Crime in the Streets (1956)
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James Whitmore stars as a local social worker working out of a settlement house who keeps his ear to the ground for any rumblings of a rumble on the mean streets of his urban neighborhood. With two gangs, the Hornets and the Dukes, he's got his hands full.
It's the Hornets here that concern the viewer of Crime In The Streets. They have a charismatic leader in young John Cassavetes who at 27 is way too old to be playing an 18 year old, but so did most of the kids look way too old in Glenn Ford's class in The Blackboard Jungle. Cassavetes is repeating his role from this same story made as television drama two years earlier. Also repeating are Mark Rydell as one of Cassavetes lieutenants who really isn't wrapped too tight and Will Kulava as Sal Mineo's father.
When local citizen Malcolm Atterbury reports one of their peers for having a zip gun, Cassavetes sets in motion a plan to kill him. Mineo and Rydell are in on it. Whitmore gets wind of it and does what he can to stop it.
Don Siegel gets good performances out of his ensemble cast. One player I failed to mention is Virginia Gregg who may have gotten her career role as the mother of Cassavetes and Peter Votrian. Cassavetes she feels is a lost cause, she's concerned about Votrian who idolizes his brother and might get into the gang culture. Gregg is great example of one who was probably a battered wife when she had a husband living in the place and one who is too shell shocked to deal with her rebellious son.
Though it's dated Crime In The Streets is still entertaining and it's a good sociological treatise on juvenile delinquency.
The excellent script for "Crime in the Streets" was written by Reginald Rose, and had previously been seen as a live installment ABC-TV's "The Elgin Hour" (a dramatic anthology series). Television in the 1950s became fertile ground for great performances, and Whitmore's last attempt to reach Cassavetes, on the fire escape, is certainly high drama. The entire production is wonderfully acted; and, while Cassavetes is clearly far too old for the part, at least he gets a chance to repeat his role for film.
Mineo gives the "Hornets" some youth appeal, and shows off his ability to react to other actors. Rydell, who became quite a successful director, is interesting. The lesser roles are fine. And, seeming to come out of left field, young Votrian is startlingly good. The specially designed outdoor set gives it a surreal quality, and director Don Siegel manages it beautifully. The plot is almost Shakespearian, and with the addition of music, you could imagine a certain "West Side Story" being born...
********* Crime in the Streets (6/10/56) Don Siegel, Reginald Rose ~ John Cassavetes, James Whitmore, Sal Mineo, Peter Votrian
From the beginning it is clear that this film was made on a small set in Hollywood, but you quickly forget about this and can easily become wrapped up in the story - an almost reverse Crime and Punishment parable. Cassevetes and Mineo overcome an of the actors' deficiencies even though most of the other performances such as the mother, Mineo's father, are also superb (the only truly cornball performances come from the preachy social worker, the sappy little brother and a couple of the stereotyped gang members).
The director does an amazing job of making this small slum world feel so small (the set is probably half a city block in size on the set) and tense.
Film Forum displayed Scorcese's personal copy, which was unfortunately quite damaged. Hopefully, the studio which owns this film will reprint a clean 35 mm copy or print a restored DVD. For fans of the "youth gone wild" genre or simple of Cassevetes, this movie is a true waiting-to-be rediscovered gem
In short, the screenplay is way too talky, under-produced, and poorly staged. Never once, for example, did I forget that the street scene was mounted on a sound stage, with all kinds of traffic noises at the same time cars seldom pass on the roadway. Also, the few sets are so unrelentingly dreary and without a shred of adornment, you might think the deficiency is in the people rather than the conditions. After all, a shred or two would be more realistic, even in a slum. So, why rub our nose in it.
Then too, the screenplay repeats about every delinquency cliché of the day—alienation, no father, poverty, to cite a few. Now, there is some truth in these clichés, as there is in most clichés. The trouble is the script simply parades them in unoriginal fashion leaving the impression of having seen it all before. Worse, that intense actor John Cassavetes is given little to do but brood and posture and look 27 instead of the supposed 18. And what's with dressing him in a yuppie v-neck sweater that looks like it belongs on a Harvard freshman.
Nonetheless, it is an accomplished cast with some colorful characterizations. Mineo's excellent as the reluctant delinquent, Gregg fairly oozes bread-winner exhaustion, and little Votrian can look pathetic on cue. At the same time, Rydell's sadistic grin suggests needed malevolence, while Whitmore's social worker is happily no miracle man. Clearly, this is an earnest effort whose heart is in the right place. Still and all, the positives are too few to outweigh the stagy negatives. In short, there're good reasons this obscurity is not included among the delinquency classics of the day.
