Thursday, August 12, 2010

99 River Street (1953)

From AFI:

"After Ernie drops [his wife] Pauline off at the florist shop where she works, he seeks advice from his best friend, dispatcher Stan Hogan ... Aspiring actress Linda James joins the men at a drugstore lunch counter and shares the good news about her upcoming audition for a Broadway play. At the florist shop, meanwhile, Pauline plans to run away to Paris that night with her lover, thief Victor Rawlins, after he closes a $50,000 deal. Ernie drives up to the shop hoping to smooth things over with Pauline, and sees her kissing Victor. When Victor attempts to hire Ernie’s cab, unaware that the driver is Pauline’s husband, Ernie angrily drives away. Pauline is terrified because Ernie has seen them together, and tells Victor that she fears for her life. ... At the cab company, Stan attempts to curb Ernie’s explosive outburst about his wife’s betrayal, even after Ernie unintentionally slams him against a car. Ernie agrees to finish his shift, but is waylaid by Linda, who says she killed the play’s producer when he tried to force himself on her. Linda takes Ernie to the apparently empty theater to see the body, and after she dramatizes the event, Ernie reluctantly agrees to dump the body in the river. To his horror, the “body” gets up, after which several people, including the play’s director, Waldo Daggett, the writer, Lloyd Morgan, and the publicist, appear from the dark house to congratulate Linda on her performance. Ernie then learns that Lloyd arranged the ruse to prove Linda’s acting ability to Daggett. Linda gets the part but loses her friend Ernie, who is so infuriated by the practical joke that he strikes Morgan when the playwright attempts to pay him off. Several other men get involved in the fray, but Ernie overcomes them and leaves. The publicist then calls the police in hopes that even negative publicity will help the play. ... In another part of town, Pauline accompanies Victor to his apartment, where he convinces her to call Ernie and arrange for him to meet her at a nearby bar. After she hangs up, Victor wraps a scarf around Pauline’s neck, in an apparent loving gesture, but continues to pull it tight until it strangles her. When Pauline fails to show at the bar, Ernie returns to their apartment and packs his belongings. Linda arrives soon after to apologize. After assuring him she has quit the play, she warns Ernie that there is a warrant for his arrest for assault and battery. Although Ernie is still angry at Linda, she refuses to leave his side and when they climb into his cab, they discover Pauline’s dead body in the back seat."

This is only about half of the synopsis from AFI, but it's a very convoluted plot, and I didn't want to give away the ending. This film definitely falls into the "hero forced into criminal action" arena, and its most interesting aspect is that our main character is forced to act like a criminal for two different crimes he didn't commit: the murder at the theater (which never happened) and the murder of his wife (which did). And he's led into these frames by two different women, femmes fatales, if you like, although I'm not sure how well that definition fits over them. John Payne, of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET is quite good in the lead, and Brad Dexter is creepy again (as he was in ASPHALT JUNGLE). Evelyn Keyes does her best wide-eyed Audrey Totter and performs that weird sex dance that seems to be relegated to the early '50s. There isn't much of the chiaroscuro lighting, or even the clever mise-en-scene of Otto Preminger, and it's interesting to note that the more noir I see, the less I see noir. Is style as important to the genre as I've believed so far? It is a question to be answered later. Anyway, if you want to watch the film, it's on Hulu until September 1. Watch it here:

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