Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Down Three Dark Streets (1954) L.A. Procedural Noir

irector Arnold Laven (Vice Squad (1953). 

Writers Gordon Gordon, Mildred Gordon  and Bernard C. Schoenfeld for screenplay. Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc who lensed (Johnny Allegro (1949), Cry Danger (1951), Loan Shark (1952), The Glass Wall (1953), Vice Squad (1953), The Garment Jungle (1957), Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968), Lady in Cement (1968), Hammett (1982), and Music by Paul Sawtell.

The film stars Broderick Crawford in Noirs (All the King's Men (1949), The Mob (1951), Scandal Sheet (1952), Human Desire (1954), New York Confidential (1955)), as FBI Agent John Ripley, Ruth Roman (Beyond the Forest (1949), The Window (1949), Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951), Strangers on a Train (1951), Joe MacBeth (1955)) as Kate Martell, Martha Hyer (Cry Vengeance (1954) as Connie Anderson, Marisa Pavan as Julie Angelino, Max Showalter (Niagara (1953), Vicky (1953), Naked Alibi (1953), as Dave Milson (as Casey Adams), Kenneth Tobey (One Way Street (1950), Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), Angel Face (1953), Cry Terror (1958), Stark Fear (1962), Marlowe (1969) as Zack Stewart. 

Broderick Crawford  as John Ripley

Ruth Roman as Kate Martell
Martha Hyer as Connie Anderson

Kenneth Tobey as Zach Stewart
Max Showalter as Dave Milson 

The rest of the cast has Gene Reynolds (99 River Street (1953)) as Vince Angelino, William Johnstone as Frank Pace, Harlan Warde as Greg Barker, Jay Adler (over 12 Classic Noir) as Uncle Max, Claude Akins (Shield For Murder (1956), The Human Jungle (1956) as Matty Pavelich, Suzanne Alexander as Brenda Ralles, Myra Marsh as Mrs. Domes, Joe Basselt as Joe Walpo. 

The Story

Zack Stewart. FBI agent. Los Angeles office. 

FBI Agent Zach Stewart, with Gene Reynolds as Vince Angelino

Joe Walpo. Escaped Con. Highway 91. Driving a stolen 1951 Cadillac Series 62.  Heading South to Los Angeles. 

Ben. Mobilgas roadside filling station attendant. Detective and True Crime mag aficionado. 

Walpo pulls the Caddy alongside Ben's pumps. Ben comes up to the window. Walpo, suspiciously turning his face away, and talking out of the side of his mouth, tells Ben to fill 'er up. Ben, in good junior G-Man mode thinks he recognizes the man. 

Joe Basselt as Joe Walpo lt., and William Schallert as Ben rt.

flipped up tail light

Ben goes to the pump and removes the filling hose. He tips up the drivers side tail light on the Caddy exposing the gas tank cap, and using a wedge of wood sets the pump on to filling. Ben then slinks off into the office shack and quickly flips through one of the Front Page Detective/True Police/Headquarters' Detective etc., etc., magazines littering the desk to a wanted picture of Walpo. 

He picks up the phone off the wall and calls the authorities. He's just able to get out that he's filling Walpo's car when a fusillade of bullets drops him in his tracks. 

The next day Zack Stewart is notified that he is now heading up the Walpo Case too. He's already working another, the Angelino interstate car theft case, cars stolen in L.A. driven across the Nevada line to be sold in Las Vegas. So Zack burns a little midnight oil catching up on Walpo's M.O. and criminal record.

Kate Martell. Widow with young daughter. Fashion buyer. Gets a call threatening her daughter's life if she doesn't fork over the 10 G's insurance money she got after her husband's demise in an auto wreck.

Though the caller warns her about notifying the police, Kate immediately calls the FBI once she is off the phone. Coincidentally, its Zack putting in his overtime on Walpo who picks up the phone. He speaks with Kate and sets up a meeting the next day.

At the meeting Kate describes the call commenting that the man disguised his voice. Zack asks Kate for a list of everyone she knows including friends and relatives, the extortionist, he explains could be anybody that knows about the insurance money. The list gives the FBI office staff individuals of interest to investigate while Zack sets up a 24 hour surveillance of Kate's apartment house with his field agents.

John Ripley. FBI Agent. Partner of Zach. A bit portly. Wears a pork pie hat. Receives a call from a Brenda Ralles. Brenda Ralles says she needs to talk agent Stewart about a case he's working on. She wont say what case or give him any details but she sets up a meeting for 11PM that night.

Dead Zach

Stewart and Ripley arrive at Brenda's four minutes early. They knock on the door. Brenda answers but she is terrified. Somebody is with her in the apartment.  Ripley announces that they are FBI. Whoever was in the house with Brenda slips out the back door. Zach takes off around the corner of the ouse trying to intercept the perp, but gets shot down dead in cold blood. 

Suzanne Alexander as Brenda Ralles

Ripley calls LAPD and they bring Brenda into headquarters for questioning. She is still terrified and doesn't  tell them squat. The LAPD tells Ripley that its best to, in her agitated condition, send her home and let her sleep on it. They will put a tail on Brenda in the morning and keep tabs on who she sees and where she goes. 

Meanwhile, Ripley and a team of agents, knowing that Zach's death has to be connected to one of his  three cases, intensify their investigations down these "three dark streets."

It all goes Noirsville after LAPD loses Brenda and later a restaurant worker finds her dead body stuffed in a back alley trash can.


Jay Adler as Uncle Max

Body in trash can

Marisa Pavan as Julie Angelino

Claude Akins as Matty Pavelich

Gene Reynolds as Vince Angelino lt.

At this last screening I did notice there is one sequence where Ruth Roman, before going on her wild goose chase to the cemetery, is calling all the men she knows, her downstairs neighbor, uncle Max, etc., etc., and when she calls Dave Milson you get a cut to his apartment. The phone rings and a woman makes a remark before we see Milson answer the phone. It's never explained who the woman was, there in the apartment with Milson. Was she another victim? Or was it part of a scene originally with Brenda Ralles and would have been used before her demise, i.e. part of the reason that she tried calling Zack Stewart and got John Ripley instead. Pay attention for it the next time you watch it.

For a procedural, this film is quite entertaining. All the performances are good. <spoilers> The usual jovial and genial Max Showalter as the villain was a nice touch, <spoilers>  and you get a great bonus of location shots. There is a nice sequence of the Los Angeles Subway Terminal (now closed off and abandoned), it opened in 1925 at 417 South Hill Street near Pershing Square, it was the second, main train station of the long gone Pacific Electric Railway. You get to see some early LA freeway and there is a nice denouement at the Hollywood sign. 7/10

No comments:

Post a Comment