PORT OF NEW YORK is one of those low budget, Poverty Row productions that boasts a vibrant, quasi-documentary feel. Whether because of technical innovations (smaller, lighter cameras) or greater expertise (maybe the great World War II documentaries convinced film photographers to leave the studios now and then), the late forties saw a great number of films shot on gritty, big city streets. Films opened up and breathed, and the better stories acquired an urgent reality.
PONY is not one of the better stories. Eagle-Lion was one of the poorest of the poor studios, and greatest would be a little too much to expect. Moving from expensive studio sets to real, and free, locations must have been welcome indeed.
Most of these movies used a "from the files of (government agency)" approach. Here it's the Customs Department, vigilant guardians of our shores. Add a voice over narration, some stock shots of real custom agents cutting into real false heels (rascally smugglers!), and a pair of heroes almost as exciting as Dragnet's Joe Friday and you got yourself the makings of a movie. Add a case pulled from the files of, an interesting Bad Guy and you're booked.
The case, in this case, is that of the Florentine, a luxury liner that, we learn, is transporting a load of Bad Drugs to the ports of New York. The drugs, a hundred pounds or so of raw opium, is smuggled into New York and our customs agents at work are soon on the job. The top agent is PONY star Scott Brady, a decent enough actor who is asked to do nothing more than set a square jaw and do nothing to embarrass the Customs Department. Our bad guy, Yul Brynner, is fourth on the cast list and another story completely. Not only is he interesting and possessed of a second dimension, he dresses better than our hero, drapes beautiful women on his arm now and again, and generally revels in his sociopathology.
Yul Brynner's drug kingpin isn't a great screen villain, but he's good enough, especially for a low-rent production like this. Besides, given the naturalistic tone of PORT OF NEW YORK, a more stylized bad guy would have been out of place. In any event, like almost all screen villains of the time, Brynner's character has a high good time of it until the Code catches up with him.
** A BIG CAVEAT EMPTOR **
I'm reviewing the Pro-Active Entertainment copy of this film. For the last thirty minutes or so the sound track is seriously out of synch with the image track. By fully one second. Smoke shoots out of the barrel of a gun, lips move, and you can count one-Mississippi before you hear the fired shot or the spoken word. Very bad and extremely distracting. I was wrapped up in the movie enough to plow through it, but I wouldn't have purchased it in the first place if I'd known.