Yet everything about this story of a gang of 1950s delinquents seems mediocre -- dated, talky, preachy, and overdone.
The director of Rose's "Twelve Angry Men" set the story in a closed jury room and never tried opening it up. The sense of heat and claustrophobia increased with time -- possibly because the director, Lumet, actually had the walls moved closer together, making the room literally smaller. Here we are only too painfully aware that we're looking at a studio set that's maybe thirty yards long. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, as Lumet's film showed, not to mention "A Streetcar Named Desire." But in those instances the sense of uncomfortable closeness, of sweaty crowding, was thematically related to the story. Claustrophobia is about the last thing we think of when we imagine the streets of a city, even in the more decrepit neighborhoods.
And in "Twelve Angry Men," Rose laid out a taut story line. A kid's life was put at risk in the opening scene. The conversations that followed were ABOUT something, and even when they were about nothing more important than the weather they managed to capture the interactional styles of ordinary working-class people as well as a feeling for place -- New York City on a hot summer day.
There's no such feeling for location here. No reference to places or streets, no regional dialects. It could be taking place anywhere and it feels a little barren because of that. Actually a couple of important characters were from New York but you'd never know it. Pekinpah is credited as "dialog coach," but what Pekinpah, a native of California's central valley, would know about dialects is left to our imagination.
There are a couple of good performances. James Whitmore is always reliable, and John Cassavetes gets to bring his method intensity to the part of a half-crazed delinquent. Virginia Gregg, as Cassavetes' mother, is fine, but then hers is a well-written role. Sal Mineo has a genuine following. I realize that. But his charm almost completely eludes me. I hate to say it but he always reminded me of a thin, pitiful, blubbering child. Nothing in any of his performances ever really shook that impression.
The topic is terribly dated too. Almost all sociology departments used to offer classes in juvenile delinquency but the topic has disappeared from the curriculum. I don't know why. Of course, the fact that a subject is time-bound doesn't necessarily mean it has to be poorly done or that it's irrelevant. I mean, "Moby Dick" is about whaling.
Anyway, the film isn't terrible. I just found it uninteresting.
Sadly foundations here are not that solid , indeed these are much much weaker . He was probably charged with the task of making a teenage movie in the vein of the Blackboard Jungle ,same as he was probably assigned to do in Riot in Block cell 11 .
In both cases he managed to succeed though working under disadvantageous circumstances: low budget , unoriginal plots with a moralistic tone which allows to see the what would be the end from minute one . Crime in the streets also had some clichés about juvenile delinquency.
But Siegel overcame aany inconveniences to provide a more than decent outcome . Characters are solid and well constructed, Cassavettes is very convincing as the leader of the gang and action flows smoothly , helped by the sense of realism that the director gives to the film, so overall not bad at all
Social worker Ben Wagner (Whitmore) tries to help local slum gang, The Hornets, especially their troubled leader Frankie Dane (Cassavetes).
When your body hits that sidewalk nobody will even turn around to look at yah.
Decent "juve delinquent" lecture movie, Crime in the Streets boasts some mightily impressive performances and closes on a (expected) piece of dramatic worth, but the screenplay is staid and pic is claustrophobic for all the wrong reasons. There's a cramped cheapness to the production that doesn't suit the narrative and you can feel Siegel straining with every sinew to light a tinderbox with a damp match. However, Cassavetes' intense firecracker performance is worth the time of any classic era film fan, and with Whitmore doing good and controlled earnest and Gregg (sadly underused) tugging away at the maternal heart strings, it still comes out in credit. There's a bonus, too, in the form of Waxman's blending of stabby jazz shards with momentum building percussion, it's quality, even if ultimately it deserves a better movie. 6/10
It was too bad for Lenny that concerned citizen Mr. Mcallister caught him in the act of pulling a zip-gun and reported Lenny to the police. With Lenny under arrest and facing at least a year behind bars for the violation of the NY State Sullivan Law, carrying a gun without a permit, the Hornets gang leader Frankie "Touchy" Dane is as mad as a hornet at Mr. Mcallister and plans to off him when the opportunity presents itself to him. Together with his two fellow gang members Angelo "Baby" Gioia and Lou "Crazy Louie" Macklin Frankie plans to do in Mr. Mcallister the very next evening when he comes home from his weekly bowling game. The trouble with Frankie's crackpot plan is that he has a habit of opening his big mouth in public and by doing that lets the cat out of the bag in what he together with Baby Angelo and Crazy Louie are planning to do! And this comes to the attention of neighborhood social worker Ben Wagner through Frankie's kid brother Richie who overheard his plan and wants to keep him from carrying it out. As well as, if he succeeds, prevent his big brother Frankie from ending up being strapped into Sing Sing's electric chair!
