The Street with No Name (Fox Film Noir) (Bilingual)
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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
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where none is needed , but it was the style at the time . The opening info tells you that many scenes are shot at actual FBI
crime scenes/offices, and that many of the extras are actual FBI employees , again , a big deal at the time. It is included in the Fox Film Noir lineup , but it
is simply a crime drama , and just because it is in glorious Black & White does not make it film noir. Average , of interest only to
fans of the period/genre or fans of the Stars involved.
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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).
Also, the cast is much better. Best of all is Richard Widmark. He provides another great portrayal of a villain right after becoming known in "Kiss of Death." Mark Stevens looks more convincing as a criminal than an agent, but he's much better here than in "The Dark Corner." (Like "Kiss of Death," the film is also on the Fox film noir DVD collection, and both are much better films than "The Street With No Name"). And, although she's only on screen for a handful of minutes, Barbara Lawrence (the only woman in the cast) makes quite an impression as Widmark's wife. She's quite a dame.
In sum, "The Street With No Name" is not the best of noirs, but the semi-documentary film is still fascinating to watch, and a significant improvement over Fox's first F.B.I. pic, "The House on 92nd Street," also available on DVD.
This is one of the most grimly and realistic Noir films of the late forties, zealously detailed in which semi documentary style concerns.
Widmark is simply superb. He develops a fascinating characterization as a neurotic gangster with suggested homosexual tendencies, phobia against the germs, and the remarkable inclination toward the military discipline; you may realize how he plans his villainies with astringent precision and displays the best of his skills to make of this outstanding movie at least the half of its virtues.
All of us who are beware about the trajectory of William Keighley (The G men), know about his special predilection for this genre. He was an expert around these themes and we must acknowledge him for this unusual and outstanding film.
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