Down Three Dark Streets (1954)

US / 86 minutes / bw / UA Dir: Arnold Laven Pr: Edward Small, Arthur Gardner, Jules V. Levy Scr: The Gordons, Bernard C. Schoenfeld Story: Case File: FBI (1953) by The Gordons Cine: Joseph Biroc Cast: Broderick Crawford, Ruth Roman, Martha Hyer, Marisa Pavan, Casey Adams (i.e., Max Showalter), Kenneth Tobey, Gene Reynolds, William Johnstone, Harlan Warde, Jay Adler, Claude Akins, Suzanne Alexander, Myra Marsh, Joe Bassett, Alexander Campbell, William Schallert, Charles Tannen, William Woodson, Dede Gainor.

Down Three Dark Streets - 0 opener

Presented in the same docudrama style as The NAKED CITY (1948) and its many imitators, complete with the hard-voiced narration (Woodson) and the implication that the story we’re being told is true history, not invention, this is the first movie to feature FBI Agent John “Rip” Ripley, the hero of several of The Gordons’ novels; the other (and fractionally more noirish) Ripley movie was EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962) dir Blake Edwards, in which Ripley was played by Glenn Ford.

FBI Agent Zack Stewart (Tobey) is assigned the case of renegade hoodlum Joe Walpo (Bassett) after Walpo’s latest killing, the shooting of a gas jockey, Ben (Schallert), who recognized him. Stewart is already working on the case of Vince Angelino (Reynolds), an ordinary joe who managed unwittingly to get involved with a gang of car thieves and is now terrified of possible repercussions should he tell what he knows. When young, recently widowed fashion designer Katherine “Kate” Martell (Roman) phones the FBI to tell them she’s just had a threatening phonecall—in an electronically disguised voice—from an extortionist demanding Continue reading

Young Captives, The (1959)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Irvin Kershner Pr & Scr: Andrew J. Fenady Story: Gordon Hunt, Al Burton Cine: Wallace Kelley Cast: Steven Marlo, Luana Patten, Tom Selden, James Chandler, Ed Nelson, Dan Sheridan, Marjorie Stapp, Miles Stephens, Edward Schaaf, Joan Granville, Raymond Guth, Carol Nelson.

Young Captives 6 - Just a nice picnic in the desertAnn (Luana Patten) and Jamie (Steven Marlo): a campfire in the desert.

Drunk and enraged, no-good James “Jamie” Forbes (Marlo) beats to death the oil-rig boss, Mr. Kingston (Guth), who kicked his transistor radio to bits and fired him, then steals Continue reading

Secret Evidence (1941)

US / 63 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: William Nigh Pr: E.B. Derr Scr: Brenda Cline Story: Edward Bennett Cine: Arthur Martinelli Cast: Marjorie Reynolds, Charles Quigley, Ward McTaggart, Howard Masters, Bob White, Kenneth Harlan, Donald Curtis, Charles Phipps, Dorothy Vaughan, Bud Buster, Kitty McHugh, Boyd Irwin.

On the eve of accepting a new job as Assistant Prosecutor, lawyer David Harrison (Quigley) becomes engaged to his longtime secretary Linda Wilson (Reynolds). That same night, however, her ex-fiancé Tony Baxter (McTaggart) calls by her house; released from jail after serving four years for robbery, he wants to reclaim the stash he left with Linda’s kid brother Jerry (Masters) . . . and is mortified to discover Linda made Jerry turn over the loot to the cops. And, of course, Tony would like to renew relations with Linda.

She tries to tell him to get lost, but in the end agrees to meet him later that night at his lodgings in the down-at-heel Arcadia Cottages . . . where, unknown to her, Tony has booked her in as his wife. By the time she gets there, however, Tony has broken it to his old accomplice Sniffy (White) that the loot they stole together is no more; Sniffy, believing Tony’s trying to stiff him of his share, shoots him—although the wound’s only superficial. As this is all going on, Linda arrives and, separately, Jerry, the latter with a gun; when Linda struggles to get the gun from him, it goes off. No one’s hurt by this accidental detonation but the appearance is that it might have been Jerry who shot Tony, and Tony isn’t planning on telling the cops who his assailant was, not when he has the chance to make David look stupid in front of the woman they both crave.

