Film Review: 99 River Street (1953)

Also known as: Crosstown (original title)
Release Date: August 21st, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Robert Smith, George Zuckerman
Music by: Arthur Lange, Emil Newman
Cast: John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Frank Faylen, Peggie Castle

Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 83 Minutes

Review:

“There are worse things than murder. You can kill someone an inch at a time.” – Ernie Driscoll

It’s Noirvember, so I’ve been watching a ton of these movies. The experience has been fun and hasn’t waned on me yet. Most noir films, at least the ones that have survived long enough to make it to a digital format, are all pretty decent. There’s only been a few real duds this past month, where I usually encounter a lot of bad films as I work my way through different genres and eras.

99 River Street, originally released as Crosstown, is another better than decent film in the noir style. It isn’t a classic but it was helmed by Phil Karlson, a guy that was a much better than average film-noir director.

The movie stars John Payne, who just feels like a legitimate badass, despite getting walloped a bit too much in the final slugfest of the film. I mean, Payne’s Ernie Driscoll was a famous boxer. I get the storyline about his bad eye costing him his career but an accomplished boxer can beat the crap out of some thug, even if he just has one eye.

Driscoll’s wife is played by Peggie Castle, who played her role well, especially when she became a standard blonde bombshell femme fatale that betrays him. She was absolutely gorgeous in this and I’m not quite sure why she wasn’t more prominent in noir films but this did come out towards the end of noir’s run in popularity. Castle did find a home as a regular guest star on several notable television shows while being heralded as “the other woman” in several B-movies of her day.

The female lead, however, is played by Evelyn Keyes. She comes into the story, as a friend of Driscoll’s and through all the drama and danger, becomes something more. She was energetic, charismatic and entertaining in this role, where she plays a blossoming actress within the film.

To summarize the plot, an ex-boxer has a mean wife. He discovers that she’s fooling around with some two-bit thug. She plans to runaway with the criminal but ultimately, the criminal kills her because he’s evil and the morality code of the day couldn’t let seedy women go unpunished. All the while, the boxer starts paling around with the actress, one thing leads to another and the boxer and the thug have to go head-to-head.

The story was okay but it felt disjointed at times with all the jumping around. The part where Driscoll goes to help his actress friend deal with a man she accidentally kills turns into a big gag and it sort of distracts from the overall narrative and sticks out like an ugly sore thumb in the middle of the movie.

Apart from the lack of narrative fluidity, the film was still fairly entertaining and I enjoyed the characters.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Also known as: The Secret Four (UK)
Release Date: November 11th, 1952
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: George Bruce, Harry Essex, Rowland Brown, Harold Greene
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: John Payne, Coleen Gray, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam

Associated Players and Producers, Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“What makes a two-bit heel like you think a heater would give him an edge over me? ” – Tim Foster

Kansas City Confidential is a pretty intense and fun film-noir. It also has two of my favorite western stars in it: Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam. The film is directed by Phil Karlson and is considered by many to be his best.

While the big crime in the film takes place in Kansas City, a big portion of the film goes down to Mexico. You see, an ex-con trying to go straight, is framed for a million dollar armored car robbery. When the real criminals go to Mexico, the ex-con follows in order to expose them and clear his name.

The story is pretty good and it has a lot of interesting twists and turns that make it a good textbook noir, as far as the scheming plot goes. Most of the characters are despicable and you’re always waiting for one of them to turn on the others. Lee Van Cleef is especially good and always does a villainous role justice, as he slithers in and out of the scenes like a snake ready to strike at anything that moves. His facial expressions and body language in this are so predatory, it really shows that he is an actor better than the roles he was getting at this point in his career.

John Payne was good as the lead but he always seemed to be overshadowed by the villains on screen, as they all had a really dark and powerful charisma.

I loved that this film felt larger than most noirs, which seem very confined and small. This was vast and open and really stepped outside of the box.

The film did really well upon release for Edward Small Productions, who responded by turning this into a series with followups New York Confidential and Chicago Confidential. Those were not directed by Karlson, however. Even the more modern neo-noir L.A. Confidential was an homage to this film in title.

Karlson would go on to do The Phenix City Story, which was a sort of spiritual sequel to this. He also dabbled in more film-noir and would go on to do The Silencers, the first of Dean Martin’s spy parody films, and the original Walking Tall with Joe Don Baker.

Kansas City Confidential is a fine motion picture. If you are a fan of film-noir and haven’t seen this one, you should probably check it out.

Rating: 8/10