Sun 27 Jan 2008
PORT OF NEW YORK. Samba Films, 1949. Scott Brady, Robert Rober, K. T. Stevens, Yul Brynner, Arthur Blake, Lynne Carter; narrated by Chet Huntley. Director: László Benedek.
Filmed as a semi-documentary on behalf of US Customs and the Treasury Department, with narration throughout by (uncredited) Chet Huntley, there’s enough solid drama stuck in between the various drop-in chunks of stock footage — suitable for PTA meetings and 4H clubs, not that there’s anything wrong with that — to make this a rather respectable (and enjoyable) crime thriller.
Unlike the film Dangerous Lady, which I reviewed here not so very long ago, Port of New York takes its crime seriously. When a load of dangerous narcotics is smuggled into New York City from the sea, an entire contingent of federal men are summoned to work on the case, led by Jimmy Flannery (Richard Rober) as a treasury agent, assisted by “Mickey” Waters (Scott Brady) on customs detail. (Unless of course I have their job assignments switched around. In the context of the movie, it didn’t seem to matter.)
Their roles pale in comparison with that of the villain of the piece, though, a suave but nasty piece of work named Paul Vicola (Yul Brynner, in his film debut, and with hair, as I think every retro-reviewer of this movie is going to say, so why shouldn’t I?). When his girl friend Toni Cardell (lovely brunette K. T. Stevens) discovers that murder is involved, she begins to have second thoughts.
Her fate is sealed from that point on. It will not take much experience as a crime movie buff to know exactly what I mean: Says Yul Brynner’s character: “You are most ungrateful, Toni.” [See Footnote.]
Arthur Blake’s role is small but hardly insignificant. As a weak, somewhat effeminate nightclub entertainer named Dolly Carney (specializing in imitations of Charles Laughton) who is nabbed as go-between in the dope-peddling business, he’s caught between the cops and big guys and with no way out.
Some other impressions: The film was shot in Manhattan, along the port, in the harbor, and on the streets Even if filmed in only black and white, the city makes a impressive setting. Of course it is that the movie is filmed in black-and-white, with the dark contrasting shadows at night and in the interrogation room, that makes this film a noir, lessened of course by the story itself, with its naturally positive ending. (I probably shouldn’t give this away — that this movie has a happy ending, that is — and in fact, for some of the players, rest assured that it is simply just not true.)
And oh, one more thing, without trying to go political. I was wholly on the side of the federal guys, but their tactics were at times — to use a new word I just looked up — rather cringeworthy. As the single most egregious example, breaking and entering one of the bad guys’ offices at night might have helped break the case, but there was no mention of warrants, and the evidence itself was worthless.
Take my advice anyway. If you’re a fan of black-and-white crime movies with more than a touch of noir, you could a lot worse than watching this minor but still suspenseful and well-plotted example. You could do worse, without even trying.
FOOTNOTE. Thanks to a commenter on IMDB for providing the exact phrasing, which I think is pitch-perfect in every way.