Film: The Street with No Name

The FBI gets another government-sanctioned turn on the dance floor in The Street with No Name (1948), a semi-sequel to The House on 92nd Street that follows the same model of adapting cases into effective, noir docudrama.  Lloyd Nolan reprises his role as crack FBI agent George Briggs, this time charged with shutting down organized crime in “Center City.”  Forensically related shootings, one during a night club hold-up and another during a bank heist, both point to a convenient patsy named Robert Danker, who is mysteriously bailed out and murdered before FBI evidence can exonerate him.  To investigate this curious situation, Briggs tasks recruit Eugene Cordell (Mark Stevens) to walk in Danker’s footsteps:  live in his skid row hotel, case his haunts, and perhaps get on the radar of the people who set up and murdered him.  In so doing, Cordell inserts himself in the path of seedy, violent gym owner Alec Stiles (Richard Widmark), who it turns out has been framing potential gangsters like Danker, then using police connections to gain access to their rap sheets to see if they’re worth putting on the payroll.  He executes the same tactic on Cordell, who subsequently infiltrates the gang and spearheads the FBI operation to bring it down — risking life and limb in the process.

Less self congratulatory and more neatly plotted than its predecessor, The Street with No Name scales back the patriotic zeal and portentous newsreel narration, without sacrificing the focus on FBI competence, bravery, and tradecraft in facing down dangerous criminal threats.  With its devious mastermind, sharply dressed gangsters, and backroom heist planning sessions, this is classic mob fare, well executed by its testosterone-heavy cast.  Stevens is likeably heroic, while Widmark is darkly charismatic and suitably vicious as the film’s chief public enemy.  Films of this era never cease to amaze me with how effortlessly they execute their story-telling, and this one is no exception, particularly when it abandons direct exposition in favor of no-nonsense, pure visual story-telling.  Classic noir stuff, taut and engaging.

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