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Down Three Dark Streets

Down Three Dark Streets(1954)

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teaser Down Three Dark Streets (1954)

Down Three Dark Streets, a 1954 movie with a film noir-like title, was actually more accurately represented under its original working title Case File: FBI. Far from being a moody melodrama with morally ambiguous leading characters, this Edward Small production is a straightforward documentary-style police drama in the vein of Jack Webb's then-popular Dragnet series. The film opens with stately music and a solemn narration that leaves no room for doubt that what follows will be a highly respectful love letter to the men of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or, as the booming narrator intones, "FBI: letters that spell out the internal security of the nation. Behind those doors your guardians. At their command, the most advanced and complete scientific assistance known to man. But often more important than science is the intelligence, the imagination of the individual agent the FBI Man."

As the movie proper starts, hoodlum Joe Walpo (Joe Bassett) guns down a gas station attendant (William Schallert) on his way to Los Angeles. At FBI Headquarters, Agent Zack Stewart (Kenneth Tobey) is assigned the case. Stewart is a hard-working married man who is also working on two other cases. One of those involves a car theft ring and the questioning of Vince Angelino (Gene Reynolds) in the hopes that he will name the thieves; in the other case, Kate Martell (Ruth Roman) alerts the FBI when she starts receiving phone calls from an extortionist armed with threats against her daughter. Agent John Ripley (Broderick Crawford) is on a call with Agent Stewart when Stewart is shot dead. Ripley is assigned all three of Stewart's open cases in the hopes that his investigations will turn up the killer. Among the colorful characters that Ripley interviews are Walpo's sexy girlfriend Connie (Martha Hyer), Martell's neighbors and acquaintances, and Reynolds' blind wife Julie (Marisa Pavan).

The large cast and interlocking investigations of Down Three Dark Streets are expertly managed by the screenwriters, Bernard C. Schoenfeld and the husband-and-wife team The Gordons (Mildred and Gordon). The Gordons also wrote the source novel, Case File: FBI. It would have been the normal operating procedure at the time to submit any screenplay dealing with the FBI to the Bureau itself for approval. Existing memos indicate that Director J. Edgar Hoover objected that the script was "a blueprint for the crime of extortion. You not only reveal the activities of the criminal, but also reveal the countermeasures taken by the FBI...portrayed in such a way as to make it easier for a future extortionist to avoid apprehension." (Interestingly, Broderick Crawford was to play Hoover himself years later in Larry Cohen's eccentric biopic The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover - 1977).

The Gordons wrote a number of mystery and crime novels, but their most popular book was probably a fantasy called Undercover Cat, which was adapted to film by the Disney Studios as the live-action film, That Darn Cat! (1965), starring Dean Jones. The most accomplished film they were associated with was probably Blake Edwards' Experiment in Terror (1962), a tense thriller starring Glenn Ford and Lee Remick.

Down Three Dark Streets was director Arnold Laven's third feature following several years in the industry as a script supervisor. He directed only a handful of other theatrical films, including the worthwhile crime drama Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) for Universal and The Monster That Challenged the World (1957), one of the better post-Them! (1954) sci-fi films of the 1950s that featured giant, mutated creatures. From 1960 to 1985 Laven worked almost exclusively in series television, helming numerous episodes of such western and adventure shows as The Rifleman, Mannix, The Rockford Files, and The A-Team.

Broderick Crawford was one of the few film stars of the early 1950s who easily bounced between roles on television (in anthology dramas like Four Star Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars) and prestigious parts on the big screen. The year after appearing in Down Three Dark Streets and in Fritz Lang's Human Desire (1954), Crawford began his long run on the series Highway Patrol (1955-1959), though he continued to appear in features even during the duration of that series.

Executive Producer: Edward Small
Producers: Arthur Gardner, Jules V. Levy
Director: Arnold Laven
Screenplay: Gordon and Mildred Gordon, Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Music: Paul Sawtell
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Film Editing: Grant Whytock
Production Design: Edward S. Haworth
Makeup: Gustaf Norin
Cast: Broderick Crawford (Agent John Ripley), Ruth Roman (Kate Martell), Martha Hyer (Connie Anderson), Marisa Pavan (Julie Angelino), Kenneth Tobey (Agent Zack Stewart), Gene Reynolds (Vince Angelino).

by John M. Miller

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