Apparently after WWII, there was an alarming increase in `gangsterism', a term which I wasn't familiar with until I watched the film The Street with No Name (1948). Surprisingly (to me, at least) it is an actual word (according to my online dictionary), so if you're playing Scrabble and you have the right combination of letters, throw it down and earn yourself some beaucoup points...written by Harry Kleiner (Fallen Angel, The Violent Men, House of Bamboo) and directed by William Keighley ('G' Men, Bullets or Ballots, The Adventures of Robin Hood), the film stars Mark Stevens (Objective, Burma!, The Dark Corner) and Richard Widmark (Panic in the Streets, Pickup on South Street) in his second feature, following his memorable performance as the tough mug Tommy Udo in the Victor Mature vehicle Kiss of Death (1947). Also appearing is Lloyd Nolan (The House on 92nd Street), Barbara Lawrence (Oklahoma!), Ed Begley (12 Angry Men), John McIntire (Call Northside 777, Turner & Hooch), and Donald Buka (Stolen Identity), as the tough guy character Shivvy (in case it wasn't apparent by his name, he's handy with a blade, or `shiv' in gangsterism lingo). An interesting fact, `Shivvy' was also an original name for one of the original seven dwarfs, but was changed as test audiences didn't respond well to a knife wielding dwarf...go figure.
As the film begins we learn through a message hot off the wire from J. Edgar Hoover himself that gangsterism is running rampant, and if things stay the course, three out of every four Americans will, at some point, become victims of organized criminal activity. That's hardly news to the residents of Center City, as gangs have been pulling of some bold capers, resulting in a few deaths. In an effort to stem the tide of the unlawful, Special Agent Eugene Cordell is recruited straight from the academy, and given the phony baloney identity of George Manly, certainly a moniker one could hang one's hat on, with the intent he infiltrate the local underworld, gather information, and bring about some arrests...seems George has an extensive criminal record, one with surprisingly little or no convictions, and therefore is a likely candidate to join one of the larger gangs in the area (also the one responsible for a lot of the recent villainous activity), an organization lead by Alec Stiles (Widmark), a savvy, intelligent gangster with some influential friends. George, now a member of the gang, begins passing along information about the gang's plans, but Stiles and his lackeys elude capture due to a tip off from an informant within the local police department, one which Stiles uses to help ferret out the mole he believes planted within his own group. Seems Georgie's days are numbered as Stiles has come up with a unique plan to get rid of him, without getting any blood on his hands...
There are a lot of things to like about this film including the solid (and slightly predictable) writing, the extremely capable directing, but I particularly liked the performances. I thought Mark Stevens did very well in the lead, as he seemed a very personable type and was able to pull off the good guy pretending to be a bad guy very well, but I think he got upstaged by Richard Widmark, who would eventually show he could play both the antagonist and protagonist equally as well (if you get a chance, check out 1950's Panic in the Streets, where Widmark plays the hero part). I should mention Widmark has always been one of my favorite actors, so perhaps I'm a little biased, and generally the bad guys are more interesting than the good guys in features like these, but I think Widmark brought a lot to the part. The writing fleshed his character out pretty well, which was complimented by Widmark turning Stiles from just your run of the mill alpha thug into an intelligent, albeit sadistic, character working any number of angles in order to solidify his stranglehold on the city and stay one step ahead of law enforcement (at least the law enforcement not corrupted by the criminal element). Widmark did seemed slightly constrained here, so perhaps he was still coming into his own given this was only his second film. I particularly liked his character's screening process which he used to draw in potential recruits to his gang. I also liked how he utilized techniques normally used by law enforcement to his own ends, especially in terms of finding out who within his group was the rat. The story, which was apparently developed with the aid of the FBI (as stated in some upfront text), moves along well, and has a number of scenes relating investigational techniques used at the time, many of which are still employed today (fingerprint analysis, matching the grooves on spent bullets, etc.). This kind of information is old news to us nowadays given the popularity of the investigational police dramas scattered across the television, but I'm sure at the time the movie was released, the general public probably had little idea how law enforcement collected evidence and used it against those who would commit crime. One interesting fact I did learn while watching this feature was that back in the day, police procedure seemed to be `shoot first, shoot again, and then ask questions'. The funniest part for me involved John McIntire's character, who was the direct contact man for Cordell while he was undercover. He was holed up in a squalid, fleabag flophouse across from Cordell's squalid, fleabag flophouse, and he would use an odd and cumbersome looking shortwave getup to communicate with headquarters, one that featured some large headphones with antenna protruding from the top. All in all I thought this a solid feature with definite `noir-ish' qualities, one worth checking out if you enjoy black and white crime dramas.
The picture, presented in fullscreen aspect ratio (1.33:1), looks good, but it does have some imperfections, mainly the occasional vertical line running down the screen. It's not as bad as I've seen in other releases, but it is noticeable from time to time. The audio, available in both Dolby Digital stereo and mono, comes through clean. Special features included are an interesting and engaging commentary track featuring film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, a theatrical trailer for the film, and trailers for other 20th Century Fox noir DVD releases like Call Northside 777 (1948), House of Bamboo (1955), Laura (1944), and Panic in the Streets (1950).