Where Forgotten Films Dwell

Welcome to this site! It exists for one reason: to preserve the memory of films that have been forgotten about or under-appreciated throughout the ages. Take a seat, read an entry, leave a comment. You might discover your new favorite movie!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Guest Post: MYSTERY STREET

Editor's Note: You all may have noticed that activity has been...well...slow. That's because I'm doing my final projects and exams for my Film Studies Master's Degree. So, in the meantime, I've asked some of my friends to do guest reviews. Next up is the amazing Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci with a review of John Sturges' MYSTERY STREET!
 


Mystery Street:  The CSI of Its Day!
By Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci


John Sturges' taut, tense thriller combines a documentary style—including location shooting in Boston—with intense performances, striking photography, and a fresh-for-its-time approach to its murder mystery plot. Floozy Vivian Heldon (Jan Sterling from Union Station; Ace in the Hole; The High and the Mighty, for which Sterling earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination) hijacks a car belonging to grieving father Henry Shanway (Marshall Thompson), whose baby had just died in labor.  But selfish Vivian couldn’t care less about the heartbroken Henry.  She only cares about finding and shaking down James Joshua Harkley (Edmon Ryan of The Breaking Point; The Americanization of Emily; Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz), the upper-crust father of her out-of-wedlock baby-in-progress.  

The next time we see Vivian, she’s a skeleton washed up on a Hyannis beach. Lt. Pete Moralas (Ricardo Montalban) enlists the help of Harvard forensic criminologist Dr. McAdoo (an avuncular yet no-nonsense Bruce Bennett, a favorite of mine since The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; Dark Passage; Mildred Pierce).  The results are as riveting as a good episode of one of the "CSI" TV series. I liked the way the investigation and forensic evidence rang true, while the story by Sydney Bohem, Richard Brooks, and Leonard Spigelgrass (the latter got an Oscar nomination for Best Writing Motion Picture Story) kept me on the edge of my seat with twists and turns, including a monkey wrench thrown into the works by the late Vivian's blackmail-minded landlady, Mrs. Smerrling, well-played by sly, crafty scene-stealer Elsa Lanchester. 

When Henry is wrongly accused of Vivian’s murder and is thrown in prison, the ripple effect on him and his wife Grace (Sally Forrest of The Strip; Hard, Fast, and Beautiful; Vengeance Valley) is enough to put any family in a deep depression.  With Henry in jail, housewife Sally is broke; the crumbling of the Shanways’ finances were movingly and believably rendered. I found myself both empathizing with the Shanways and frustrated with Henry at the same time, thinking, “You dope, what good was it getting drunk and despondent?  Why the hell didn't you stay with Grace in the hospital when your baby died, instead of going off in your misery to get drunk at ‘The Grass Skirt’? Sheesh, you think you're the only one mourning?!” 

The performances are uniformly excellent, although I was particularly impressed with Montalban. Having grown up watching Montalban in relatively lighthearted fare like TV's Fantasy Island, I was impressed at how good he was as tough, cynical Pete, the kind of cop who thinks a suspect is guilty until proved innocent. Even when I was angry at Pete for refusing to believe Grace when she swears Henry's innocent, I could feel his frustration when he realizes that, after all his hard investigative work, his airtight case against the accused man has crucial cracks in it after all. There's also a great moment when the smug Harkley notices Pete's accent (smoothly explained away as Pete being from the Portuguese district) and starts trying to pull rank on Pete, class-wise. There are even some witty moments, like when Pete and his partner end up walking all over Harvard Square trying to find out where the heck the department of legal forensics is.  In the past, this all-but-neglected post-war film noir gem occasionally turned up on TCM, but now it’s included in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume Four.  If you’re interested, it’s available from Amazon.com!

http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Collection-Violence-Mystery-Illegal/dp/B000PKG7DE/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1353348111&sr=1-2&keywords=Mystery+Street

 
Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci, who writes fiction as “Dorian Tenore” to give the world’s typesetters a break, is Communications Director for the sales/leadership coaching firm Performance Based Results.  She was a researcher for David Hajdu’s books Positively 4th Street  and The Ten-Cent Plague (2008). She writes about suspense movies and fiction on her blog site Tales of the Easily Distracted (http://doriantb.blogspot.com/). Dorian is also marketing her suspense novel The Paranoia Club; wish her luck! <smile>

7 comments:

  1. Hey, Nate, thanks for including me as a guest host with my MYSTERY STREET blog post! I've been wanting to write about it for ages, so I'm delighted we were able to showcase each other's swell writing! :-)

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  2. Dorian,
    I'm always interested in a good thriller! : )

    Poor Vivian! Washing up on shore as bones is messed up regardless of how you look at it.

    I've been mad at Montalban for trying to sing in a musical I happened upon late one night. But he just might get back in my good favor with this one.

    A fun and informative review, Dorian. I'm going to see if I can find this one. (Wouldn't you know I just spent my $100 Amazon gift card on books and beauty products) ha ha I'll manage to see this anyway.

    I'm glad you finally got the opportunity to review this little gem.
    Page

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