Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video, this is Down Three Dark Streets, starring Broderick Crawford. It’s an FBI crime thriller from 1954, and this is the first time I had an opportunity to see it. It also features the very luscious Ruth Roman, whom I lusted over much in my youth. It’s supposedly from United Artists, but the MGM lion shows in the end notes. Details are from Wikipedia and IMDb.
The title refers to three crime investigations being managed by FBI agent Zack Stewart (Kenneth Tobey), who gets murdered early in the story. The movie is about unraveling Stewart’s three cases to nail the killer. Everything takes place in and around Los Angeles, California.
The first case involves professional criminal and killer Joe Walpo (Joe Bassett), here about to murder a gas station attendant, who recognizes him from a crime magazine.
Ruth Roman is sumptuous widow Kate Martell, who has just received a threatening phone call demanding $10,000. Else her little daughter will be killed. Of course she phones the FBI and gets Agent Stewart involved.
Martha Hyer was a great favorite in those days. Here she is Walpo’s girlfriend, Connie Anderson. I first saw her in Once Upon a Horse, a wacky comedic western starring Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, later of Laugh In fame.
But that’s aside from the matter at hand. Here Crawford, as Agent John Ripley, puts the squeeze on the floozy Ms. Anderson.
Early on you know the sexy widow is going to end up the focus of the plot. Her life is more complex than most would allow. Her late husband’s uncle (Jay Adler) is worthless and sponges off the widow, living in her house. He barges into her bedroom, regardless of her state of dress, which fortunately for male viewers, is often worth a look.
Sure enough, FBI agents stir up feminine resentment in girlfriend Connie, revealing details of Walpo’s other romances. She sneaks out to his hideout, followed by the feds. Ripley nails him in a gunfight, and that’s one case down.
Another case is convicted car thief Vince Angelino (Gene Reynolds), who refuses to give up his associates. The real crooks leverage his silence with threats of violence. When thug Matty Pavelich (Claude Akins) beats up on Vince’s pretty wife Julie (Marisa Pavan), who is blind, Vince turns the tables, implicating Pavelich and absolving himself of the crime.
The climax comes when Kate is instructed by her tormentor to bring the money to the base of the giant W in the HOLLYWOOD sign. She learns he is her pretend suitor, Dave Milson (Casey Adams). Of course, FBI agents are on top of the caper, and Milson abandons his plan to murder Kate. As he flees down Mount Lee Drive in his sports care, he runs into a solid roadblock of FBI and police and is swarmed by fuzz in an instant.
The movie is based on Case File FBI by Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon, who also wrote the script, along with Bernard C. Schoenfeld. I don’t have access to the book, but I’m sure it’s not as dry as the movie. Director Arnold Laven posted this in documentary style, often moving his characters mechanically from point to point in the plot. It’s possible the Gordons inserted credible reality into their version of FBI procedures, and Laven chose to trim it to keep the story moving along. Not actually in the movie, but representative of some of the dialog:
FBI agent: Do you know where Walpo is?
Blond bimbo: No
FBI agent: OK, bye.
The stalking of girlfriend Anderson to Walpo’s hideout is one of the flashes of dramatic intrigue in this movie. Much of the rest is procedural.
This was early in Claude Aikins’ film career. He started the prior year in From Here to Eternity and was also in The Caine Mutiny the year this came out. My favorite Claude Aikins role is as the fiery preacher Jeremiah Brown in Inherit the Wind. Later he had his own TV show, where he was a trucker.
I kept wondering why this reminded me of Experiment in Terror, previously reviewed. When I took a look I was delighted to see the two are by the same writers. Old story ideas never die. They just get new treads.