A Movie A Day: Quint on MYSTERY STREET (1950)
Professors work with their heads. Cops work with their feet.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today I am well-rested and ready to tackle today’s flick, MYSTERY STREET, directed by John Sturges, director of yesterday’s GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL.
Now, I liked yesterday’s movie, but didn’t love it. When today’s movie started I got the feeling I’d be in the same boat with it. In the first ten minutes we get to know Vivian (played by Jan Sterling). She’s living in a crowded apartment building with an eavesdropping and snippy landlady (played by the Bride herself, Elsa Lanchester). There’s a shared phone in the hallway, an old-timey one where you hold the separate handpiece to your hear like a Dixie cup and speak into the receiver mounted on the wall, and we hear her arrange to meet with someone. It sounds like trouble.
But I really didn’t care much because Vivian comes off as totally unlikable. She has a chip on her shoulder and she’s not even an entertaining bitch, just a mean one. If she was going to be this movie’s femme fatale I wasn’t all that excited, but luckily for me this lady ends up dead at about the 15 minute mark, but not before she picks up a drunk at the bar where she works, takes him and his car for a spin before ditching him.
She takes a bullet when she meets the man she’s upset with. He stays in the shadows so we don’t know who he is as covers up his crime as best he can.
This is when Ricardo Montalban comes in to take this movie from okay to fucking outstanding. Montalban plays Lieutenant Morales, a young, eager cop, who is called in when a bird-watcher stumbles upon a skeleton in the sand. He has a radical idea, to involve some Harvard doctors to help determine the identity of this person.
Yeah, this movie really does act like a precursor to CSI type shows, but with one radical difference… ‘40s and ‘50s technology is a billion times more interesting than computers and digital analyzers.
It takes the combined efforts of Bruce Bennett (playing Harvard professor Dr. McAdoo) and Montalban to discover the girl’s identity, using science to determine specifics that Montalban follows-up on through good old fashioned policework.
Turns out this girl was… well, a little bit of a slut-whore (which was my impression from the get-go) and there is a little black book filled with over 80 potential suspects.
But the main suspect seems to be the poor drunk bastard who decided against telling his wife that he let himself get picked up and lied to the insurance officers, claiming his car was stolen outside the hospital where his wife was recovering from a miscarriage. Now you know why he was getting drunk. So, his lying to try to cover up his insurance scam makes him look super guilty.
And here’s a twist I didn’t see coming. Montalban, who up to this point has been a solid good guy through and through, seems to want this guy to be guilty so bad, that he starts ignoring evidence to the contrary, even when it’s presented by Dr. McAdoo, who he’s trusted implicitly from the beginning.
It’s not a huge dark downturn for the character, but a moment of weakness, those shades of gray I keep going on and on about loving in these noirs.
Speaking of shades of gray, MVP of this movie is Elsa Lanchester as the old Scrooge who runs the apartments where the murdered girl lived. She conceils evidence and we don’t know exactly why… until she tries to blackmail the murderer. Lanchester gives a great character performance here.
Sally Forrest is the heart of the film, though. She is the drunk’s wife, still coping with losing their child and the diagnosis from her doctor that she’ll never be able to bear children, and then forced to watch her husand arrested for murder.
Montalban is pretty cold towards her, which is a bit of a shock since he’s so charming and full of smiles and confidence the rest of the movie. I think she represents her husband’s innocence to him and he doesn’t like that. He wants to be the hero so badly, to solve this case and close that file, that he instantly dislikes her because he does see her husband’s innocence in her.
Montalban himself deserves a lot of credit. I always knew he had charisma from his Khan days (and his turn in THE NAKED GUN, which I always loved), but I was surprised just how effortlessly laid back and confident he came off as in this movie. I loved his work so much that my anticipation of tomorrow’s BORDER INCIDENT has doubled. In fact, his work in this movie makes me want to seek out every single film he’s ever starred in.
Final Thoughts: The murder mystery aspect to this film is great, the film is overloaded with great performances all culminating with a great final foot-chase through stationary (and non-stationary) trains. The Academy Award nominated writing by Leonard Spigelgass, Sydney Boehm and Richard Brooks deserves the nom, Sturges’ direction is a great match for the material, again effortlessly confident. The whole thing is one big ball of awesome.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Monday, November 24th: BORDER INCIDENT (1949)
Tuesday, November 25th: THE TIN STAR (1957)
Wednesday, November 26th: ON THE BEACH (1959)
Thursday, November 27th: TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949)
Friday, November 28th: GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT (1947)
Saturday, November 29th: PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950)
Sunday, November 30th: THE HOT ROCK (1972)
Some great stuff this week. Tomorrow is more Ricardo Montalban with BORDER INCIDENT! See you for that!
