Thursday, April 03, 2014

Tonight's Movie: One Way Street (1950) at the Noir City Film Festival

Tonight's Noir City double bill paying tribute to director Hugo Fregonese began with the Argentinian film HARDLY A CRIMINAL (1949) and concluded with his first American film, ONE WAY STREET (1950).

ONE WAY STREET is a Universal film starring two powerhouse actors, James Mason and Dan Duryea, along with reliable heavies William Conrad and Jack Elam, plus lovely Marta Toren.

As was the case on the festival's opening night, Dan Duryea's son Richard was again present to watch his father onscreen in beautiful 35mm.

ONE WAY STREET has a slam-bang opening and a pretty good finish, but the middle section of this 79-minute film sags a bit.

The movie begins with an absolutely gorgeous title credit, followed by an evocative opening sequence watching beautiful Laura (Toren) staring out an apartment building window as sirens wail in the distance.

She's listening anxiously to the sirens along with John Wheeler (Duryea), who has just pulled off a heist of $200,000. Embittered physician "Doc" (Mason) is summoned to attend to wounded henchman Ollie (Conrad), then shocks the group by taking off with the $200,000. Wheeler not only loses the money, he loses Laura, who decides to leave town with Doc, her secret love.

Doc and Laura flee to Mexico, where Doc begins to experience some satisfaction helping villagers in a poor town. If he and Laura are to find happiness, though, Doc needs to return to the U.S. with the money for a final confrontation with Wheeler.

The opening of the film is quite exciting and well-plotted. Doc's plan to take the money and run is cleverly carried off, and that's followed by a disturbing sequence with Jack Elam, creepy as ever.

The middle section of the film, with Doc and Laura in Mexico, doesn't work so well. The film could have dug more deeply into Doc's unhappy past and his relationship with Laura, but their romance is on the tepid side and character motivations are left fairly vague. A series of scenes with Doc interacting with villagers and bandits aren't especially interesting either.

The final confrontation with Wheeler and Ollie is quite exciting, while the ending, which I suppose it could be called poetic, was a bit of a letdown.

While it didn't work for me completely, the film has many strong moments scattered throughout and is definitely worth seeing, especially given its fine cast. All in all, this was a solid night at the movies enjoying new discoveries.

In addition to the previously mentioned lead actors, Basil Ruysdael has a nice role as a roving priest. Rodolfo Acosta, King Donovan, and O.Z. Whitehead are also in the cast.

There are also some fun faces in bit parts. Rock Hudson has a few lines as a truck driver, and James Best appears as another driver. A cop is played by Kenneth Tobey, who would one day star with director Fregonese's wife, Faith Domergue, in IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955).

ONE WAY STREET was filmed in black and white by Maury Gertsman.

On Friday I'll be heading back to the festival to revisit one of my favorite discoveries of 2013, NIGHTFALL (1957).

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