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Race Street

Posted by martinteller on November 12, 2012

“If I leave you alone, the only place you’ll get is in the morgue.  If I stick to you, either you’re gonna stay out of trouble or I’m gonna get into it.  Which is just what I’m waiting for.”

Three friends from way back.  Barney Runson (William Bendix) is a plainclothes detective.  Dan Gannin (George Raft) is a high-stakes bookie and Hal Towers (Harry Morgan) works one of his lower-level operations.  They’re on opposite sides of the law, but they remain pals.  Then the syndicate starts trying to run a protection racket on the local bookies, and they chuck Hal down a flight of stairs.  Dan swears vengeance, but Barney is putting the pressure on him to let the police handle it.  He recruits Dan’s sister (Gale Robbins) and sweetheart (Marilyn Maxwell) to help his cause, but Hal has a code and is determined to do things his way.

Edwin L. Marin previously directed Raft in the excellent detective story Nocturne.  Reuniting them here seems to be almost as successful.  Raft is one of the great scrappy guys of noir, tough but cautious.  You can’t complain about Bendix or Morgan, either, both superb in their roles.  You’ve also got character actor Frank Faylen as the lead antagonist.  A longtime noir staple (and “Ernie” from It’s a Wonderful Life), he doesn’t get much screen time here at all, but he makes the most of it.  His vocal inflections remind me a lot of the bizarre cadences of David Lynch.  Maxwell is good but really needs more to do… a certain twist in her character could have been milked a little more.

The story isn’t all that hot, and is mildly repetitive as Raft and Bendix keep butting heads, but the film gets enough things right that it doesn’t matter.  Except for one terrible process shot, the cinematography is good and at times outstanding.  While a little short on the deep chiaroscuro lighting I prefer in noir, there’s some wonderful camera movement going on.  The shot of Faylen’s goons escorting Raft up the same stairs that Morgan died on is masterfully done.  And there’s an amazing shot of Gale Robbins floating over the crowd as she sings “I’m in a Jam With Baby”.  Robbins also has two other songs, both with vaudeville guy Cully Richards.  None of the songs have anything to do with anything (Dan’s side project is a new nightclub with his sister as the entertainment) but they’re all pulled off well.  The Roy Webb score is effective as well.

There’s not a lot of lines that stick out as memorable classics, but most of the dialogue is enjoyable snappy banter.  There’s also some nice little touches just for fun.  Bendix goes to visit Raft in the hospital.  He finds a doctor wrapping up the ankle of a drunken floozy.  Bendix asks for directions, and the doctor points the way using the dame’s foot.  Got a good chuckle out of that one.  The movie is just like that… it’s not the kind of thing that screams greatness (especially with such a bland title) but it crackles and pops in a way that really satisfies.  Rating: Very Good (83)


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