Also, I'm really diving into the Holiday Gift Guide this week. It's shaping up to be a great one. Look for it to hit Thanksgiving, but if you have any thoughts on what should be included in the guide this year, I'm still taking suggestions.
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Nov. 24, 2008, 3:22 a.m. CST
Heh heh...Someone had to do it.<p> </p>Haven't seen this in donkey's years (wait, do donkeys live longer than humans?), but I remember being pleasantly surprised. Still, out of that double-bill, I'd say Act of Violence is the best. Make sure you get around to it eventually, Quint! (Unless you've already seen it). Ven Heflin was a really underrated and underused leading man. Anyone who's seen my FAVOURITE NOIR, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, can verify that!
Nov. 24, 2008, 3:31 a.m. CST
Wish I had time and the money to invest in all these awesome old timey noir flicks! But I'm making a list, and one day I'll check them out.
Nov. 24, 2008, 7:20 a.m. CST
They don't make ads like that anymore
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:19 a.m. CST
I propose that “A movie a day”, or as I like to think of it, “I have nothing going on in my life” be moved to a different section. It’s annoying to scroll through the “Latest News” and see that every other post is a review of some old movie you watched that you feel a need to share with everyone else. This is hardly “News”. I mean, how long are you going to keep this up? We get it, you’ve missed a lot of movies and now you’re spending upwards of 4 hours/day watching a reviewing them. I find it very sad.
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:24 a.m. CST
Just pick up this, http://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Classics-100-Movie-Pack/dp/B000K6GM4W for $26 you'll have 100 film noir flicks to go through.
Nov. 24, 2008, 8:29 a.m. CST
Wonder if the chair he was sitting in was Corinthian leather. <br> <br> Seriously, thank you Quint for embarking on this daunting task. I've "Netflixed" quite a few of these on your recommendation alone, and so far they have all been excellent choices.
Nov. 24, 2008, 10:42 a.m. CST
It may not be breaking news, but if you have never seen the film, it’s news to you. Even if it is a film you’ve seen many times it interesting to get the reaction of someone viewing it for the first time. To me that is part of the appeal of this kind of site, the sharing of opinions and outlook on a shared interest. May not always agree but the inaction can be entertaining. There are some days AMAD is the only article that I read in detail.
Nov. 24, 2008, 10:55 a.m. CST
Have to agree with seppukudkurosawa about giving respect to Van Heflin. Besides the above-mentioned Noirs of Act of Violence (which Quint did review) and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (only movie I can think of were Kirk Douglas is completely overshadowed) there is also The Prowler and several westerns (Shane, Gunman’s Walk and the original 3:10 to Yuma). <p> As for Ricardo Montalban and Mystery Street, I can’t believe you didn’t bring up one of my favorite lines, where the antagonist says that his family has been in Boston for about seven generations, Ricardo replies (and I am paraphrasing) “Well, my family has only been here for two.” Ricardo might of well have said "F-you, you Brahmin blueblood."
Nov. 24, 2008, 1:28 p.m. CST
by Out of your element
I'll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition's flame before I let him taste this delicious coffee
Nov. 24, 2008, 4:02 p.m. CST
I find this column utterly enjoyable. If it's a movie I know I'm going to have zero interest in, I skip it, but more often than not I thoroughly enjoy the column. I mean, basically, it's just you talking about film -- and isn't that what this site was predicated on? Oh, and I hope you dig The Hot Rock! An odd bit of ridiculousness from what I consider Redford's golden era. Great cast, too. Keep up the good work, and forget the nay-sayers!
Nov. 24, 2008, 6:26 p.m. CST
...era of Law & Order. I saw this on TMC and expected a young Jerry Orbach to show up as Montalban's partner. I also used to think Bratt should have had a guest role on Enterprise as a younger Khan but then I realized how Enterprise SUCKED!
Nov. 24, 2008, 6:37 p.m. CST
Given that only 12 people have commented on this I don't get the sense that it's worth his 4 hours/day he spends watching/reviewing movies. There's nothing wrong with wasting time this way, but I don't think it's the "Latest News" and it should be placed somewhere else. Like I stated above, it's enough already.
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