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Gunman in the Streets

Gunman in the Streets(1950)

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teaser Gunman in the Streets (1950)

"A deserter from the American army captured in 1949 by the French police after a series of daring daylight robberies, Eddy Robak is to appear tomorrow before the French criminal court.... This man is partly the product of insecurity and desperation, the war, and the black market. An opportunist with a small genius for organization: that is Eddy Robak."

Shot in location in Paris in 1950 on a low budget with an international cast and crew (Russian and French producers, American director and star, French cast, German cinematographer, and screenwriters from all over), Gunman in the Streets stars Dane Clark as Eddy Robak, a different kind of American in Paris. The film opens with Eddy making a daring daylight escape from police custody and follows his efforts to elude the police dragnet over the long night. The cops have all of his haunts staked out, in particular his former lover Denise Vernon (Simone Signoret), loyal to the brutal Eddy even under police surveillance, but this is a love on the dark side.

Eddy is the classic American gangster psychopath, brutal and hot-tempered man, as we see in the opening minutes when he kicks a cop in the teeth during his escape (a shocking scene for the era that was censored in some countries), and jealous of any man who shows an interest in Denise, or worse, any man she shows the slightest affection for. Denise, meanwhile, is the classic elegant dame, cultured and cool on the outside but toughened up by the life she endured along the way. Her loyalty suggests more of a resignation to the inevitable than any desire left for this brazen criminal, but it is loyalty just the same. Which is why Paris Police Commissioner Dufresne (Fernand Gravey) makes a point of keeping her in his sights.

This isn't the glamorous Paris of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, or the romantic bridges crossing the Seine. This is the nocturnal world of non-descript nightclubs, crummy apartments, and dark side streets, with an escape in the fog that ends up in a nearly abandoned industrial park. And forget the criminal code seen in continental crime films from Pp le Moko (1937) and Rififi (1955) to Le Doulos (1962) and Le Circle Rouge (1970). This is the rage-filled criminal of American gangster pictures by way of the post-war psychology of film noir and a world where informants would rat him out in a second.

Brooklyn-born Dane Clark may have had some understanding of his character's roots. Born Bernard Zanville, he was a product of the American Depression, a college graduate with a law degree who turned to boxing, construction, modeling, and finally acting to get by. He followed his friend John Garfield from the New York stage to Hollywood and though he never found Garfield's stardom, he made a name for himself as an intense, serious actor in such films as Action in the North Atlantic (1943) and Moonrise (1948) and remained in demand on television until his retirement in the late 1980s.

Simone Signoret was a rising star in French cinema when she made Gunman in the Streets. Her English is superb in Gunman in the Streets and she was sought out by Hollywood along with Yves Montand, then her lover and soon to be her husband, until her social activism branded her as a Communist during the heated hysteria of the Red Scare in America. She remained in Europe, where she co-starred in Max Ophuls' La Ronde (1950) and went on to take the lead in Jacques Becker's Casque d'Or (1952) and Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955), the films that cemented her international reputation.

Cinematography was by the great Eugen Shfftan, a film pioneer who developed the Shfftan process (a special effect that uses mirrors to combine two different images) and photographed such legendary films as People on Sunday (1930), Marcel Carne's Port of Shadows (1938), George Franju's Eyes Without a Face (1960), and The Hustler (1961), for which he won a long-deserved Academy Award. He also worked uncredited on low budget American films by fellow German migrs Edgar Ulmer and Douglas Sirk in the 1940s, which prepared him for the production of Gunman in the Streets. The budgetary constraints are apparent in the newsreel footage and library shots cut into some of the film's chase and back projection in the many shots of driving through Paris streets and winding country roads, but Shfftan brings a sharp eye for location shooting and a style that makes this very much a French film noir.

Hollywood veteran Frank Tuttle began directing in the silent era and his career spanned many genres. His crime movie credentials include directing William Powell in a couple of Philo Vance mysteries and George Raft in the 1935 The Glass Key, and helping make Alan Ladd a star in the film noir classic This Gun for Hire (1942). But his career was stalled in Hollywood as the House Committee on Un-American Activities began its investigations in the film industry. Tuttle had been a member of the Communist Party and was active in social causes through the 1930s. That was enough to end his career in the late 1940s. Gunman in the Streets was his first directorial credit since 1946. He returned to the U.S. soon after, agreeing to name names to get back into the industry.

The French language version of the film (credited to director Borys Lewin) was released in Paris in December, 1950, under the title Le Traque. In 1951 the English language version was released in Britain under the title Gunman in the Streets and in Canada as Gangster at Bay, in both cases with a few particularly brutal moments edited out by censors, but it never received a proper theatrical release in the United States. The film was finally retitled Time Running Out and sold to TV syndication beginning in 1963. According to All Day Entertainment, which resurrected and restored the film, it made its American theatrical premiere at a screening at Anthology Film Archives in New York City in 2001, fifty years after its Paris debut, with the censored shots restored.

By Sean Axmaker

Gunman in the Streets DVD notes. All Day Entertainment, 2002.
Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist, Patrick McGilligan with Paul Buhle. St. Martin's Griffin, 1997.
Nostalgia isn't what it used to be, Simone Signoret. Harper and Row, 1978.

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