To the bafflement of the DA, William Burt (whom we don’t actually see), David persists in pressing the prosecution of Jerry even after forensics demonstrate the bullet that wounded Tony didn’t come from Jerry’s gun . . .

The story’s obviously somewhat fanciful, but at the same time it’s rather cleverly worked out, and overall this is quite neatly scripted—a cut above the PRC norm. The production values and acting standards are, alas, more as we’re accustomed to seeing from this studio: scenery that looks as if it might fall over if anyone slams a door too hard, hasty sound editing, and patchy acting, with Reynolds her usual charming self, McTaggart and especially Masters surprisingly good, and all the rest—including leading man Quigley—being at best blandly forgettable.

Reynolds’s time of glory was just about to begin: the following year she’d be starring opposite Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn (1942); by then, though, she’d have made no fewer than six further movies for the likes of PRC.

On Secret Evidence and Secret Evidence


Mr. Reckless (1948)

US / 67 minutes / bw / Medallion, Pine–Thomas Dir: Frank McDonald Scr: Maxwell Shane, Milton Raison Cine: Ellis W. Carter Cast: William Eythe, Barbara Britton, Walter Catlett, Minna Gombel (i.e., Minna Gombell), Lloyd Corrigan, Nestor Paiva, Frank Jenks, Ian MacDonald, James Millican.

Oilman Jeff Lundy (Eythe) returns to LA from two years drilling in Louisiana to discover that his good buddy, restaurateur Gus Patrokios (Paiva), is engaged to Jeff’s old flame Betty Denton (Britton), even though Betty’s only half Gus’s age. Aside from being miffed, Jeff assumes Betty’s motives must be entirely mercenary; she has, after all, a scapegrace father, Hugo (Corrigan), whose bad habits are expensive.

The principals go to a new oil development in the desert, where Jeff and Hugo work on the rigs with Jeff’s old pal Pete (Millican) while Gus sells meals to the oilmen. Hugo’s gambling gets him heavily in debt to oilfield bully Jim Halsey (MacDonald); a few hours before Betty’s and Gus’s wedding, Halsey locks Hugo into an empty oil tank to “think things over.” In a fight with Halsey, Gus breaks his hip. Jeff rescues Hugo just in time, as oil flows into the tank. The wedding’s delayed until Gus recovers from his injuries; in the meanwhile Jeff and Betty realize they’re still as much in love as ever, but agree Betty can’t jilt Gus. But then Jeff’s crippled by a vengeful Halsey . . .

Mr. Reckless 1948 - life on the rigs

Climbing the rig . . . to doom?

Gombel/Gombell plays the feisty landlady of the boarding house in which the principals lodge. Catlett, as her ne’er-do-well husband Joel, combines with Corrigan for a late example of one of those dreary “comic interludes” that marred so many Hollywood movies of the ’30s. Otherwise, the movie’s quite worth watching, and the scenes as the good guys rush to free Hugo from the oil tank are genuinely exciting. Mr. Reckless shares some ingredients with The POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), but here the principals—Halsey of course excepted—all have their hearts in the right place; and, although the circumstances lead inevitably to tragedy, some sort of happy ending emerges from it.

On Mr. Reckless

Lady at Midnight (1948)

US / 62 minutes / bw / John Sutherland Dir: Sherman Scott (i.e., Sam Newfield) Pr: John Sutherland Scr: Richard Sale Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Richard Denning, Frances Rafferty, Lora Lee Michel, Ralph Dunn, Nana Bryant, Jack Searle, Harlan Warde, Claudia Drake, Ben Welden, Sid Melton, Pierre Watkin, William Gould, Rodney Bell.