Following the success of troubled teenage movies like "The Blackboard Jungle" and "Rebel Without a Cause" the previous year it was a given that they'll be followed with a film like "Crime in the Streets" that actually preceded, on TV, both of them. Even though he was a bit old, at age 27, to play an 18 year old John Cassavetes was very convincing as the misguided and troubled Frankie Dane. A person who hated being touched, even by his mother, but loved to touch, with brass knuckles tire irons and switchblades, those who get in his way. There's also the sensitive and confused Angelo Baby Giola played by 16 year old Sal Mineo. Baby is torn between his pop who owns the neighborhood malt shop & candy store, in him wanting Baby to make something of himself, and his membership in Frankie's gang the Hornets which is a one way ticket to the state penitentiary. Trying to please both his dad and Frankie cause Baby to suffer from deep guilt problems. But when it comes to do in Mr. Macllister the poor kid reaches his breaking point!
***SPOILERS*** As for Crazy Louie, played by Mark Rydell, he's by far the craziest of the bunch in having no morals at all in murdering someone which even the not so stable Frankie, who planned Mr. Macllister's murder, later has second thought about! The real heroes in the movie is Frankie's kid brother Richie, Peter J. Votrian, and social worker Ben Wagner, James Whitmore, who in the end put Frankie straight in seeing that his hatred for the world at large, in putting him in the mess that he finds himself in, was more of his own making and one one else's! And it was Frankie and Frankie alone who by becoming a normal and sensitive person in him being able to feel the pain of others, instead of inflicting pain on them, that will help him overcome his very severe and dangerous inferiority complex!
The story could easily be seen as a stage play. Three or four studio sets with cheap production design and controlled lighting could function as a backdrop for the performers. That's exactly the way the film comes across. Dialogue is important since there's so much of it. In this movie, the dialogue is acceptable, though a tad melodramatic. There's lots of expressed anger, angst, and whining. And an adult social worker and the father of one of the gang members dish out lots of paternalistic advice to Frankie and his buddies.
High-contrast B&W lighting is probably the best element of the film. It conveys a noir atmosphere. The lighting, combined with the prod design, sets, and costumes, conveys a dreary, depressing tone. Background music is unremarkable. Casting is acceptable. Acting is well above average. As Frankie's mom, Virginia Gregg gives an especially nice performance.
It's not a bad movie. But I prefer more action and changes in scenery, and less talk. If the viewer likes stage plays with some good acting, "Crime In The Streets" is a pretty good 1950s juvenile delinquency film.
John Cassavetes, as Frankie, the boy craving attention, is just fabulous here and Sal Mineo, always good, especially when he is a follower and conflicted, is hesitant in going along with Frankie's plans to rub out an elderly man who blew the whistle on their friend. Peter Votrian, who plays their accomplice, is terrific. He is absolutely demented and actually enjoys what the trio plan to do.
James Whitmore is the social worker here who knows that Frankie and the guys are up to no good.
There is a wonderful performance by Virginia Gregg as Frankie's exhausted, over-worked waitress mother, who knows that she can't control him but pleads with him. You'd remember Ms. Gregg the year before as the nurse in "Ill Cry Tomorrow." She gave Susan Hayward her first drink in the film. Ditto for the gentleman who played the Italian father of Mineo.
The film, though extremely liberally slanted, provides an excellent view of urban decay and the rise of juvenile delinquency as a result. The ending in itself is ****.
A wonderful picture.
John Cassavetes plays the nominal leader of a gang of incredibly clean-cut looking punks. They begin the film with a rumble with a rival gang and terrorize the neighborhood. One of the neighbors (the familiar-faced Malcolm Atterbury) calls the police when he sees them in action, as Cassavetes takes it very personally--and plans on getting revenge. In the meantime, an incredibly earnest social worker (James Whitmore) comes on VERY strong and tries to point the guys in the right direction before it's too late. Will niceness or evil prevail?
