Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tonight's Movie: 99 River Street (1953)

99 RIVER STREET is a terrific film noir starring John Payne and directed by Phil Karlson, who had previously collaborated on KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952). 99 RIVER STREET was shown last night on Turner Classic Movies as part of an evening of John Payne films.

On the very night boxer-turned-cabbie Eddie Driscoll (Payne) learns he's being two-timed by his beautiful, cold-hearted wife Pauline (Peggie Castle), Eddie lands in a whole lot of trouble. Caught betwixt and between the police who want to arrest him and men who would see him dead, Eddie spends much of the night cruising the mean streets in his cab, trying to unravel the mess he's in and clear his name. Eddie's accompanied by Linda (Evelyn Keyes), an actress he'd befriended.

This is one of those films where it would be a shame to say any more and give away the plot's many twists and turns. Payne is terrific as the washed-up boxer who "could have been a contender" before Brando's Terry Malloy came along. It might be the best Payne performance I've seen to date. It's rather interesting that Payne, like Dick Powell, started out as a leading man in musicals and light comedies before successfully changing his image starring in much darker fare.

Evelyn Keyes started to lose me early on, as I found her character went over the top in the melodrama department. But then something happened which made it all make sense, and she won me over. One of her last scenes, as she comes on to a very bad man (Brad Dexter) in the cafe at 99 River Street, was rather eye-popping for 1953.

It's a rough, gritty film; I lost count partway through the 83-minute running time of how many people were slugged or hit in the head with a gun. Yet it's also a great example of film noir beauty -- dark, rain-slicked streets, men in fedoras, shadows on walls...a classic example of the genre.

The gleaming black and white cinematography was by Frank (Franz) Planer, who shot over 150 films in his four-decade-long career. His credits include LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948), the highly regarded film noir CRISS CROSS (1949), Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), and William Wyler's THE BIG COUNTRY (1958). The same year he filmed 99 RIVER STREET he photographed ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953).

The film has a terrific supporting cast. I've come to really appreciate Peggie Castle, who also appeared in Randolph Scott's TALL MAN RIDING (1955) and costarred with John Russell in the TV series LAWMAN, which I've been recording over the last few months from Encore Westerns. In 99 RIVER STREET she's the classic leggy blonde dame who can't be trusted. I was saddened to learn she was only 45 when she died in 1973.

Frank Faylen plays Eddie's loyal friend. Glen Langan, Jay Adler, Jack Lambert, and Ian Wolfe are also in the cast.

99 RIVER STREET isn't out on video or DVD. (2018 Update: 99 RIVER STREET is now available on DVD from MGM or Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. It can be rented for streaming on Amazon Instant Video.)

The trailer can be seen at TCM. Gotta love it: "Sin walks arm in arm with sudden death! To go down these steps is to go to Perdition! To pass through this door is to face the unspeakable terrors of 99 River Street!"

How can you resist a sales pitch like that? If you like film noir, chances are good you'll like 99 RIVER STREET.


Blogger Gordon Pasha said...

Laura: “Terrific” is just the right word. I saw this on TCM the other night -- I had not seen it in decades – and it was like a first viewing. It sparkled. It is like a perfect black and white Chinese checkerboard, with all the circles fitting just where they belong -- and connecting to that which is around them (many of them dangerous). With your amount of readers, I hope, for their sake, a goodly number follow your advice. And it is, as you say, on Netflix download. Best. Gerald

10:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

So glad you enjoyed it too, Gerald! I'd love to see this one with a commentary track. What an enjoyable and visually striking movie.

Best wishes,

11:07 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

I recorded all the John Payne noir's on Friday night. Great enterntainment!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I agree. It's terrific. Fast paced and gripping. Memorable scene in the theatre.
John Payne like Dick Powell turned his career around from musicals to noir!

6:41 AM  

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