One night Ellen Eve Wiggins née McPhail (Rafferty) is woken by a neighbor’s dog barking, then hears footsteps in the hall; after some effort she persuades radio newscaster husband Peter (Denning) that they should go check their insufferably cute infant adopted daughter Bettina “Tina” (Michel). Tina tells them she was visited by a sad-looking lady who talked about the fact of Tina’s adoption. The parents think Tina just had a dream.

Next day they’re called to see John Featherstone (Watkin) of the adoption agency, who informs them he suspects the legality of the adoption may be challenged on the grounds that Ellen could possible have been underage when the documents were signed.

After Pete and Ellen discover the mysterious midnight visitor was oil heiress Amanda “Mandy” Forsythe, found murdered the next morning, Pete hires PI Al Garrity (Dunn), an addict of horserace betting, to help sort things out. It proves Tina’s mother was not showgirl Carolyn Sugar (Drake), as stated on the adoption papers, but the murdered Amanda, who changed her will a few days before her death to make Tina her sole beneficiary. It seems the chief architect of the fraudulent attempt to have Tina’s adoption annulled is Amanda’s punk brother Freddy (Searle) . . . except he, though he hardly realizes it, is really the puppet of the shared Wiggins and Forsythe family lawyer Ross Atherton (Warde).

Lady at Midnight 1948 The cops question Peter (Richare Denning) and Ellen Wiggins (Frances Rafferty)

The cops question Peter (Richare Denning) and Ellen Wiggins (Frances Rafferty).

Despite the potentially cloying scenes where moppet Tina and wrinkled Al declare undying love for each other, this is a surprisingly entertaining movie. One oddity is that the adult Wigginses seem prepared to leave Tina unsupervised for considerable periods of time—periods during which she indulges her passion for baking cookies in the family’s gas stove; one can’t help feeling that, if Freddy failed to negate the adoption on his original premise, he might more successfully pursue a charge along the lines of reckless neglect.

Some of the dialogue is underinspired:

Ellen: Is something wrong?
Al: Let’s say something isn’t right.

On Lady At Midnight

Identity Unknown (1945)

US / 71 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Walter Colmes Scr: Richard Weil Story: Robert Newman Cine: Ernest Miller Cast: Richard Arlen, Cheryl Walker, Roger Pryor, Bobby Driscoll, Lola Lane, Ian Keith, John Forrest, Sara Padden (i.e., Sarah Padden), Forrest Taylor, Frank Marlowe.

Aboard a hospital ship returning to the US during WWII, a recuperating but still amnesic soldier (Arlen) is told by military doctor Major Williams (Keith) that he’s the survivor of four heroes who defended an isolated farmhouse against swarms of Nazis: Paul “Mac” MacGregor of Bridgeton, Connecticut, Joseph Loring of Chester, West Virginia, Carl Granowski of Chicago, and Peter Anderson of Knoxville, Iowa. Pro tem, the soldier decides to take the name Johnny March, from the song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”, which another soldier on board keeps playing wistfully on the harmonica.

Back in the US, as Johnny’s en route to military hospital, his train pauses at Bridgeton; impulsively he leaps off and locates the home of Mac MacGregor, the first person on his list. Soon Mac’s briefly married widow Sally (Walker) is realizing that perhaps Johnny represents a new chance of a happy life; when she discovers he’s not really the old Army buddy of her husband, as he claimed, she prepares to commit suicide—a fate from which Johnny saves her. By now in love, the pair recognize that they have no future unless Johnny ascertains that, as Loring, Granowski or Anderson, he’s free to be with her.

There proves to be a need of sorts for him in each of those other three families, but also that he’s none of the missing men. Only after Sally has joined him in Iowa and he’s been arrested for desertion does it emerge that, equally a war hero, he’s Charles Aldridge, the pilot (and history professor) who almost died as he tried to relieve the beleaguered quartet. He is also, as we’re told in the final moments, an embodiment of all those who’ve sacrificed their lives to protect their families.

