Saturday, October 13, 2012

Crime in the Streets

A search of the blog claims that I haven't posted about Crime in the Streets before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on TCM, and is well worth watching.

Crime in the Streets is a little movie, laregly because it had originally been made as a one-hour episode of one of those anthology TV series. TV shows were even more bound to small sets than B-movies were back in the mid-1950s, and the set here is for the most part a tenement and the block or two of street outside the tenement. This being in the slums, there are a lot of juveniles who think they don't have much future and are willing to engage in petty thuggery, while at the same time there are do-gooders who want to stop the thuggery and believe they can help the kids. The do-gooder is Ben Wagner (Stuart Whitman). He runs the neighborhood "settlement house" (do they even still use that term nowadays?), actually living in the neighborhood as if to say, "See, I can help you", even though it looks as though none of the teens believe his shtick.

Chief among the teens is Frankie Dane (John Cassavetes). He's the head of the "Hornets", and he also seems to be the most troubled of the gang members. He lives with his single mother (Virginia Gregg) and his kid brother, who idolizes him even though Mom knows this is a terrible idea. Also in the gang is "Baby", played by Sal Mineo, looking about as needy and dependent as he did in Rebel Without a Cause. He seems to have a great need to be part of a group, and it's almost as if he'll go against his better judgment to be in that group. This even though he's got a more stable family situation. Many of the adults in the area don't like the gang, and Ben of course has decided he's going to try to get the kids to quit their gang stuff by befriending them and cajoling them into doing better. Another man has a different idea: report Frankie to the police.

Ooh, not a good idea. Frankie decides he's going to get revenge, by killing the man! The murdre plot involves Baby luring the man into an alley, while a third gang member (Mark Rydell, who would go on to become a director of movies like On Golden Pond) holding him down so that Frankie can stab him to death. Ben has no clue of this, thinking perhaps that he can still get through to Frankie. It isn't until Frankie's kid brother overhears the plot, and decides to tell Ben about it, that things go into overdrive.

Crime in the Streets is an interesting premise with a lot of potential. Ultimately, I think it falls a bit short. Plays and live TV had limitations that movies shouldn't have, and this movie stays within those limits to its detriment. (Contrast this with another Cassevetes movie, Edge of the City.) Stuart Whitman's character is also too perfect. There was no need for him to have the sort of perfection that Sidney Poitier's characters in the Edge of the City era had to have. Then again, if you're trying to send a message with a movie like this, then you all too often wind up having your characters being clothes pegs for the ideas. The acting from the gang members, however, is quite good, especially Cassavetes and Mineo.

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