The biggest problem I had with this film wasn't the fault of any of the people who made this film. It was released as part of a DVD collection of film noir movies--and this is clearly NOT film noir. While there are a few qualities similar to noir, a teenage delinquent film with a crusading social worker sounds nothing like noir! Another problem, though minor, is that the film has been done too many times before and the writing is a bit too pat. It comes off as a bit fake as a result. BUT, the film still has something to offer--John Cassavetes strong performance. While never as famous as James Dean, Dennis Hopper or other actors who specialized in these sort of roles, I think he was better here than these more well-known actors. He IS the film and helps to make up for the writing deficiencies (particularly Whitmore's character who just comes on a bit too strong at times--though he did have some good scenes--especially towards the end). There are a few other nice performances in the film as well (such as Will Kuluva, Mark Rydell, Virginia Gregg and Atterbury)--and this help the film to rise above the mediocrity of most delinquent teen films. Not great but worth seeing simply for the acting.
These kids aren't living the middle class life of the rebels without a cause of that 1955 James Dean/Sal Mineo/Natalie Wood classic. They are poor, fairly uneducated, and with little or no hope of making it out of their situations. Cassavettes' mother (Virginia Gregg) is a tired waitress who neglected him after giving birth to his much younger half-brother (a wonderful Peter J. Votrian) who hasn't been corrupted yet but is scared of his dangerous sibling whom he adores. Mineo is the baby-faced youngest member of the gang who is desperate for acceptance. One key scene has Mineo in a confrontation with his worried father (Will Kuluva) who actually acts more like an overprotective mother in his display of love for his son. Soap vet Denise Alexander plays Mineo's sister who is tired of the violence and also tries to get through to Cassavettes.
This film gives a really mean looking portrayal of the life of these kids. Just a year after "Rebel Without a Cause" and "The Blackboard Jungle", teen gang films were catching on, but few of them really were anything more than exploitation films. This is not one of those, but a serious look at a problem that still exists today. Cassavettes and Whitmore give the most intense performances. My only real issue with the film was the sterilized ending which doesn't really complete the story, but takes it into a new direction the audience doesn't get to see.
James Whitmore, badly miscast, is a dead weight. Cassavetes is all sub-Brando method acting, but Sal Mineo is bit more with-it than usual.
Nonetheless, the only really impressive performance is offered by Mark Rydell.
On the negative side, production values are extremely crummy.
Don Siegel, Sam Leavit, amd Franz Waxman should hang their heads in shame for respectively contributing such uninspired direction, plodding photography, and a pedestrian music score.
And as for art director Serge Kriznan, he should be drummed out of town. Or maybe the shabby sets were entirely the fault of penny-pinching producer Vincent M. Fennelly?
This film, "Crime in the Streets," from 1956, is a low-budget, black and white movie about a bunch of mean kids in a bad neighborhood. The film's titular star was James Whitmore as a social worker running a community center. But "Crime in the Streets" "introduced" a mainly TV actor, John Cassavetes. He had had bit parts in a couple of films; this was his first main role. Don't ask me how he did it, but from 1956 until a Columbo episode in 1974, he didn't change a bit. The film also features Sal Mineo, future director Mark Rydell, Virginia Gregg, and Denise Alexander, who has appeared on General Hospital on and off for the past 38 years. Here's she's a teenager.
The story focuses in on one family, the Danes, which includes Frankie (Cassavetes), his little brother Richie, and their mom (Gregg). Frankie is out of control, hanging out in the neighborhood with his buddies until all hours, refusing to get a job, and totally alienated from his mother. He's incredibly angry and at one point, he plans to kill a neighbor he hates and tries to get his friends to come along with him.
This is pretty dreary stuff that looks like an old TV show, done on a sound stage. The acting is good, but neither Whitmore nor Cassavetes has that much to do to display their talent.
Very ordinary, and not inspired. Directed by Don Siegel, who was capable of more.
A strong cast and Direction with an ambiance that is stifling and unsanitary (in the Kitchen, the 10 year old little Brother says..."I caught a roach, you want to see"). That is basically what we are witnessing. Human roaches scurrying around in this filth trying to survive. Sometimes it is so gritty that audiences may feel uncomfortable watching.
The dialog has verisimilitude and the Film feels authentic beneath the facade, but as Movie Entertainment it could have opened up a bit, but the limited budget and Studio bound sets were not accommodating. Overall it is worth seeing as an artifact of the time, an era that was starting to pay some attention, if not enough, to the plight of underprivileged Youth in underdeveloped neighborhoods, and understaffed and overworked broken "homes".