Sunday, May 1, 2016

Stakeout On Dope Street (1958) Dobie Gillis Breaks Bad

Directed by Irvin Kershner, written by Andrew J. Fenady and Irvin Kershner, Tom McGrath, and
Irwin Schwartz. The great cinematography was by Haskell Wexler (In the Heat of the Night (1967), Matewan (1987), Mulholland Falls (1996)), The jazzy/beat score was by Richard Markowitz.

The film stars Yale Wexler as Jim Bowers, Jonathan Haze, as Julian 'Ves' Vespucci, Steven Marlo as Nick Raymond, Abby Dalton as Kathy, Allen Kramer as Danny, Herman Rudin as Mitch Swardurski, Frank Harding as Capt. Richard R. Allen, and  Herschel Bernardi as gangster Mr. Fennel.

A Tail Fin Noir, Stakeout On Dope Street is like Dobie Gillis Breaks Bad man, you dig?

You may not remember the film The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), but it's spin off TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959–1963) was in rerun rotation for years, even as recently as this year it's been on cable. The series was about a sensitive, cerebral, teenager, Dobie, and his beatnik buddy Maynard, and his horny pursuit of all things female. Dobie lived above the Mom & Pop grocery store that his folks owned. But I've been digressing.

Lt. to rt. the leather satchel, Nick (Marlo), Ves (Haze), Jim (Wexler)
Los Angeles. Ves (Haze) shacks with his pop above Connie's Grocery store. He uses the back store room as a sort of social club for himself and his homies, Jim (Wexler) a budding artist, and Nick (Marlo) an ex high school athlete, weightlifter, and already has been boxer. They hang out at the local bowling alley where Jim has a girl Kathy (Dalton) who works the cash register.They are all pretty much stuck in dead end jobs, but they all have dreams.

Kathy (Dalton) Jim (Wexler)
Night. Alley. A stakeout. Two cops pick up a mule. Looks legit. Looks like a salesman. Dressed in a suit. Carries a fancy leather satchel. It's filled with cosmetics.  Cops do a toss. One tin can has Big H. Two pounds pure. Retail 400Gs. Cops are jacked. Big collar. They radio in. Latch/lock satchel. Put it in the back seat. They wait backup.

A mule collar
It's Dark. Cavalry Coming. Sirenes. Shots ring out. One cop blasted. Head shot. Dead. Mule panics. Struggles with cop. Cop two is wounded. Mule is still handcuffed. Can't get away. Grabs satchel. Tosses it. Gets blasted too. Satchel gonesville. Hoods search. It's nowhere. Gotta split. Cops close.

Daytime. Ves has route. Drives a 1951 Plymouth Concord Suburban. Groceries. He spots satchel. Grabs it. Finishes route and heads back to the ranch. Jim and Nick are in the back, hanging out. Ves comes in drops satchel. Starts bullshitin'. Time wasting. They finally check out the satchel. It's locked, It's heavy. They force the lock. It's woman's stuff. They check it out. Split it up. They toss a two pound can marked face powder around. Juggle it. Toss it back and forth. They make a basket in the trashcan. Score! Satchel may be worth something. Head for the swap shop. Score a few bucks. They split for the lanes. They bowl, play pinball, Jim gives Kathy some perfume, all is well, life goes on.

Both mob and police are looking for the dope. The HEAT is on. Cops on prowl. Cops shakedown EVERYONE. The mob has muscle. The word is out. The mob leans on EVERYONE.

the LADP  lt. Capt. Richard R. Allen (Harding) 
The Hoods, Mitch (Rudin) Lenny (Mansour) Mr. Fennel (Bernardi)
The Big Heat

The story slips out. It's headline news. Jim spots the story. Jim runs to store. Shows Ves and Nick. SHIT! We're RICH! Where's the dope? Ves dumped it in the TRASH. Check the trash. It's GONE.

The boys SCRAMBLE. Jump in the Concord.  Mad DASH to the DUMP. Garbage trucks VOMIT. Rubbish in piles. The boys are diving through the loads. The landfill dozer is chugging. Against all odds they FIND it.

The dump
Big Dreams
Of course, being a noir, instead of turning it in they decide to sell it. They don't call it DOPE for nothing. Nick who has a bit of a wise guy bent, knows a junkie named Danny who hangs around the garage he works at. The boys go to see Danny. Danny lives in a tar paper shack. Danny was geezin' it. Danny has crashed and burned.

They wake him up. Danny is paranoid. Danny is leery. Nick shows Danny a bindle. Danny takes a taste. Danny WANTS it. Danny WANTS it BAD. Nicks says there is more. Nick says you sell it you get MORE. Danny says come back tonight. 

Danny partners with the boys
Deal is done. Danny DELIVERS. The boys are getting FAT. The Doe is rolling in. They begin to flash wads around. Everything is COOL, everything is good until it all goes BAD.

The film has a great flashback sequence that occurs when Danny is telling Jim about the effects of horse and about the times he was busted put in jail and had to go cold turkey and suffered through horrendous agonizing effects of withdrawal. 


The cinematography is impressive, the Cold Turkey sequence is almost surrealistic.  It's also well acted and narrated by Allen Kramer. This was Haskell Wexler's first feature film and it shows great promise. The film is adeptly directed by Irvin Kershner who went on to a long career in TV and film.


The film functions quite well as a anti-heroin message that's also thoroughly entertaining. A nice little sleeper of a film, originally a Warners release. 7/10 

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