Wednesday, October 10, 2018
The Golden Age Of The B-Film Noir-Dan Duryea’s “Terror Street” (1953)
The Golden Age Of The B-Film Noir-Dan Duryea’s “Terror Street” (1953)
By Film Editor Emeritus Sam Lowell
Terror Street, starring Dan Duryea, Hammer Productions, 1953
Long time readers of this space know, or should be presumed to know, of my long-standing love affair with film noir. The classic age of film noir in this country in the age of black and white film in the 1940s and 1950s when I would sneak over to the now long gone and replaced by condos Strand Theater in growing up town North Adamsville and spent a long double feature Saturday afternoon watching some then current production from Hollywood or some throwback from the 1940s which Mister Cadger would show in retrospective to cut down on expenses in tough times by avoiding having to pay for first –run movies all the time. I also on infrequent occasions would attend a nighttime showing with my parents if my strict Irish Catholic mother (strict on the mortal sin punishment for what turned out to have been minor or venial sins) thought the film passed the Legion of Decency standard that we had to stand up and take a yearly vow to uphold and I could under the plotline without fainting (or getting “aroused” by the fetching femmes). But mainly with me and five siblings they went to one of the three, count them three, movie theaters in small town North Adamsville by themselves to get away from our madness while Grandmother Riley tended to us with her no-nonsense regimen.
Yes, who could forget up on that big screen for all the candid world to see a sadder but wiser seen it all, heard it all Humphrey Bogart at the end of the Maltese Falcon telling all who would listen that he, he Sam Spade no stranger to the seamy side and cutting corners had had to send femme fatale Mary Astor his snow white flame over once she spilled too much blood for the stuff of dreams. Or cleft-chinned barrel-chested Robert Mitchum knowing he was doomed and out of luck taking a few odd bullets from his former femme fatale trigger –happy girlfriend Jane Greer once she knew he had double-crossed her to the coppers in Out Of The Past. Ditto watching the horror on smart guy gangster Eddie Mars face after being outsmarted after sending a small time grafter to his doom prime private detective Phillip Marlowe ordered him out the door to face the rooty-toot-toot of his own gunsels who expect Marlowe to be coming out in The Big Sleep. Those were some of the beautiful and still beautiful classics whose lines you can almost hear anytime you mention the words film noir.
But there were other lesser films that were produced in this country starring the likes of the queen bee of the B-film noir night Gloria Grahame and he-man Glenn Ford. And not just this country but in Great Britain (if that term still applies after empire lost and Scotland and Wales clamoring to go their own ways) where in the 1950s many minor Hollywood stars like Dan Duryea in this film under review Terror Street (in merry olde England released as 36 Hours got work when benighted England took on the film noir world. When an outfit called Hammer Productions produced a tonof such small epics none with the cinematography mood play, diologue or plotline of those classics mentioned above and among the best of them only running neck and neck with those quickly produced Hollywood B classics.
In the old days before I retired I always liked to sketch out a film’s plotline to give the reader the “skinny” on what the action was so that he or she could see where I was leading them. I will continue that old tradition here (and in future Hammer Production vehicles to be reviewed over the coming period) to make my point about the lesser production values of the Hammer products. Thoughtful American military pilot Bill Rogers, the role played by minor Hollywood star Duryea, snuck out of America by a friendly fugitive military plane on a mission to find out why his good-looking Norwegian-born wife met during the war (you know what war if the film was made in 1953) in holding out against the Nazi scum in England hasn’t written, has flown the coop.
No question war-time romances were not made in heaven and so that wife, Katie, after seeing Bill off for a long term flight school assignment in America got lonely, got antsy and struck up a bad relationship with a guy who promised her adventure and some much needed dough. Dough earned by being part of an international smuggling operation, mostly diamond. So once she had some serious dough and some serious wanting habits fulfilled like minks and high-end clothes she blew Bill off-headed uptown with the Mayfair swells. Leaving no forwarding address. Yeah, the vagaries of war. But intrepid Bill wasn’t buying that story and through musing up her girlfriend found out where she was hanging her hat. That is when all hell broke loose and maybe Bill should have just shaken it off and moved on.
But not intrepid Bill. He confronted Katie at those new digs but before he could either make his case or find out why she had cold-shouldered him he got conked on the head by a party or parties unknown. And Katie well Katie got dead, got very dead by a gun found in Katie’s old apartment by Bill but which wound up in his conked-out head hand. The frame is on and Mister Bill is made to fit it. Fit to take the big step-off, to meet his maker (via the bloody hangman) unless he can work out who the hell killed his beloved wife, and why, within 36 hours when he has to catch that fugitive plane back to America-or else.
Of course the thing he needed to do immediately was flee that uptown swell apartment so he could avoid the bloody coppers who wanted to make sure he met that maker. Of course as well not being English he needed some help once he made his getaway. In his dashing getaway he found himself in an apartment of a young woman, some Judy who had a heart of gold since she worked the mission racket down on cheap street. He charmed his way into her good graces and she got knee- deep into his plot. Things seem to begin to make sense once Bill got information that dear Katie was shilling for this con artist who was working the international smuggling racket and with a nefarious fence who didn’t care if school kept or not as long as the dough kept rolling in.
Naturally that Salvation Annie had to be put in danger by Bill’s plan to smoke out this dastardly con man posing as a treasury inspector. But the thing about Salvation Annies is that they don’t wilt so easy and ours doesn’t either. When the deal went down Bill put the rooty-toot-toot to the con man and the fence took some heat from the cops. Our Bill made the 36 hour connection no swear as Annie left him off at the base nice as could be. So you can see no femme like Jane Greer, no smart guy like Eddie Mars with gunsels at his disposal and no dark scenes to make you hope old Bill doesn’t face that hangman’s noose. Now if a fox like Katie had been highlighted well maybe after she led Bill a merry chase we could have had a plotline worth talking about. Sorry Hammer.