It’s another all-nighter for Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Zack Stewart (Kenneth Tobey), who’s got a full slate of cases in his inbox. His primary investigation is tracking down the whereabouts of fugitive Joe Walpo (Joe Bassett)—a law-breaking miscreant already wanted for gunning down a gas station attendant (William Schallert!) a few days earlier. Stewart’s also looking into the matter of Vince Angelino (Gene Reynolds), a young hoodlum who’s gotten himself entangled with an interstate car theft ring. Stewart’s newest case involves Kate Martel (Ruth Roman), a widow who’s being extorted for the insurance money her deceased husband left her by a stranger communicating by telephone.
Burning the midnight oil, Stewart adds a fourth case to his already bulging folder when Brenda Rallis (Suzanne Alexander) phones the Bureau office requesting that the agent meet her at her home. It’s an investigation Stewart will never pursue; arriving at Brenda’s residence, Zack and supervisor John “Rip” Ripley (Broderick Crawford) are refused entrance into the house by Ms. Rallis. When the two men observe someone exiting the back door, Stewart runs around to the alley—only to be shot down by the assailant. The identity of Zach’s murderer lies in solving the three cases…and Rip vows to bring the individual responsible to justice.
Retired FBI agent Gordon Gordon (his folks must not have had any imagination) teamed up with wife Mildred—formerly of United Press and an author in her own right—to write the novel Make Haste to Live, published in 1950. Haste was adapted for the silver screen in 1954, but when the Gordons learned that writer Warren Duff got a $40,000 payday for writing the screenplay while the couple only earned $5000 for the rights to their novel, they decided to get into the screenwriting racket themselves. Gordon and Mildred adapted the second of their crime novels to feature FBI agent John Ripley. Case File: FBI (their first was 1950’s FBI Story), and while their screenplay originally wore that title it would eventually be changed to Down Three Dark Streets (1954). (The speculation is that this titular audible came at the request of Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover, who also objected to the depiction of wire-tapping in the Gordons’ script, calling it “a blueprint for extortion.” Hoover’s letter stated: “You not only reveal the activities of the criminal, but also reveal the countermeasures taken by the FBI…portrayed in such a way as to make it easier for a future extortionist to avoid apprehension.” Picky, picky, picky.)
Gordon and Mildred’s protagonist of John “Rip” Ripley appears in many of their novels, including 1957’s Captive and 1961’s Operation Terror—which the husband-and-wife team adapted for the big screen in 1962 as Experiment in Terror (with Glenn Ford as Rip). Their most successful novel was Undercover Cat, which also got the silver screen treatment from the Walt Disney Studios in 1965 as That Darn Cat! (and was remade—regrettably—in 1997). (Do not be surprised if a review of the 1965 original turns up on the blog soon. The feline that gives the Feds an assist would return in a follow-up novel, Undercover Cat Prowls Again.)
Though Down Three Dark Streets has previously seen DVD action (it was also an offering on Epix’s Vault on Demand) it wasn’t until April of this year when the good people at ClassicFlix saw fit to release it to Blu-ray. Streets is a particular favorite here in the House of Yesteryear; it’s a first-rate suspense noir directed by Arnold Laven, demonstrating the same deft touch for crime dramas previously displayed in Without Warning! (1952) and Vice Squad (1953). Streets was produced by Edward Small, Arthur Gardner, and Jules V. Levy—the last two men, along with Laven, would become mini-moguls in the small screen world with hits like The Rifleman, The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor, and The Big Valley to their credit.
I’ve not watched as many reruns of Highway Patrol as some other members of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear faithful so it’s always a little difficult for me seeing Broderick Crawford on the right side of the law. Still, Crawford gives it his best, and is well-supported by Ruth Roman (quite good as a woman who’s concerned about her little girl [Dede Gainor], who’s been threatened by the extortionist) and Martha Hyer as the girlfriend of the on-the-run Walpo. Character great Claude Akins plays a villainous type who menaces the blind wife (Marisa Pavan) of the youngster facing the automobile theft rap (played by Gene Reynolds, later producer of TDOY faves like Room 222 and Lou Grant). OTR pros like William Johnstone and Myra Marsh are also on hand, but the funniest radio reference is that the narrator of Down Three Dark Streets is William Woodson (he also plays the professor who’s at the chalkboard discussing the voice analysis); Woodson handled those duties on the program that had the official seal of approval from J. Edgar, This is Your FBI. (In fact, when it’s dramatized in the film that Roman’s character must go to the bank to withdraw the insurance money for the extortionist I mumbled to myself: “I wonder if her husband had a policy with Equitable Life?”)
Casey Adams—a.k.a. “Max Showalter”—is in the cast (not one of my favorites but he’s tol’able in this as Roman’s skeevy suitor) along with Harlan Warde (who was in Without Warning!) and Jay Adler; Andrew “Grover” Leal idols Milton Parsons (who has a hilarious bit as a man who’s invented a device that will root out Communists), Sidney Clute, and Stafford Repp are also familiar faces you may recognize. Down Three Dark Streets has one of those plots where you forget who killed one of the characters until you watch the film again—plus, it’s got a memorable climax set against the iconic “Hollywood” sign that should appeal to my fellow classic movie mavens. ClassicFlix’s “Summer Sale” is still underway as of this writing, so grab yourself a copy of this spiffy-looking Blu-ray release.