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Down Three Dark Streets

Posted by martinteller on September 18, 2014

FBI Agent Zack Stewart (Kenneth Tobey) is working three different cases.  The first involves Joe Walpo (Joe Bassett), a fugitive killer in hiding, but his gal Connie (Martha Hyer) is keeping mum.  The second involves Vince Angelino (Gene Reynolds), the fall guy in a car heist ring who would rather go to prison than talk and risk the safety of his blind wife Julie (Marisa Pavan).  The third involves Kate Martell (Ruth Roman), a widow threatened by a mysterious caller: hand over her $10,000 of insurance money or her little girl gets killed.  Late one night Stewart is called to the apartment of Brenda Ralles (Suzanne Alexander), only told that it has something to do with a case of his.  He takes along Agent John “Rip” Ripley (Broderick Crawford), but Ralles is visibly shaken and the agents see a figure slip out the back.  Going to investigate, Stewart is shot and killed.  Ralles won’t talk, so now it’s up to Rip to figure out which case is tied to Stewart’s murder.

This is an okay procedural, but something of a letdown from director Arnold Laven, coming between two much better noirs, Without Warning! and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.  Despite the unusual angle of following three different cases, it’s all rather routine and doesn’t pack a lot of excitement.  The voiceover by professional narrator William Woodson is stiff and authoritative, and sounds especially hokey in conjunction with the vaguely patriotic music that opens the film.  The procedural elements aren’t that special.  And it’s not too hard to predict which case links to the killer, or who the killer is.

One particularly dumb part is Stewart’s murder.  Rip comes around the corner seconds after the shot is fired.  He does nothing to look for the killer.  He doesn’t even glance around.  He just strolls sadly into Ralles’s apartment to phone it in.  That’s some low-effort detective work there.

But the film has some nice bits.  Hyer is one of those great noir dames, all sass but letting her vulnerability peek through (speaking of peeking, Laven cheesily parades both Hyer and Roman around in their undergarments).  Max Showalter does his usual Max Showalter thing, but with a creepy twist.  At one point he’s putting the moves on Ruth Roman and the bag of popcorn he’s holding explodes all over the place… a not-very-thinly-veiled visual metaphor for ejaculation.  There’s another sleazy bit involving Jay Adler (one of those “hey, it’s that guy” character actors) as “Uncle Max”.  Crawford is solid as always, it’s not one of his meatier roles but you can count on him to carry a picture.  And there are a couple of good action sequences, including a climax that makes terrific use of the Hollywood sign.

Some rough edges are hinted at, but overall the movie is too restrained and routine to catch fire.  Rating: Fair (63)


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