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In one of his most chilling performances, Richard Widmark stars as Stiles, an up and coming crime boss trying to stake his claim in the criminal underworld. The FBI files are filled with many lurid crime stories. One case in particular baffles FBI Inspector Briggs (Loyed Nolan). In involves the murders of a house wife and a bank guard. Both were killed by the same gun, yet there isn't any connection between the victims. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime, Briggs sends his best agent undercover to penetrate the inner circle of the notorious Stiles gang. Everything goes according to plan, until an informant inside the police department tips off Stiles. Now the enraged crime boss targets the agent for murder.
"What's the use of having a war if you don't learn from it?" The speaker is Alec Stiles (Richard Widmark), a menthol-sniffing asthmatic in a snap-brim hat who's nailed down the organized-crime franchise for a burg named Center City, and who runs it "scientifically," using methods he picked up in uniform during WWII. He can even tap into the databanks of the FBI. Which, by coincidence, is gearing up to bring his mini-crime wave to an end. Street with No Name invites us to sit back and watch both sides deploy their methodologies at each other.
The semidocumentary crimefighting/spybusting thrillers of the late '40s are fascinating for their blend of institutionalized rectitude (the FBI is totally trustworthy and awesomely competent), authentic locations ("filmed where it happened"), and noir poetics. Once Inspector George Briggs (Lloyd Nolan repeating his House on 92nd Street role) sends agent Gene Cordell (Mark Stevens) to work undercover on Center City's skid row, the movie has settled into an evocative meditation on the underside of Middle American town life c. 1948: the never-empty arcades and diners; a seedy drifters' hotel you can almost smell; cars parked slantwise along a commercial street that retains a memory of countryside; and an upstairs gym--Stiles's place--where even in daytime a surprising number of men congregate in hopes of seeing someone take a beating. And there's one sequence of skulking in a ferry terminal, so beautifully observed by director William Keighley and ace cinematographer Joe MacDonald, you'll wish you could shake their hands. Harry Kleiner's screenplay was reworked seven years later for Samuel Fuller's House of Bamboo. --Richard T. Jameson