the cases, all of whom give good performances but Pavan is particularly touching as a blind woman.
The documentary style is nicely handled and there's a twist at the end that came as a real surprise to me.
Not great, but an interesting example of satisfactory film noir.
This was one of those semi-documentaries popular among crime stories in the late '40s/early '50s. It usually plugged one of the U.S. law enforcement agencies. Here, it was the FBI and we followed a couple of agents as they tried to tie in several cases in the Los Angeles area. Sometimes these movies were labeled "crime dramas" and sometimes "film noirs." This movie contains a lot of both elements.
Along the way, we see a lot of familiar faces, especially if you grew up watching a lot of television in the '50s and '60s. You may not know all the names, but you'll know the faces.
Names you probably know, however, are Broderick Crawford, Ruth Roman and Martha Hyer. There are three of the half-dozen or so actor who all play a significant part of this story.
Crawford is an FBI agent and lower-key one than you might expect. He's not the gruff lawman of "Highway Patrol" or the loudmouth politician of "All The King's Men." Here, he's gentle with people all the while being an effective FBI guy.
Ruth Roman, as "Kate Martel." plays one of several key female roles, as either crime victim or gangster-girlfriend. Ruth plays a role similar to one Lee Remick played in about 10 years later in a film called "Experiment In Terror." Marilyn Monroe-wannabe Martha Hyer is a hoot as a sexy blonde playing a thug's girlfriend, or should I say "moll." She has some great lines, calling the cops "you dirty crumbs" and the like. Her character is pure film noir.
Marisa Pavan is interesting as the blind "Julie Angelino" and so is a young Claude Akins as a boxer-criminal. Jay Adler, Kenneth Tobey and others all have those familiar TV faces.
Movie buffs will get a kick out of the climactic scene, which takes place at the foot of the "Hollywood" sign on top of a hill. That nostalgia, along with the very cool automobiles of the period, make this a good trip down "memory lane."
Unfortunately, this is one of those classic movies that never made it to VHS or DVD. Hopefully, someone will put it in a DVD classics box-set some day. It's a good film and deserves a DVD of its own.
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.
The film begins with two FBI agents on an assignment. One is unexpectedly murdered by someone hiding in the shadows. The surviving agent (Broderick Crawford) seems to think that someone on the other agents list of open cases has done the crime, so he looks into the three cases. And so, you see Crawford go from case to case--looking for clues and solving the cases while he's at it. It all leads to a dandy final set at the Hollywood sign.
As I said above, the show is big on realism and police procedures. I also appreciated how ordinary and ugly some of the cast were--like real life. Overall, it's a lot like a tidier version of film noir--with a strong infusion of realism and good acting.
By the way, if you do watch, look for the guy with his home-made 'spy detector'!
Finding out that the late Agent Stewart was involved in three separate cases it becomes evident that somehow one of the cases he was working on had to involved the man who murdered him. Agent Ripley soon comes to the conclusion that the case involving the extortion of widow Kate Martell, Ruth Roman, is the one that lead to Agent Stewart's murder and may possibly be connected in the two other cases he was involved in; A car robbery ring and the murder of a gas station attendant, William Schallert, on the Nevada Californian border!
Using Mrs. Martell as bait Agent Ripley has her play along with her extortionist who want her to pay him off with the $10,000.00 of insurance money she got when her husband was killed in a fatal car accident. If Mrs. Martell doesn't comply he threatens to murder her nine year old daughter Vickie, Dede Grinor.
It takes both good old fashion police work as well as the most up to date state of the art, circa 1954, police science to finally track down the both killer/extortionist. In the process of doing that Agent Riply also solves the two other cases,the car robbery ring and murder of the gas station attendant, as well. Even though they had nothing at all to do with both Agent Stewart and Brenda Rolles' (Suzanne Alexander), who knew who Stewarts killer was, murders.
