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DVD SAVANT

The Street with No Name
Fox Film Noir


The Street with No Name
Fox
1948 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 91 min. / Street Date June 7, 2005 / 14.98
Starring Mark Stevens, Richard Widmark, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Lawrence, Ed Begley, Donald Buka, Joseph Pevney, John McIntire
Cinematography Joe MacDonald
Art Direction Chester Gore, Lyle Wheeler)
Film Editor William Reynolds
Written by Harry Kleiner
Produced by Samuel G. Engel
Directed by William Keighley

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Street with No Name is an interesting but not overpowering crime thriller that combines Fox's notable semidocumentary style with generic G-Man intrigue. It's not a sequel to The House on 92nd Street, even though Lloyd Nolan reprises his role as FBI agent George Briggs. Richard Widmark returns from his smash debut as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death to play a more rational crook who believes in 'scientific' crimes. Mark Stevens is the FBI agent who penetrates his gang.

Synopsis:

A rash of homicide robberies in Center City cues the FBI to place a secret agent in town to try and link up with the gang responsible. Agent Gene Cordell takes on the identity of George Manly and wins his way into the confidence of crime boss Alec Stiles (Richard Widmark) through a showoff bout in a boxing ring. "Manly" learns how the gang operates and avoids suspicion, but attempts to nab the crooks are ruined by an unknown police informant on Stiles' payroll. When Stiles learns that Manly is a police plant, Agents George Briggs (Lloyd Nolan) and Cy Gordon (John McIntire) race to save Cordell's life, stop Stiles, and capture the renegade in Police Headquarters.

The Street with No Name does a passable job showing how gangsterism had evolved from the old 1920s model. The film starts with a lot of 'official' FBI public relations narration warning of a new epidemic of professional-scale organized crime. Gangster Alec Stiles makes his armed robbers follow careful rules about stashing their guns and adhering to his orders. Crimefighting circa 1948 is a big-time operation, with both sides angling for information via special informants. Even though Stiles has some fairly unreliable henchmen, he reviews their suitability by using his police contacts to access their records.

As much as the movie wants to feel like an authentic case history, it's clearly a fanciful drama with Stiles and the cops engaged in a careful game of chess. Why Stiles keeps pulling off high-profile crimes when he knows a big investigation is underway doesn't make a whole lot of sense. We just have to suppose that that's what crooks do.

The movie starts with some violent details - one of three killings is of an innocent woman in a nightclub. But after the FBI plant joins the gang we never see Stiles pull off a real robbery. One is called off at the last minute, and another is really a trick. More likely than not, the producers and the FBI didn't want to have an agent taking part in a 'real' crime and therefore compromise the image of the bureau. Working without official sanction, the independent company Eagle-Lion would be less reticent about showing undercover agents participating in the crimes they investigated. In their much bigger success T-Men, one agent even has to watch another be murdered rather than spoil their investigation. Over at Fox, the FBI advisors probably wanted to avoid publicizing the fact that agents sometimes joined criminals, and even committed real crimes in the course of their jobs. That's one step away from having agent-provocateurs instigating criminal activity as a way of drumming up business and good publicity. Later on, when various agencies infiltrated political activist groups, two or three members of a supposedly peaceful group would steer events in the direction of breaking the law, only to later find that they were all government provocateurs from different agencies!

By the same token, the film is set in the fictitious 'Center City' so as to avoid complaints when a high police official is uncovered as a criminal informant. The Street with No Name is really the 'City with No Name,' because nobody will admit that their town could possibly have corrupt law enforcement officials.

Richard Widmark lightly shades an underwritten bad guy, making him a piano playing, germ-o-phobic micro-manager. He only laughs once, barely hinting at the familiar Tommy Udo chortle. Mark Stevens is mostly colorless, at his best in the lively gym scene showing off for the hoods. The rest of the performances are standards, with Barbara Lawrence convincing as a generic gun moll, the kind that grouses about having to empty the ashtrays after the gang has left.

The most interesting aspect of The Street with No Name is its relationship to Sam Fuller's adapted remake House of Bamboo. Fuller's alterations go much further than just setting the film in Japan, and show the differences between a Louis de Rochemont-style semidoc from 1948 and a CinemaScope "A" picture from 1955. Fuller mostly drops the police side of the story. We only find out that the cop is a cop after the fact, and the police traitor of the first movie becomes a corrupt journalist in the second. The journalist is given a foreign accent, presumably to assure audiences that no American would ever do such a thing! In The Street with No Name the fate of the police traitor is an important plot issue, but in the Fuller film the character is just dropped.

House of Bamboo reorganizes the characters so that personal relationships are of equal importance to criminal alliances. Richard Widmark's gun moll and right hand man (Barbara Lawrence and Joseph Pevney) are combined by Fuller into the character of Griff (Cameron Mitchell). The characters in The Street with No Name are basically sexless, but Fuller gives his gang leader (Robert Ryan) a fixation on the undercover cop, while most of the other crooks are shown to have girlfriends. Widmark merely beats up his moll when he thinks she's tipped the cops, but Ryan shoots Griff without giving him a chance to plead innocence. Thus Fuller makes his gang leader a much more unstable and colorful character. Widmark's interest in 'scientific' thievery becomes Ryan's 'war strategy' robbery planning.

(spoiler) The Street with No Name's ending does have a couple of interesting twists. Widmark's crook Stiles is done in by his own police informant. Although Stiles and one of his gang are machine-gunned to death, the rest of the gang are still at large. Either we presume they'll be 'rounded' up later and convicted with agent Cordell's testimony - those were the days when the FBI behaved as if a sworn statement from an agent was better than conclusive evidence. If not, the FBI has just eliminated one gang leader and left the gang to regroup somewhere else.


Fox's DVD of The Street with No Name doesn't look as good as other entries in the series, with an intact but scratched and dupey element used for the transfer. As Fox is very good about such things, we have to assume that better materials were lost or damaged. This looks about as good as some pre-1948 Paramount pix for which good elements just don't exist. The audio is also not as clear and bright as on other Fox Films Noir.

The trailer stresses the film's violence. Alain Silver and James Ursini's easygoing commentary sketches all the basic background information, relating it to earlier gangster films and the Sam Fuller remake. Silver traces the film's anachronistic elements back to G-Men, which was also directed by William Keighley. Ursini tells us that Widmark didn't want to be stuck playing Tommy Udo forever, and for that reason would not wear Udo's wig, the one that Zanuck found to make his forehead look smaller.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Street with No Name rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good -
Sound: Good English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), English (Dolby Digital 1.0), Spanish (Dolby Digital 1.0)
Supplements: Commentary by film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 8, 2005





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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