The Street With No Name Review

As the film opens, we are treated to a telex of a text explaining the film’s title: the nameless street is all of the US of A where your average citizen is not standing up for law and order. Signed: J. Edgar Hoover. Follows quite a graphic series of murders (at least for the time) but fret not! [strike upbeat tune] the Federal Bureau of Investigation is at the cutting edge of forensic science and is going to put the evil-doers behind bars (or innocent people in the death chair).

The Street With No Name was one of those curious films noirs that wanted to have their cake and eat it – the grittiness of most of the film noir was diminished to give the law enforcers much more limelight. We meet up with wholesome all-American hero, Gene Cordell (Mark Stevens) as he trains at Quantico to discern between bad-ass villains and civilians in the shooting range. “The FBI wouldn’t shoot a man in cold blood!” he labours to the audience. Alec Stiles (Richard Widmark) however makes no such fine distinctions as he runs the local mob. Always on the lookout for a smart but ruthless hood, he finds the undercover Cordell to be just the man for his next job…

There’s no denying that The Street With No Name has aged rather gracelessly especially when compared to the stalwarts of the genre but it still manages to shrug off its intrinsic paternalism to put in some sufficiently taut moments with some deft cinematography with some standout sequences in the dimly lit mob hideaways. The acting on the other hand is a little more of a mixed bag – Widmark is by far the best actor of the bunch, while Lloyd Nolan is simply too transparent for words. Stevens delivers a sufficiently cocky undercover cop but his faux-gangster smirk makes one wish he gets found out for the fake he is. Some would debate whether it can actually be classified as a film noir but still an interesting insight into the 1950s crime paranoia and the FBI’s clumsy ventures into the film world.

The image:
Not too bad given the age of the film. It’s grainy and occasional “railtrack” damage but globally it’s not too damaged. I guess extensive restoration would have been a bit of a waste of money and as things stand, it remains more than watchable and not overly smooth.

The sound:
This is also pretty decent – some scenes lack the dynamic range one would have expected but globally there is nothing really wrong with it. The stereo mix however seems quite pointless and disorientating with the mono mix making far more sense (and the obvious choice for purists).

The extras:
The commentary by James Ursini and Alain Silver is pretty good and covers a lot of ground. They are more enthusiastic about the film than I would be but they’re argue their point of view in an articulate manner and give a good overview of the Noir genre making it well worthwhile listening too for anyone who is a newcomer to the genre and would want to know more about it.

The commentary is a good addition to the DVD giving it historical context and providing more insights into the era in which it was filmed. The DVD itself can be picked up quite cheaply (a little above $10 from online sellers) so I'm not going to complain about Fox resurrecting this. It may not be an essential film in my eyes but the more classic film we get on DVD, the better.

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