The amnesiac’s dilemma is what gives this its noir interest; obviously, though, its prime concern is to be a wartime propaganda vehicle. Arlen’s a somehow rather anonymous lead; Driscoll, as the orphaned Toddy Loring, desperate to believe the visiting soldier is his returned daddy, inspires memories of Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on Little Nell; there’s a surprisingly effective supporting contribution from Marlowe as Frankie Sirocco, the lecherous bookie boss of Carl Granowski’s wastrel kid brother Joe (Forrest), and a bit part for Lane as floozy-with-a-heart-of-gold Wanda.

Walker, whose looks and affect suggest she ought really to be a femme fatale—or at the very least a gold-digger—manages to pull off the role of romantic lead quite well; among her other roles was that of Phyllis Hamilton in the MICHAEL SHAYNE movie MURDER IS MY BUSINESS (1946) and its two successors. Her secondary career was as a stand-in for actresses including Veronica Lake and Claudette Colbert, while in later life (such as there was of it; she died at age 53) she promoted McCarthyist politics.

The script has some clever moments—as when, while Johnny half-dozes on the train, the train wheels seem to be whispering to him the names of the four men he might possibly be—but also some clunkers: “I guess the Andersons were pretty cut up when they heard about the death of their son, weren’t they?” Well, yes, that’s a pretty good guess. And, in a curious plotting error, we discover the Army has told all four families the men are dead even though the belief is that one of the four is still alive.

On Identity Unknown

Dangerous Passage (1944)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Paramount, Specialty Dir: William Berke Scr: Geoffrey Homes Cine: Fred Jackman Jr. Cast: Robert Lowery, Phyllis Brooks, Charles Arnt, Jack La Rue, John Eldredge, Victor Kilian, Alec Craig, William Edmunds.

Crooked attorney Daniel Bergstrom (Arnt), working from the South American port of St. Angel, tracks Joe Beck (Lowery), who for six years has been working for oil companies in the British Honduras, to tell him he’s inherited $200,000 from his grandmother; he should take the Southern Queen to Galveston to claim his fortune.

After leaving Bergstrom’s office, Joe’s attacked by a knife-wielding mugger, whom he soundly beats; believing he may have killed the man, he instead ships out aboard the tramp steamer Merman. The steward, Dawson (Craig), proves in due course to be an undercover insurance investigator hoping to expose the Merman‘s Captain Saul (Edmunds) and First Mate Buck Harris (Kilian), who, in league with shipping company executive Vaughn (Eldredge), have been scuttling the line’s ships for the insurance money. Also aboard is chanteuse Nita Paxton (Brooks), who’s fleeing the lowlife and is in cahoots with Dawson. Soon Joe and Nita are in love.

After Dawson has been murdered and a clumsy attempt made to frame Joe for the crime, Bergstrom joins the ship along with the St. Angel mugger, Mike Zomano (La Rue), whom Bergstrom plans to pass off in Galveston as Joe in order to steal the money. The agendas of the two sets of crooks collide when the mariners deliberately run the ship onto rocks and leave the rest to face a watery fate . . .

As one would expect from Homes, this tight little noirish thriller is more than competently scripted. Lowery and Brooks work well together, managing to ensure that even the potentially schmaltziest lines come over as quite fresh. Craig does well in his small part as the diffident steward/investigator. Of the rest of the cast, none make much impact except Arnt, who does an excellent Sydney Greenstreet impersonation despite the physical dissimilarity.

A few years after this, Lowery would take the lead in Batman and Robin (1949 serial), the second actor to take this role (after Lewis Wilson in Batman [1943 serial]). Brooks was later married to Congressman Torbert Macdonald, a close friend of John F. Kennedy, who was godfather of their eldest son.

On Dangerous Passage