movie review: Down Three Dark Streets

Down Three Dark Streets (1954)

What did you watch? The crime anthology story(ies) Down Three Dark Streets, from 1954.

How dark were the streets? It mostly took place in apartment buildings but now that I think about it, yeah, there were a couple outdoor scenes.

How to describe a movie that has some kind of narrative stretching across three different crimes? Other than: there’s some kind of narrative that connect three crime stories (the dark streets). It starts with an escaped convict on a killing spree, and FBI Agent Zack who is covering it gets killed working on a different case.

Agent Ripley is devastated by Zack’s death but buries his grief deep in the paperwork of the cases Zack was working on – perhaps one of these cases will lead to the man who killed Zack.

One of the cases deals with someone trying to steal insurance money from Kate, whose husband had passed away. The FBI puts a lot of effort into monitoring both Kate and a long list of suspects (acquaintances who know about the money). Ripley has to juggle these cases, involving mobster molls and shady relatives and car thieves, all unrelated. Kate has a pushy male friend, Dave, who wants to date Kate. He makes Kate very nervous, or at least that’s the vibe she gives off when he’s around and makes clumsy advances on her.

Lots of things happen. Ridley & the FBI follow the gangster moll to a remote cabin to catch the escaped killer from the first scene. The car thief ring is brought down by the thief’s blind wife who used her other senses to describe a man from the gang who roughed her up. But Zack’s killer will soon be revealed along with the man trying to extort Kate (and by the time you get there, it’s pretty obvious).

This is one of those post-war crime movies that starts with an introduction about how awesome the FBI is. The only factoid about the movie in Wikipedia is that J. Edgar Hoover didn’t approve of an early script. The Ripley character was a regular in the novels by married couple Gordon & Mildred Gordon (yes, Gordon Gordon), who wrote the script after discovering that they got paid less when they wrote a book and someone else wrote the screenplay on the book. Ripley is played by Broderick Crawford, who we saw in a bunch of movies (my favorite still being Scandal Sheet). The crime stories are pretty matter of fact. Crawford’s Ripley doesn’t get involved in the cases beyond them being cases. He doesn’t fall in love with any of the dames, he doesn’t become disillusioned by the cases or the bureaucracy. It’s a very Dragnet by the numbers cases that happen to overlap each other, only tied together by not having solved Zack’s murder in the first reel. This could BE a Dragnet style tv show, if Zack isn’t murdered and the last case happens to end in the capture of Zack’s murder. It definitely beats a lazy framing device that wouldn’t excuse slamming three unrelated movies into a theater on Friday night. Does Ripley feel anything as the gangster girlfriend cries over her awful murderous boyfriend? Does he take time to bask in the warmth of reuniting the car thief and his wife, freed from the ring of car thieves? Nope, just on to the next case.

Also in it is Max Showalter as Dave, and I recognize his distinct sharp voice from the MST3K episode, Indestructible Man, where he plays a police officer who never shuts up in his quest to track down Lon Cheney Jr. He had an interesting (in a fruitful sense) career in television, movies, and even songwriting and painting.

The performances are pretty good and there’s some tension, but otherwise it’s a pretty bland procedural that could have been a TV show, yet probably would have been lost in a sea of similar shows at the time.

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