Saturday, November 02, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Down Three Dark Streets (1954)

As regular readers know, I love film noir, and I'm especially fond of the "docu-noir" subgenre, in which FBI agents crack a case while a deep-voiced narrator provides regular commentary.

My dad recently saw DOWN THREE DARK STREETS (1954) and recommended it as my kind of movie. I just saw it, and he was certainly right! It's an entertaining procedural including lots of interesting L.A. location work, with the movie's climax taking place at the Hollywood sign.

Broderick Crawford plays FBI Agent John Ripley, who takes over three cases which were being worked on by a colleague (Kenneth Tobey) who is killed. Ripley hopes that in solving the cases he'll also solve his fellow agent's murder.

The three cases Ripley methodically tackles start with Ruth Roman as a widow whose child has been threatened by someone trying to extort the life insurance funds left to her by her husband. Roman does a fine job as a loving mother who's trying to live a quiet life and is at the end of her rope, emotionally speaking.

Meanwhile flashy, bejeweled, and unhappy Martha Hyer is being watched in hopes she'll lead the agents to her boyfriend, a bank robber and killer (Joe Bassett). And Marisa Pavan is the blind wife of a man who was sent to jail for a crime he may not have committed; he fears cutting a deal and telling the feds what he knows about a crime ring.

Narrator William Woodson, most recently heard as the narrator of FBI CODE 98 (1963), moves the stories along, as well as heaping praise on the FBI, "your guardians." There's also the usual stock footage of FBI agents at work in the D.C. lab; I find the painstaking pre-computer era techniques used in crime-solving quite fascinating.

Having grown up watching reruns of HIGHWAY PATROL after school, Crawford certainly struck me as perfect casting for an FBI agent in this film. (HIGHWAY PATROL, in fact, began airing the very next year.) He plays the role in a low-key and appealing way, and there's even the merest hint that he might attempt seeing Roman on a non-business basis once the case is solved.

For this Southern Californian, part of what makes the movie so great is all the filming around Los Angeles; I love seeing what the city looked like in the '50s. The subway was fascinating, and I especially loved the detail that Roman was a buyer at Ohrbach's, a long-gone department store which was still around when I was a child. A couple of years ago Robby did a great post on the movie's locations at Dear Old Hollywood.

DOWN THREE DARK STREETS runs 85 minutes and was directed by Arnold Laven (SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE). It was filmed in black and white by Joseph Biroc. Gordon and Mildred Gordon, who wrote the screenplay as well as the novel which inspired the film, went on to write the novels and screenplays for EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962) and THAT DARN CAT! (1965).

DOWN THREE DARK STREETS was released on DVD-R by MGM in 2011. March 2018 Update: A restored print of DOWN THREE DARKS STREETS will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in April by ClassicFlix. September 2018 Update: My review of the terrific Blu-ray is here.

This film, originally released by United Artists, can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is on the TCM website.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Sounds great. I've never seen it, but I also like the procedurals, especially a look at L.A. back in the day.

4:24 AM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

Thanks for the link Laura and glad to hear you enjoyed the film. It really is a great LA time capsule isn't!?

6:58 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Good film,Laura, but,personally I don't like these voice-overs. They shouldn't be necessary.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

The title has been on my radar for a while, but it took you to push it to the forefront.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jacqueline and Caftan Woman, hope you both get to check it out -- if you have Netflix it can be streamed. :)

You're very welcome, Robby, my thanks to *you* for that great set of photos related to the film. I was especially fascinated by the train tunnel which was sealed up.

Vienna, my daughter is with you, she finds the docu-noir voiceovers annoying and feels they dilute the suspense. For me the narration is part of the charm of docu-noirs -- I think I find the omniscient voice reassuring that all will be well.

Best wishes,

12:08 AM  

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