Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Mystery Street (1950)

MYSTERY STREET was a wonderful surprise, a film noir/police procedural with Ricardo Montalban as a Boston detective, circa 1950.

Montalban's Lieutenant Morales joins with Dr. McAdoo (Bruce Bennett), a forensic specialist from Harvard's Department of Legal Medicine, in order to solve the case of a skeleton found on Cape Cod. Watching them gradually put together the pieces of the case using both science and old-fashioned legwork is fascinating. (Morales tells McAdoo something along the lines "You solve cases with your brains, I solve them with my feet.") It's also quite interesting having a peek at the state of forensic medicine over half a century ago. 93 minutes fly by quite quickly.

Montalban is excellent and handsome to look at, as well. (Georgiana Young Montalban was a lucky woman.) I've seen him in everything from Esther Williams movies to STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN to playing the King onstage in THE KING AND I, and even watched him filming a scene on the FANTASY ISLAND soundstage once upon a time, but had never seen him in a role when he was this young that wasn't in a musical or Western.

Bruce Bennett (THE MAN I LOVE) is also terrific as the Harvard scientist. The fine supporting cast includes Sally Forrest, Marshall Thompson, Elsa Lanchester (chewing up the scenery as only Elsa could do), Betsy Blair, and Jan Sterling.

This is one of those fine little movies you might never have heard of which is out there just waiting to be discovered. It was strikingly filmed on location in Boston by cinematographer John Alton, who is particularly known for his black and white photography. (A couple videos I have of Anthony Mann film noirs actually advertise "Photographed By John Alton" on the side of the box.) Alton was equally skilled with color photography, winning the Academy Award for shooting the ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS; he shared the award with Alfred Gilks.

The script was cowritten by writer-director Richard Brooks (THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE). It was directed by John Sturges. Three Sturges-directed Westerns have been reviewed here previously: BACKLASH (1956), ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953), and SADDLE THE WIND (1958). ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO and SADDLE THE WIND will be included in the Warner Western Classics set coming to DVD this summer.

MYSTERY STREET is available on DVD. It can be purchased as part of a double bill with ACT OF VIOLENCE, or as part of the 10-film Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4. I purchased the big set when Amazon recently had it on sale for $29.99; $3.00 per movie struck me as a great deal, particularly as every film in the set has a commentary, featurette, and other extras. A DVD review from Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant is here.

The trailer can be seen at the Turner Classic Movies website here. This MGM film is part of the TCM library.

This film would be great on a double bill with MGM's 1942 film KID GLOVE KILLER, which starred Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt in another "early CSI" procedural detective story.

A very enjoyable viewing experience.

8 Comments:

Blogger Mrs. Happy Housewife said...

I followed your Georgiana Young link through to IMDB and saw that Ricardo Montalban was Loretta Young's BIL. Hollywood family trees always amaze me.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Isn't that something? It's a great story. Montalban worked in Mexico with Loretta's brother-in-law, actor-director Norman Foster. It so happened that Montalban had cut a picture out of a movie magazine with a photo of the four Young sisters in their only joint film, THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1939) and been carrying it in his wallet, as he was quite taken with the youngest sister, Georgiana. Thanks to Foster, Montalban was able to meet Georgiana and he married her within weeks. The Montalbans were married for 63 years, until Georgiana passed away last fall.

Best wishes,
Laura

9:08 AM  
Blogger Carrie Liz said...

That's such a lovely story, Laura. Where did you learn about the Montalbons? From a book, a magazine? I've been trying to find information about the Young sisters, etc., with little success. Could you point me somewhere?

Thanks.
Carrie

1:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I've read the story a few different places over the years. Minor details vary from account to account but they're all pretty much the same. The most memorable was from Ricardo Montalban's autobiography, REFLECTIONS: A LIFE IN TWO WORLDS. He has a copy of the photo in his book which he says he carried (I believe it was from Harper's Bazaar) so I would assume that's the most accurate rendition (!); other accounts have the story I cited here, saying it was a still of the four Young sisters together in A.G.B.

He wasn't specific, but he made it sound like he married her in about a week's time. :)

I don't remember for sure but there might also have been an account in FOREVER YOUNG or other books on Loretta Young. FOREVER YOUNG has a really nice photo of the extended Young family (4 sisters with their husbands) sitting in a backyard in the '40s. If you haven't read it yet, UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE by Loretta's daughter Judy Lewis is also very interesting. It should be read in conjunction with FOREVER YOUNG in order to get the most "fair and balanced" portrait of Loretta.

The earliest info I read on Loretta and her sisters was probably in the wonderful old reference book THE FOX GIRLS which devotes a chapter to Loretta. Jeanine Basinger's recent book THE STAR MACHINE has an excellent chapter on Loretta's career.

Let me know if I can be of further help! Loretta is one of my favorites. A very admirable woman in many ways.

Best wishes,
Laura

1:48 PM  
Blogger Carrie Liz said...

My goodness! Thank you, thank you.

I didn't realize Ricardo Montalban had written an autobiography. That sounds very interesting! I've heard such nice things about him. His book and the two about Loretta are now on order from my library. :)

> "Loretta is one of my favorites. A very admirable woman in many ways."

I feel the same way about her. She was such a wonderful lady.

Best,
Carrie

11:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted I could point you in the direction of these books! One of the wonderful things about the Internet is being able to share ideas and suggestions about common interests. I hope you enjoy all of the books as much as I did.

BTW, a minor correction, it suddenly occurred to me the photo I referenced of Young's extended family is in UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE, rather than FOREVER YOUNG. I just pulled the books off the shelf to make sure.

Best wishes,
Laura

11:46 AM  
Blogger Carrie Liz said...

Thanks, Laura. I'm looking forward to seeing that photo. The Youngs were such a beautiful family.

A very special feature in the the First Season DVD set of THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW is a collection of Loretta's home movies, narrated by her son Christopher Lewis. The clips include some behind-the-scenes footage taken on the sets of several of Loretta's films, but mainly feature her family: mother, sisters, children, and her husband, Tom Lewis. That and THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL is what got me curious to learn more about the Young sisters. I certainly appreciate your help in finding good sources of information!

Best,
Carrie

6:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

You have definitely piqued my interest in getting the Loretta Young set. Although I just got her NEW LORETTA YOUNG SHOW (now subtitled CHRISTINE'S CHILDREN) and ROAD TO LOURDES, I don't have the two seasons I've seen available of the original show. It's wonderful they've been put out with such interesting extras!

Best wishes,
Laura

6:55 PM  

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