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Gunman in the Streets
All Day has come through with a film so rare, I've never heard any mention of it before whatsoever. Billed as a lost Film Noir, it predates so many trends, it might be called the first Euro Noir. La Traqué was the title of the French version made simultaneously; director Borys Lewin was an editor who apparently directed only this once. This English language version is the work of Frank Tuttle, a well-known name in Hollywood who started directing in 1922. The excellent low-budg Noir Suspense is his, as well as his major claim to fame, This Gun for Hire.
Gunman in the Streets is a minor crime film. The real attraction here is a very young Simone Signoret, whose beauty and talent carry the film, even when it comes up wanting in other departments.
The postwar years must have witnessed a big shakeout for Hollywood, only some of which was related to the blacklist. A star director just several years earlier, Frank Tuttle had been directing more than one Hollywood film a year for a quarter century. After a four year gap, he shows up in France as the helmer of this odd production. For Dane Clark, a WW2-era favorite, this was also some kind of break from Hollywood, before returning to less prestigious roles. It was still fairly unusual for name Hollywood talent to work in Europe. Whereas numerous European exiles returned to the continent or experimented making movies there after the war, the idea of international productions and runaway Hollywood shows hadn't quite been invented yet. It would be nice to know what exactly insprired this specific migration. Even cameraman Eugen Schüfftan had been working on Hollywood's poverty row before this sudden return to France.
Gunman in the Streets is truly an odd film. Nowhere near as accomplished as the later Rififi chez les hommes, (made by an official blacklistee, Jules Dassin) it nevertheless has a very good look. The advertising for the film touts it as some kind of spiritual sequel to the classic gangster films of the thirties, but it's really an on-the-lam saga along the lines of Anthony Mann's Raw Deal. A thug manages to get loose, but his escape depends completely on his tough & savvy girlfriend. The action scenes tend to be pretty stiff, if rather violent for the time, with Dane Clark doing a tight-lipped George Raft impersonation, facing off with the cops with a machine gun in a well-played but poorly staged climactic shootout. He also tries to murder a stoolie with a gas oven, and is shown kicking a fallen cop in the head.
Dane's Eddy Roback has some style, but only becomes interesting because the luminous, fascinating Simone Signoret plays the moll who's willing to risk anything to help him. Honestly interested in her reporter boyfriend, she's instantaneously pulled into bed with Roback as soon as they hook up, and from then on she aids him in defiance of the law, logic, or anything else. This is the classic moll stereotype, and Signoret pulls it off beautifully by convincing us of her commitment to this cheap thug. The story wisely follows her more than it does Eddy; somebody behind this lesser effort saw where the electricity was. Signoret was already fairly well-established by the time this opportunity rolled around, so perhaps her agent figured that co-starring with an American name would be a good career move for her. After Gunman in the Streets didn't work out, she continued with her roll of French hits before trying the English language again. Almost a decade later, in Room at the Top, she won a best-actress Oscar.
Signoret's strong performance is let down by much of the rest of the film. Dane Clark does a reasonable imitation of an old-style gangster, but lacks essential charm or sex appeal. If he were any less interesting, Signoret's devotion wouldn't play. The familiar Fernand Gravet (who played Strauss in MGM's The Great Waltz) does a fine job with the stock detective character. But the key role of the reporter who tags along with the criminals is played by one Robert Duke, who is so bad, he must have been a friend of the producer or something.
Beyond the mismatched leads, the French cast is colorful but speaks their English lines awkwardly. Some of it is natural enough but the majority of the dialogue must have been dubbed phonetically, or by voiceover specialists who were non-natives. So for all the authentic French sets, the atmosphere always seems like a poverty-row American production transplanted to Paris.
As it turned out, Gunman in the Streets was never shown in America. It played under the title Gangster at Large for a Canadian release, and eventually turned up on television under a third title, Time Running Out. You can see where the movie might have had trouble, especially after several scenes were trimmed by censors in the UK (all restored here). But the advertising campaign, as reproduced on the All Day package and in a special graphics supplement, is simply terrible, with poor key artwork and no design sense whatsoever. You can see potential distributors just walking away.
That's too bad, because Gunman in the Streets has some excellent qualities, and works quite well as a suspenseful melodrama thanks to Mlle. Signoret's strong performance. Her desperate final attempt to save her lover is very successful, even when Dane Clark's gangster shows no reaction whatsoever to her unearned devotion.
All Day Entertainment has done a fine job with yet another rare film on this DVD of Gunman in the Streets, obtaining good original elements (an heir of the producer is listed as the copyright holder on the box) and producing a top-quality disc. The transfer quality is on a par with major studio work. All Day's menu design is also an improvement, with handsome graphics and easy-to-use navigation. There's a good photo gallery, and the censored snippets are included. When they were pulled out, the gaps surely would have mangled the continuity of the film. 1 One of the excisions, the scene where Dane extracts a bullet from his arm (boy, he sure recovers quickly!) is almost a shot-for-shot replay of a similiar setup with Richard Basehart in He Walked by Night.
I wish All Day had not gone with the original ad artwork for their boxcover, which is so ugly as to deter casual shoppers from giving Gunman in the Streets a try. It's a lot better than the cover, folks ... inside is an excellent Simone Signoret playing a Claire Trevor or tough-girl Lizabeth Scott role.
Once again, All Day Entertainment takes us to a dark corner of cinema we've never been before.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Gunman in the Streets rates:
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Photo Gallery, censored scenes isolated
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: January 6, 2002
1. For all we know, this was the first time they've been seen in the English language version, as they were cut for the UK, Canada, and probably television too.