***SPOILER ALERT*** The films ending was a real hum dingier with the killer finally revealing himself as he appears out of the blue right under the famous Hollywood sign. It's there where he instructed Mrs. Martell to leave the extortion money. It was also there where Agent Ripley, without Mrs. Mantell knowledge, and his fellow FBI agents and the local police set a trap for him!
P.S Interesting cast of unknowns who went on to bigger and better things later on in their film careers. Both Kenneth Tobey-who also stared in the sci-fi classic "The Thing" back in 1951-and Max Showalter were to make within two years, in 1955 & 1956, the classic bad sci-fi movie epics that were immortalized on TV-on shows like Mystery Science Fiction Theater 3000-in "It Came Form Beneath the Sea" and "The Indestructible Man". The murdered gas station attendant William Schallert was to later play the befuddled and out of touch, to what his zany daughter was doing, father of Patty Duke in the aptly named "Patty Duke Show". And the beefy and booming voiced Claud Akins was to finally make it all the way to top, as President of the United States, playing President Teddy Roosevelt in the 1992, two years before his untimely death of cancer, Sherlock Holmes movie "Incident at Victoria Falls".
Movie gains a lot from location photography in and around a burgeoning LA. The final scene makes effective use of that city's landmark "Hollywood" sign, the only film I know to do that. There's a fine performance from Ruth Roman as a beleaguered mother whose child is under threat of kidnap, along with an unusually restrained Crawford as the head agent, a role I suspect recommended him for for the lead in the following year's hit series Highway Patrol. Note the rather gratuitous cheesecake scenes from Roman and the bosomy Martha Hyer. After all, the movies had to do something to get people away from the novelty of their television sets. Nothing special here. Just an easy way to pass a spare 90 or so minutes.
This certainly is an interesting look at FBI cases and procedures, with them using bulky equipment to spy on neighbors, intercept phone calls and make identifications. But this was the 1950s, when such things were primitive and relatively innocent. (The FBI surveillance went too far in the 1960s and was shut down by the courts.) Very interesting film, well worth being better known. And the film quality seems to have held up very nicely over the years. The one on Netflix looks great.
A FBI agent tries to find the murderer of a colleague from the different cases he was assigned to. Semi-documentary and well-paced movie.
This one is based on the novel, CASE FILE FBI by Gordon and Mildred Gordon. The Gordons also wrote the screenplay for the film.
This one starts with the murder of a gas station employee. The man had spotted a wanted killer and was calling in the info to the FBI. The killer, Joe Bassett is heading to L.A. to hook up with his girl, Martha Hyer.
FBI Agent Kenneth Tobey is assigned to track down Bassett. At the same time Tobey is involved with two other cases, a man, Gene Reynolds who has been grabbed up for driving a stolen car. Then there is a case involving a threat of kidnapping. A woman, Ruth Roman, has been called and told her daughter will be taken, if she does not fork over a 10 grand insurance payment she just got.
Broderick Crawford plays Tobey's boss in the FBI chain of command. The deal here is that there could be a link between the last two cases to the first one. It is Tobey's job to unravel the twists. Tobey gets shot and killed during a stake-out for the killer, Bassett.
The FBI now pulls out all the stops as they give all three cases top priority. The film follows Crawford and the various agents as they track down the leads and eliminate them. They solve one case and move on to the next as they look for Tobey's killer.
The women involved in the various story threads, is what makes this film really click. Ruth Roman, Suzanne Alexander, Marisa Paven and Martha Hyer are the female leads. Miss Hyer in particular shines as she keeps thrusting her upper-works at Crawford and crew, as she cracks wise with lines like, "Do you mind if I put something on? I don't like men staring at me before lunch".
This documentary style noir was directed by Arnold Laven. He cranked out several watchable film noir early in his career, WITHOUT WARNING! as well as VICE SQUAD.
