THE STREET WITH NO NAME. 1948, 20th Century Fox. Mark Stevens, Richard Widmark, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Lawrence, John McIntire, Donald Buka, Joseph Pevney. Directed by William Keighley.

The Street with No Name

   As a sequel to The House on 92nd Street (Fox, 1945), this film repeats both the semi-documentary style and Lloyd Nolan as FBI agent George Briggs. Immediately after the film’s credit, the following notice appears on the screen:

    “The street on which crime flourishes is the street extending across America. It is the street with no name. Organized gangsterism is once again returning. If permitted to go unchecked three out of every four Americans will eventually become its victims. Wherever law and order break down there you will find public indifference. An alert and vigilant America will make for a secure America.”     J. EDGAR HOOVER

   To obtain Mr. Hoover’s approval for the film, one supposes, the first fifteen minutes are dreadfully and drearily slow. With loud, stentorian music in the background, the audience is dramatically shown the technical advances and training background that agents of the FBI had at their disposal in their new post-war battle against crime.

   Mark Stevens, perhaps too good-looking for the role, plays undercover agent Gene Cordell as he tries to gain acceptance into the Alec Stiles gang. It is not until Alec Stiles makes an appearance that the movie begins to gain some footing – and you know who plays Stiles don’t you? You’ve seen the credits, if not the movie. Straight from his major debut in his star-making role as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death, Richard Widmark.

The Street with No Name

   As the woman-hating, narcissistic and germophobic gang leader Alec Stiles, Widmark tones his portrayal down so that he is only a mere two hairs from lunacy, but they are thick hairs. Lloyd Nolan, whom we think from the beginning is going to be the star, has next to no part at all.

   It is on the streets of “Central City” where the action is, with John McIntire as Cordell’s mentor and backup agent Cy Gordon in the rooming house across the street, getting scruffier and shabbier by the minute, but providing Cordell his only protection.

   Playing nearly as important a role as Widmark is the aforementioned “street,” actually downtown Los Angeles at the time the movie was filmed, crammed with flop houses, pool halls, penny arcades, cheap restaurants, boxing emporiums, and dives of all sorts and kinds. Filmed largely at night, beginning as the bus rolls in with Cordell on it and getting off, it triggers a sense of 1940s big city sleaze as overpowering and as authentic as you can imagine. Deep down inside, you know that this is (was) as real as it gets.

The Street with No Name

   Noir? Yes, definitely, once the movie’s rid of its documentary trappings. Filmed with a superb sense of black and white, inventive camera angles and taking superb advantage of on-location shooting, this is one of the best views of how the inhabitants of Skid Row managed to exist, if not live, immediately after World War II.

   Surprisingly enough, the members of Styles’s gang still wear coats, ties and hats to most of their functions, including poker games, boxing matches, stick-ups, robberies and murders. There is also only one woman in the movie, Barbara Lawrence as Styles’s wife Judy, a cheap, sarcastic moll (even to Styles) if there ever was one and convincingly so, even if, as an actress, she was only 18 or 19 at the time.

The Street with No Name

   I think that there was a little too much violence in the ending, in the manufacturing warehouse filled with all sorts of strange-looking machinery, making for all sorts of terrific shots from a cinemaphotographer’s point of view. I don’t have the technical expertise to describe the latter. Take a look at Mike Grost’s website for that. If you’re interested in reading an in-depth analysis of the movie-making (and movie-watching) aspects of The Street with No Name, there is definitely the place to go.

   But, as I began to say, my opinion is that the police were a little too trigger-happy than they should have been. A little? A lot! There is more gunfire in this nifty low budget film noir than I can remember in any of the others I’ve ever seen, but of course there are many I haven’t. Nonetheless, if only the first fifteen minutes could be skipped: you’d have one of the best of them all.