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Port of New York

Posted by martinteller on September 28, 2012

A million dollars’ worth of opium disappears off a ship, and it’s up to customs agent Mickey Waters (Scott Brady) and narcotics agent Jim Flannery (Richard Rober) to track down the drugs and find out who’s leading this operation.  It’ll require stakeouts, interrogations and undercover work.  You know… cop stuff.

This is pretty bad at first.  The docudrama style (like House on 92nd Street) involves a lot of terrible voiceover.  There’s good voiceover and bad voiceover, but when it sounds like a corny lecture off an educational reel, it’s usually bad.  But put aside the lame narration — and the familiar story — and there’s some goodness to be found.  When watching Undertow the other day, I was trying to figure out who Brady reminds me of.  I think I’ve got it.  He resembles Lawrence Tierney in both voice and appearance.  He’s like a nice Tierney.  And he does all right here, especially playing off the craggier Rober.

The film is perhaps most notable for the debut of Yul Brynner, who appears as the exotic, cool as a cucumber kingpin.  Brynner doesn’t actually get much screentime, but he has some of the best moments, including a cold-blooded murder.

But the real star of this show is Arthur Blake, whose eccentric performance as a low man on the drug-dealing totem pole is quite memorable.  He really hams it up, pulling focus like Tim Carey (and kind of looking like a chubbier version of him, too).  When we first see him, he’s emceeing a nightclub doing a Charles Laughton impression… and a pretty good one, too.

Although a lot of the plotting is uninspired, there are some nuggets here and there.  The last half hour contains a truly surprising development.  Blake’s interrogation scene features an almost avant-garde moment where the ticking of the clock becomes the pounding of a kettle drum.  The action scenes are well done, and the violence can be brutal.  The score and the photography are both mixed bags, but sometimes they’re right on the money.  Extensive use of real locations sweetens the deal.  If it wasn’t for the lousy narration, this would rate a bit higher, but there’s enough tasty noirness here to make it worthwhile.  Rating: Good (70)


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