Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Street With No Name - Noir or Documentary?

The Street With No Name is a film noir directed by William Keighley in 1948. The story follows FBI agent Richard Atkins (played by Mark Stevens), as he dives into the criminal underworld. By picking up a fake identity, agent Atkins draws the attention of the local gang by winning a boxing match. After they frame him for robbery, the crime boss Alec Stiles (played by Richard Widmark), checks out Atkins' fake criminal credentials and deems him worthy to run with the gang. Feeding gathered evidence to a singe point of contact outside the seedy underbelly, Atkins helps the feds close in on Stiles. However, Stiles discovers Atkins is a traitor from an inside source and decides to have him killed. But at the end of the day, a final shootout occurs, the inside man gets arrested, and Atkins lives to save the day.

This movie proves to be awesome with some very noirish trademarks:
  • A lot of time is spent around the boxing ring. Boxing is definitely associated with betting, bookies, fixers, and loan sharks.
  • Atkins stays in a crumby motel with leaky facets, broken mirrors, and creaky floor boards.
  • The crime boss has a beautiful dame that he slaps around to show his power.
  • The final shootout takes place in an abandoned factory. As the hero chases the gangster through a labyrinth of staircases and catwalks, dark shadows and gritty textures are brilliantly displayed on the screen.

So the movie has an intriguing plot with lots of twists and turns. It reminds me of an older version of The Departed (a movie that ranks in my current Top 5). But in addition to the crime story, the film acts as an educational documentary featuring the FBI. Narrated in a similar fashion to Troy McClure from the Simpsons, the viewers are shown basic forensic processes and field agent training. To add to the scholarly feel, very astute and collegiate music is played in the background. However, as the movie progresses, it moves further away from the documentary style and gets closer to the styling of film noir. Although I'd much rather see an entire movie filled with grim crime fiction, it is still fun to watch as it historically documents America's support for J. Edgar Hoover and his G-Men.

So on Death List Five, The Street With No Name ranks #4.

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