Film noir specialist Joseph Biroc handled the cinematography duties on the production. Two time Oscar nominated, and one time winner, Biroc was known for his work on, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, CRY DANGER, THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK, LOAN SHARK, WITHOUT WARNING!, ATTACK, TENSION AT TABLE ROCK, FORTY GUNS, CHINA GATE, LADY IN CEMENT and THE TOWERING INFERNO.
This one has the odd slow spot but for the most part moves right along. There is some excellent location shooting involved here.
The writers, The Gordons would dust this one off in 1963 and use most of the story to make, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR with Glenn Ford.
The title "Down Three Dark Streets" refers to three seemingly unrelated crimes Mr. Broderick's F.B.I. solves. It seems like you need a notepad to keep track of events, but you'll get along by paying attention to the extortion plot involving Ms. Roman.
Performance-wise, it's Roman's film. There are a lot of recognizable faces, though. Martha Hyer gives a Marilyn Monroe-type performance, as directed (Arnold Laven). Other than that, there are some Los Angeles-area location scenes that are very nice to see; the location scenery is the movie's highlight - climaxing by the "HOLLYWOOD sign".
**** Down Three Dark Streets (1954) Arnold Laven ~ Ruth Roman, Broderick Crawford, Martha Hyer
This is one of those police or FBI films done in semi-documentary style that abounded in the '50s. Each woman is involved in a crime; Roman is being threatened with her daughter's life if she doesn't turn over her late husband's insurance money; Pavan is the blind wife of a man jailed for being involved in car theft, but he won't reveal any information about the ring; and Hyer is the girlfriend of a wanted killer who is on the run. When two murders occur, Ripley is convinced they're tied to one of the cases, but which one? Great '50s LA sites are a highlight of this film, along with a suspenseful ending. The story involving Ruth Roman was done as a suspense movie by Blake Edwards later on as "Experiment in Terror" with Glenn Ford as Ripley.
There is one major plot hole I must point out. One of the FBI men follows a character to a department store, where she takes a girdle to try on and goes into a dressing room. The operative asks if there's an exit behind the dressing rooms and is told yes, there's a staircase leading to a back entrance. Well, all I can say is, that store must have had hundreds of thousands of dollars in shoplifted merchandise yearly if that was the case.
Down These Dark Streets is one of the few films you'll see where someone who is a detective will be shown having more than one case. Indeed that is the crux of this plot. Which one of three cases did agent Kenneth Tobey get killed over by a sniper's bullet?
His supervisor Broderick Crawford takes over and the three cases are a case of an organized car theft ring where young Gene Reynolds is about to take a fall in federal prison because he won't rat out the leaders. Maybe it's notorious fugitive Joe Bassett who is armed and dangerous and who already killed a gas station attendant who rather stupidly called the FBI before Bassett was clear from his station. Or there's Ruth Roman who is being extorted for an insurance settlement by a stranger threatening her child on the phone.
Crawford takes on all three cases and systematically solves them and eliminates a lot of suspects. He's as thorough a professional as all big screen FBI men were at the time.
Take note of Martha Hyer who plays Joe Bassett's kept moll. Martha was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen and here she shows some real acting chops in her scenes with Crawford.
Down Three Dark Streets is a crisp and competent police drama with a great ensemble cast. Definitely a must for noir fans.
Broderick Crawford lends the film some gravitas as an FBI agent who takes over three cases from his friend and colleague who's murdered in the process of investigating one of them. They may all be related or they may not be. The question of whether or not they are doesn't generate much suspense for the viewer, if it was ever meant to. Ruth Roman is the protagonist at the center of the case that gets the most screen time. Martha Hyer does some screen chewing as a gangster's floozy, while Marisa Pavan, one year away from being nominated for an Oscar (for "The Rose Tattoo") plays a blind, sympathetic wife. There's some suspenseful atmosphere and forays into the seedy underbelly of L.A., and it's these qualities that bring it closest to belonging to the noir canon. But in most respects it settles for merely competent, and as a result, it's not especially memorable.