99 River Street

 

99 RIVER STREET boils lurid pulp and gritty film noir basics down to a single rotten night of betrayals, set-ups and dished-out poundings, directed by Phil Karlson with an accent on raw emotion and the rough physical expression of same. Robert Smith’s script was adapted from “Crosstown”, a short story written 8 years earlier by George Zuckerman (Border Incident, Written On The Wind). Smith, though he did stoop to Invasion, U.S.A., had good noir credits (Quicksand, Sudden Fear), and he aced this 1953 diamond, searing desperate characters into no-escape circumstances. Karlson refuses to pull punches, Franz Planer’s cinematography is marked by wary shadows and unflinching closeups, and the made-for-trouble cast is superb.

Life-battered boxer ‘Ernie Driscoll’ (John Payne) is on the ropes any way you call it. Injury ended his career hopes, he’s stuck working for peanuts as a cabbie, and his spiteful wife ‘Pauline’ (Peggie Castle) has had it, cheating on him with slick prick jewel thief ‘Vic Rawlins’ (Brad Dexter). Defeated and betrayed, Ernie’s further bedeviled when friendly ‘Linda James’ (Evelyn Keyes), an aspiring actress, uses him in a ploy to snag a part in a play. Sometimes, a guy’s had enough…and Ernie, though basically a decent lug, is also volatile, with a temper that makes his boxing prowess nothing to take lightly.

Scene 1 to The End this unsparing bruiser glove-fits a committed cast into the white heat of deception, revelation and payback, tailor-made for the paperback spinner-rack era of dames, mugs, patsies and punks. Tell a modern viewer about a 40s and 50s tough guy with a heart, named John Payne, and they’re most likely to say “You mean John Wayne?” But those with memories that stretch a stretch or are keen enough to sift through the files will know that ‘Payne with a P’ was a vital cinema presence for decades, whether in vintage noir like this, or westerns, war stories, musicals, dramas and comedies. Underused, always effective Evelyn Keyes scores one of her most flavorful roles, and slinky Peggie Castle nails her spiteful vixen. FutureĀ Magnificent Seven gunfighter Dexter oozes venality, and dependably brutish Jack Lambert inhabits a thick-headed thug like a second skin. Nervy music scoring from Arthur Lange and Emil Newman pulls the net taut.

83 minutes, with Frank Faylen, Jay Adler, Glenn Langan, Peter Leeds, Hal Baylor.

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