Thursday, January 17, 2013

99 River Street

Eddie Muller, the president of the Film Noir Foundation, is sitting down with Robert Osborne tonight to present a series of noir movies. One that I mentioned briefly two years ago is 99 River Street, which will be airing at 9:30 PM.

John Payne stars as Ernie Driscoll, a prizefighter. Or, should I say, a former prizefighter. He lost the big fight, and that's as far as he's ever going to get in the boxing world, since he's no longer healthy enough to win the big fights. There's that old saying that nobody likes you on your way back down, and that certainly seems true here. Ernie is working as a taxi driver, with a wife (Peggy Castle) who's nagging him and yearning for the more prosperous days they knew when he was winning boxing matches and on the way up. To that end, she's turned unfaithful, seeing other guys, specifically the jewel thief Victor Rawlins (Brad Dexter). Stupid, stupid woman. She'd like to run away with Victor, but she's got too much knowledge of one of Victor's robberies, and he ends up strangling her for it! Fortuitously, though, at least for Victor, he was able to drop the body off in Ernie's cab, which has the fairly obvious implication that Ernie is going to be blamed for the murder!

What's a wrongly-accused man to do? Well, in the tradition of good thrillers, he's going to have to find the killer himself! Well, not just himself, of course. As is the case in many of these thrillers, there's bound to be a lovely damsel reluctantly helping our gentleman in distress. Actually, in this case she's not quite so reclutant: Linda James (played by Evelyn Keyes) is an aspiring actress who knows all the taxi drivers, and is platonic friends with Ernie and his best friend Stan (Frank Faylen). The bad thing is, she mistreated Ernie in a recent attempt to get a part in a play, and he's not happy about her having done that. So she has to prove to him that she really does want to help him.

From here, the movie develops into a somewhat standard plot, that of the man and his girl trying to stay one step ahead of the police while trying to find a killer. The chase eventually leads to the seedy industrial port of Jersey City, where Victor is trying to escape the country because he's trying to get away from other mobsters himself, having committed murder as part of one of those jewel robberies. Where Linda used her acting ability to hurt Ernie before; now she has the chance to use it to get him out of his jam....

99 River Street is a lower-budget B movie that certainly isn't perfect. As I mentioned back in January 2011 when I briefly mentioned this film, there is some dialog that may leave you thinking, "Oh, really?" Also, the movie treads over ground that has been used a hundred times before in the movies. But that doesn't mean that 99 River Street isn't good. And, in fact, it's also enormously entertaining, which is one of the chief aims of a movie, anyway. The bleak industrial port is also a great place for a noir to have its climax, as it's cold and distant, while offering the opportunity for good use of shadows in the photography. 99 River Street has also gotten a DVD release thanks to the Warner Archive Collection.

For the record, the rest of tonight's "Noir City" lineup is:

Cry Danger at 8:00 PM, in which Dick Powell tries to find the people who framed him for a crime;
99 River Street at 9:30 PM;
Tomorrow Is Another Day at 11:00 PM, with Steve Cochran married to taxi dancer Ruth Roman;
The Breaking Point at 12:45 AM, in which John Garfield and Patricia Neal more or less play the Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall roles from To Have and Have Not; and
Van Helfin in The Prowler at 2:30 AM

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