Director: William Keighley
Cast: Richard Widmark, Mark Stevens, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Lawrence, Ed Begley
If you’ve taken a look at my other blog ( thoughtfulthinkingthoughts.wordpress.com ) you might know that, of late, I’ve been on a big “I must own every Richard Widmark movie I can get my hands on” kick. It started with just wanting Night and the City and Don’t Bother to Knock. Nowhere I went had them. So, naturally, this led to me buying every single movie they had at Borders. That’s what we call lack of self control, folks. One of those movies was the 1948 noir The Street With No Name, which is a sort of documdrama, supposedyl ripped from real FBI files (I say supposedly because I’m far too lazy to look to see if what they said at the beginning of the movie is true). It definitely has that feel of a The Naked City, only perhaps more movie-y.
Agent Gene Cordell (Stevenes) is recruited to go undercover to help solve some murders and robberies and whatnot. He takes the identity of Gene Manly, and goes to work for crime boss Alec Stiles (Widmark). It doesn’t take too much work to find incriminating evidence against Stiles, but the boss has people in high places that put a wrench in the plans of the FBI, and puts Cordell’s life in danger.
The Street With No Name was made the year after Widmark’s star making role in Kiss of Death, so he was sort of type cast as the bad guy. His performance here isn’t nearly as evil nor as maniacal (no pushing crippled old ladies down the stairs in this one), but he still plays a damn good villain. I love Richard Widmark anyway I can get him, be that villain, hero, anti-hero. But he really does something special with his villains. He was one of the few actors who wasn’t really afraid of alienating the audience or being disliked, which really gave him the power to create some really destestable villains. But he also makes them so electrifying, especially against the somewhat dull good guys, that you’re almost rooting for him.
Mark Stevens is sold in his role. This isn’t a particularly demanding hero role. He’s not a conflicted hero, he doesn’t get taken in by the glamor of the life of crimes. He’s just a good guy doing his job well, and Stevens sells that well enough. The relative dullness of the role really isn’t his fault. It’s just not an excitingly written role.
This is a very straightforward film, made without much flair, probably intentionally so. With professional sounding narration, they really seemed to be going for a non-film, documentary feeling and they succeed. The movie may have been a little more interesting if it had been made as straight up, stylish noir. But as it is, it’s just an interesting story presented in a simple way. Viewed in today’s context, the narration definitely feels a little corny.
I have to admire the movie a bit for really sticking to that docu-drama idea and not throwing a romance in for the sake of it. Agent Cordell is getting no love here. The movie is all about the story of the crime, with no room for romantic frills. The only woman in the cast is Barbara Lawrence, playing Stiles’ abused-yet-still-brassy wife. It’s a role that has little point except to show what an asshole Stiles really is, but Lawrence plays the role well, garnering sympathy for a character that’s not particularly likable.
Overall, this is definitely an excellent film to watch if you’re a Widmark fan. It really showcases his talent, and he’s definitely the best thing about the movie. And if you like these docu-dramas, this is one of the best.
By Katie Richardson