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Other/Miscellaneous => Off-Topic Discussion => Topic started by: drinkanddestroy on October 14, 2013, 09:37:46 AM

Title: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: drinkanddestroy on October 14, 2013, 09:37:46 AM

Mystery Street (1950)

Directed by John Sturges

Cast, courtesy of wikipedia

    Ricardo Montalban as Lieutenant Peter Morales
    Sally Forrest as Grace Shanway
    Bruce Bennett as Dr. McAdoo, of Harvard Medical School
    Elsa Lanchester as Mrs. Smerrling, the landlady
    Marshall Thompson as Henry Shanway, Grace's husband
    Jan Sterling as Vivian Heldon, bar-girl and murder victim
    Edmon Ryan as James Joshua Harkley
    Betsy Blair as Jackie Elcott
    Wally Maher as Tim Sharkey
    Ralph Dumke as A Tattooist
    Willard Waterman as A Mortician
    Walter Burke as An Ornithologist
    Don Shelton as A District Attorney

This movie is really about what was then cutting-edge forensics, or as  1950 Time magazine article called it, "scientific crime detection." Here is the first paragraph of that Time article:

Mystery Street (MGM) is a low-budget melodrama without box-office stars or advance ballyhoo. It does not pretend to do much more than tell a straightaway, logical story of scientific crime detection. Within such modest limits, Director John Sturges* and Scripters Sydney Boehm and Richard Brooks have treated the picture with such taste and craftsmanship that it is just about perfect.  I wouldn't call this movie anything close to perfect, but this subject must have been pretty new to moviegoers in 1950.

Here is a link to that Time article; but after the first couple of paragraphs, it's blocked by the subscriber wall,9171,812959,00.html

The story is simply that a murder occurs early in the movie, and Lt. Morales teams up with Dr. McAdoo of Harvard Medical School, combining police work and forensics in an attempt to catch the killer.
The New York Times review of the movie (which I will copy in full in the next post) also simply uses the word "science" and not "forensics," so that word must not have been used in 1950.

It's also revealing to note that for this story, Leonard Spigelglass was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story. This is a fairly straight forensics case;  there's really no suspense or mystery and nothing special about the story. So the fact that it was nominated for an Oscar should tell you that a movie about in-depth forensic techniques was probably something that moviegoers weren't used to seeing, and this was a subject the public didn't know much about.

This is a real visual noir; sometimes, the visuals are even overdone, like it's always dark even when it shouldn't be eg. I don't know how many police stations never keep the light! But noir-visual enthusiasts would like it. In addition to the noir visuals that occur throughout the movie, the opening scenes have very noir-like situations/settings: a dark boarding house with one phone in the hallway, a third-rate club called The Grass Skirt where Jan Sterling works as a hostess... The outdoor scenes were shot entirely on location, in and around Boston, including the Harvard campus.

None of the actors deliver any performances of note, but the actresses are all very good.

So, I give it a 7/10 (which is my minimum rating for a good movie).

I saw the movie on TCM. It is available on dvd as part of a double feature with Act of Violence.
Title: Re: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: drinkanddestroy on October 14, 2013, 09:42:42 AM

The New York Times
Movie Review

New Metro Study of Crime Detection
Published: July 28, 1950

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which combined persuasive preachments with entertainment in its "Crime Does Not Pay" series of short subjects, apparently followed that sturdy format in "Mystery Street," a modest feature-length melodrama which began a week's stand at the Palace yesterday. There is more science than mystery in this cops-versus-killer number, but it is an adventure which, despite a low budget, is not low in taste or its attention to technical detail, backgrounds and plausibility.

Speed and melodramatic pyrotechnics are not its attributes. As has been noted, its "hero" is as much the Department of Legal Medicine of Harvard's Medical School as the Branstable, Mass., detective who tracks down the slayer. That dastard is known almost from the start. He is a Cape Cod blue blood who has eliminated a blonde lady of the night who threatened to expose his indiscretion. But the police only have her skeleton to work with. And, with the aid of Harvard's medicos, this flimsy evidence is built up to a case against the unknown, philandering murderer and acquittal of an innocent Bostonian held for the crime.

Ricardo Montalban is natural and unassuming as the plodding sleuth who proves that the policeman's lot is not an easy one. And his observation that "professors work with their heads and cops with their feet" is amply portrayed by Bruce Bennett as the chief medical researcher. Marshall Thompson, as the wrongly accused suspect; Sally Forrest, as the wife; Edmon Ryan, as the murderer; Jan Sterling as the brassy charmer who is the cause of all the investigation, and, especially, Elsa Lanchester, who is top notch as a gin-bibbing, blackmailing landlady, give the principals solid support. "Mystery Street" may be short on suspense, but it is strong on authenticity.

Title: Re: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: cigar joe on October 14, 2013, 01:47:18 PM
agree a 7/10 O0
Title: Re: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: dave jenkins on October 14, 2013, 02:15:33 PM
Yeah, 7/10.
Title: Re: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: titoli on June 22, 2015, 09:55:00 PM
I give it 5/10. The cop is an idiot: he sez that the murderer's name must be in the victim's notebook and surely the one of the innocent he wrongly accuses is not. The murderer is an idiot too: he keeps the gun in his office: bravo.
Title: Re: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: drinkanddestroy on April 21, 2018, 11:13:16 PM
Just saw the movie on TCM Noir Alley (second viewing). I give it a 7.5/10
Title: Re: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: drinkanddestroy on April 22, 2018, 12:08:00 AM
The murderer is an idiot too: he keeps the gun in his office: bravo.

You have to remember that this movie was made in 1950, before the days of Forensic Files and CSI. Most criminals (and movie viewers) were probably unfamiliar with forensic evidence. I wasn't around when movies like Mystery Street and He Walked by Night (1948) were released, but my guess is that these were considered cutting-edge for its time in the field of forensics (just as the other police-procedural noirs probably opened the eyes of many viewers to police procedures they had not been aware of). It's highly likely that most people then did not know about ballistics. What makes your argument slightly stronger is that the murderer had been in the Army, and used his Army gun for the killings a soldier would perhaps be more familiar with ballistics than a civilian.

I did a quick Google search and found this article; it says that the earliest ballistics test that led to the successful solving of a murder case was actually developed in 1835, in London

Nevertheless, in He Walked by Night (1948) details how ballistics testing works as does Forensic Files, a tv show that started in the 1990's indicating that many people are unaware of it. And criminals aren't always the brightest people. Don't let the fact that the murderer keeps the gun bother you. It still happens these days, even after you'd think murderers would know enough to follow Clemenza's instructions: Leave the gun take the cannoli  ;)
Title: Re: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: drinkanddestroy on April 22, 2018, 12:08:47 AM
Eddie Muller's intro

Eddie Muller's afterword
Title: Re: Mystery Street (1950)
Post by: dave jenkins on June 09, 2018, 10:40:03 AM
Watched this again and had a really good time. This is one well-written movie. Not only is the police-and-forensics plot fast moving and well structured, the dialog for all the characters is A #1. Jan Sterling is a scream, and I really regret it when she leaves the picture. The by-play between Montalban and Detective Sharky is a treat. Elsa Lanchester is off-the-charts good, in a part that's better written than it needs to be. Betsy Blair has a great moment when she shows she knows her way around a .45. There are a number of bits that really shine, one with an ornithologist (who discovered the body) and one with a mortician (briefly a suspect, but then when he realizes what's up makes a play for some extra business). Of course the photography could not have been improved upon, and the Boston locations (and accents) are wonderful to see and hear. I'm boosting my rating to an "8."