Classic Movies

Buried Treasures: Danger Street (1947)

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Pat Marvin (Jane Withers) is a shutterbug for Flick (“The magazine that’s there when it happens”) …but she may not be employed there much longer.  Larry Burke (Robert Lowery), the editor of Flick—and Pat’s platonic boyfriend—has received notice from the magazine’s owner, “Muscle-Bustle” Turlock (Paul Harvey), that he’s selling the publication due to poor circulation.  Burke has ambitious ideas to make the mag a success, but they’ve all been dismissed by Turlock as “too lurid” …so when his boss announces he’s got a buyer who’ll give him $26,000 Larry ups the ante to twenty-seven grand.  By pooling his own funds, borrowing from every friend he has, and inviting several Flick employees to join what we might call a “co-op,” Burke is still some $2700 short.  Flick’s accountant, Henry (Lorin Raker), volunteers the rest of the start-up funds provided Larry can pay him back by the first of the month.

Larry and Pat soon learn why Henry requested that specific payback: the bookkeeper gambled that Flick’s books would be audited at the first of the month and so he embezzled the money from the magazine itself…but to his dismay, the auditors will be in to check out the accounts in a couple of days.  No worries, says Larry; he’s assigned a photographer (Eddie Parks…in blackface, sadly) to take a few candids of heiress Cynthia Van Loan (Elaine Riley), a wealthy socialite who’s been quite adept at avoiding the paparazzi.  When Joe returns to Flick with his camera smashed, Larry is forced to revert to Plan B: he and Pat will pose as servants during a swanky reception affair to take covert snaps…and sell the pictures to rival editor Jack Withers for enough money to keep Henry from making new friends in the pokey.

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“Don’t tell me what to do!” TDOY fave Will Wright has a meatier part in this “Two Dollar Bills” effort, playing the cop investigating the case.

Larry is successful getting pictures at the party…but during the evening, he snaps a photo of Cynthia’s fiancé, Carl Pauling (Charles Quigley), canoodling with a woman who’s not Ms. Van Loan.  Pauling tries to get the photo back but Burke informs him it’s been sold to Withers.  When Larry and Pat stop by Withers’ office to pick up their check…they find that Jack has succumbed to a severe case of dead, aggravated by lead bullets.

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Jane Withers and Robert Lowery in Danger Street (1947)

At the time Danger Street (1947) was released, the publicity department at Paramount proudly promoted the film as the first “grown-up role” for Jane Withers, a child actress whose appearance in a 1934 Shirley Temple vehicle, Bright Eyes, led to subsequent roles in her own starring motion pictures at Fox including Paddy O’Day (1935) and Little Miss Nobody (1936).  Around Rancho Yesteryear, I jokingly refer to Janie as “the poor man’s Shirley Temple” even though I’d rather sit down with a Withers film any day of the week.  (Paramount, by the way, didn’t get the newsletter that Jane’s previous picture, Affairs of Geraldine [1946], had her character sashaying down the matrimonial aisle…and not as a child bride, I hasten to add.)  Withers (who turned 91 this April—way to go, Jane!) later made appearances in such films as Giant (1956) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) but was primarily a fixture on the small screen in guest-star turns on TV series like Bachelor Father and The Munsters, and as the longtime pitchwoman for Comet cleanser, Josephine the Plumber.

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“Lieutenant Jacoby! What the…?” Character great Herschel Bernardi has a bit role as the guy what monitors the front door to the gambling den.

Maybe Danger Street isn’t Withers’ first “grown-up role” but as Pat Marvin, she’s sensational in this B-picture quickie—another quality production from “The Two Dollar Bills,” William H. Pine and William C. Thomas.  Pat’s plucky and resourceful, as evidenced in the opening minutes of Street where she’s mingling undercover at a notorious gambling den, taking pictures (including that of a respected politician, played by character veteran Harry Cheshire) that will become the basis of a layout for an “exclusive” Flick exposé.  When her cover is blown, she hauls ass and elbows out to her car for a quick getaway…but the mansion in which the gambling takes place is surrounded by a security fence, and the gate is shut tight by the operators of the den.  This does not deter Marvin, as she drives straight through in a manner that would have any male action star remarking: “Hey—run that back again, will ya?!!”

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My girl Nina Mae McKinney also appears in Danger Street as a cook, with character fave Guy Wilkerson as a caretaker.

It’s mere coinky-dink that Robert Lowery co-stars in Danger Street—we just heard from him yesterday in Big Town (1947), and he’s still in the publishing game—and I was as surprised as anyone to observe that he’s not only quite good as Larry Burke, his understated romance with Pat is kind of sweet, too.  (You really become concerned about the pair when their backs are up against the wall to replace the funds filched by Henry.)  Because the indefatigable Lyle Talbot also has a small role in this movie, I asked myself at one point: “What is this, a Lippert film?”  The supporting cast in Danger Street may be second-tier but doesn’t disappoint…well, maybe except for Bill Edwards, who plays an ex-lover of Cynthia’s and one of the suspects when her skeevy intended is croaked later in the film.  (How Edwards ever maintained a motion picture career is a mystery to me…though in his defense, he’s not entirely unhandsome.)

089218797995fWith a story and screenplay by Winston Miller and Kae Salkow (and an assist from Maxwell Shane) and direction by one of the true programmer giants, Lew Landers, Danger Street starts out as an engaging romantic comedy-drama and manages to maintain that exciting, enjoyable tone even after the bodies start piling up.   At 64 minutes, it’s breezy entertainment even if the resolution to the mystery (Withers’ Marvin has all the suspects gathered while she announces she’s going to produce a photograph of the guilty party) is a little gimmicky and forced.  Alpha Video released this one to DVD this August (thanks to Brian Krey for the screener) and it’s just how I like my B-movies: unpretentious and highly pleasurable.  Well worth your time, cartooners!

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