Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stakeout on Dope Street

A few months back when I blogged about The Man With the Golden Arm, I mentioned in the comments that another movie with an interesting heroin withdrawal scene is Stakeout on Dope Street. That latter film is airing tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 PM on TCM, so now would be a good time to blog about it.

The movie begins with a drug bust gone wrong: two policemen try to catch a drug courier, but are ambushed, with the suitcase holding the drugs discarded where none of the parties were able to obtain it. Coming upon it accidentally is Julian Vespucci, nicknamed "Ves", one of a group of teenaged friends. He takes it to the room behind his father's store, where he and his other friends Jim and Nick hang out. They open the suitcase and find it's filled with... a salesman's cosmetic samples! Much like hiding the drugs in a doll in Wait Until Dark, this was done so that normal people coming upon the suitcase wouldn't spot that one of the containers actually had two pounds of pure heroin in it. Obviously, these teens don't get it either, and dump the canister of heroin, pawn the suitcase for some quick cash, and give the make-up to Jim's girlfriend Kathy (Abby Dalton, whom you might remember from the TV show Knots Landing or her many game show appearances).

One of the three reads about the drug bust gone wrong, and realizes that they had the suitcase involved in the bust! Unfortunately, the garbage truck has already picked up the trash, so they head off to the dump to try to find it, and when they do, they have a brilliant idea that they question whether or not is brilliant: sell the drugs themselves! Suuuure it's a brilliant idea. But there wouldn't be a movie if they hadn't gone for the drugs, or if they had taken the drugs to the police. (Well, they probably would have gotten arrested in the latter case, but that's a completely different story.) So, they decide to sell the drugs themselves, despite the fact that they know next to nothing about who the illicit drugs business works. They also don't get that everybody in town wants those drugs. The police want them off the street, while the drug dealers want them so they can keep making their profits, and the users want them so they can get their fix.

But among the three, one knows a former heroin addict, so they decide to use him as the fence for selling their drugs. As I said in the previous paragraph, boy is this a brilliant idea. Surely the regular dealers are going to figure out pretty darn quickly where the drugs are coming from, putting our three teens' lives in danger. It all leads to a climax that satisfies the strictures of the Production Code, which is probably the one big problem with the movie, but one the movie makers couldn't do anything about.

If there's another problem, it might be realism, or a lack thereof. I have no idea whether three reasonably good teens like this could so easily get themselves involved in fencing heroin, even if one of them did know a drug addict, and even if that addict is willing to help them without getting violent. The addict, however, provides, what is probably relatively realistic, and one of the film's best scenes, as he discusses going through withdrawal for the first time, in a scene that's played like a flashback. I don't know what drug withdrawal is really like, but as presented here, it's quite disturbing.

Stakeout on Dope Street was made with a cast of relative unknowns. Abby Dalton, the one cast member I named, probably went on to the biggest career, although this was made at the beginning of that career. I don't think it was designed to be one of the studio's prestige releases either, what with its black-and-white photography and if IMDb is to be believed, TV-friendly aspect ratio in an era five years after the introduction of Cinemascope. Still, it's quite an effective and entertaining little picture. As far as I know, Stakeout on Dope Street has not received a DVD release. That's a shame, because it deserves one, at least from the Warner Archive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I watched this b flick 2 days ago and was entertained with a jazz score compliments of the hollywood jazz enemble in addition to beatnik lingo mixed with teen angst. The outstanding feature of this little film is the withdrawal scene. Having experienced this before, I must say that this scene was riveting! I was astounded at the realism for a 1958 film. The dark poetic dialog mixed with disturbing visuals were almost out of place when compared to the rest of the film. The terror and pain was portrayed with outstanding artistic realism. The description of various stages of the horror of withdrawal hit home. Whoever wrote that dialog either experienced it first hand or interpreted the experience amazingly.