The Street with No Name (1948) William Keighley
Fox Film Noir DVD
As we learn from the film’s opening documentary-like voice-over narration, the street in question could be any street in America. We see (or are meant to believe we see) FBI men in training and working before we meet FBI agent George Briggs (Lloyd Nolan, above right), who previously appeared in Henry Hathaway’s The House on 92nd Street (1945). Briggs and the boys feel that new agent Gene Cordell (Mark Stevens, below) could become a good undercover man. He’s needed quickly: a local gang is giving the FBI fits, having just pulled off a huge bank robbery and killing innocent people in the process.
Cordell gets a fake identity and starts hanging around the seedier parts of town. When he finds himself at a local gym, taunting one of the boxers as he’s sparring, a man comes up to him and tells him to get in the ring; let’s see what you can do. That man is the gang’s leader, Alec Stiles (Richard Widmark, top photo, left), who likes George Manly (Cordell’s alias) enough to hire him for a bit of illegal activity.
The semi-documentary style of the film’s opening soon fades, leaving us a story that really needs no narration. In fact, much of the film is silent as we see Cordell/Manly infiltrating Stiles’s hideout, making contact with the FBI and trying to pull off a double life. The look of the film changes as well, taking us from the clean, almost clinical offices of the bureau to the gritty streets filled with overflowing garbage cans, shadowy staircases, ransacked basements and a labyrinthine warehouse. These scenes (shot by cinematographer Joe MacDonald) often feature only one source of light or very limited lighting, providing an even deeper sense of encroaching shadows, the place where noir loves to live.
And then there’s Widmark again, doing his sadistic killer schtick to perfection. Stiles is obsessed with wanting to be in command of every aspect of the group’s plans and rages with anger if his wishes (and whims) are not carried out immediately. Credit Widmark (and director Keighley) for not allowing Stiles to go completely over the top (although sometimes the performance comes dangerously close to a circus act). Yet the performance that’s really impressive is that of Mark Stevens, who’s come a long way from his somewhat wooden and tentative performance in The Dark Corner (1946). In this film, Stevens shows much more confidence and range, which translates into audience believability.
The Street with No Name is, in many ways, a precursor to another film I looked at earlier in Noirvember, House of Bamboo (1955), also a film about an outsider trying to infiltrate a gang of criminals. Both films share other similarities, but offer some interesting differences. I recommend both.