THE GANGSTERS ALL HERE Live Tweet movie for Sat., Sept. 26: THE STREET WITH NO NAME (1948)

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When a 1948 movie opens with a message crawl from J. Edgar Hoover, you can bet it’s going to be a love letter to the F.B.I. This week’s gangster-infested scumfest, The Street with No Name, tells how the Feds sent in one of their own to infiltrate a nasty gang and demobilize it — because, darn it, you know that’s what J. Edgar insisted upon!

When a crime wave blows through “Central City” (which looks suspiciously like Los Angeles), FBI Inspector Briggs (Lloyd Nolan) provides rookie agent Gene Cordell (Mark Stevens) with the new identity of “George Manly” (Note that last name!) and sends him undercover. Soon enough, “Manly” becomes part of Central City’s major gang, led by mastermind Alec Stiles. Don’t be fooled by that milquetoast name — we know right away that Alec Stiles must be bad, because he’s played by…

Richard Widmark!

Richard Widmark!

Looks like the FBI and George Manly have their hands full with this one!

BettyPageFannyIndexOn a scale of 1 to 5 fannies, I rate this movie a 4. This is good-guys-vs.-bad-guys played to the hilt, the “good” represented by a ripe-for-parody monotone narrator and frequent unsubtle nods to the virtue of the FBI, and the “bad” represented by gangsters spouting endless street slang, hoisting drinks, and packing rods. Did I mention that Richard Widmark is in this movie?

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KISS OF DEATH (1947) – Gritty, to-the-point film-noir

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A crook turns stoolie so that he can see his kids again. The basic plot of Kiss of Death would work perfectly in high-concept Hollywood. Sadly, these days, Hollywood would leave out the terrific touches that have made this movie such a memorable example of film noir. (In fact, Hollywood did just that with a half-hearted remake in 1995.)

The movie begins with jewelry-store thief Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) and his gang pulling off a heist at a jewelry store in a New York City high-rise. Director Henry Hathaway tightens the suspense by showing the gang trying to escape on an elevator that makes far too many stops for fresh passengers, and the gang members start sweating out every new stop. When a movie takes the time for little nuances that a lot of big movies would brush off, you know you’re in for a great feat of storytelling.

Mature as Nick.

Mature as Nick.

At first, Nick is the stoic gangster, willing to go to Sing Sing rather than squeal on his fellow hoodlums. But when his family is thrown asunder while he’s in jail, Nick caves and starts naming names to the assistant district attorney (Brian Donlevy). Nick also gets in good with gangster Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark in his screen debut) so that he can get some juicy info on him for the ADA. The movie is quite eager to show us that Udo is not someone whom you double-cross lightly. This is depicted most graphically in what is probably the movie’s most famous scene, dramatically demonstrating that Udo is…well, not terribly sensitive to the physically disabled.

Widmark as Udo.

Widmark as Udo.

The screenplay by Hollywood veterans Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer (from Eleazar Lipsky’s original story), and Henry Hathaway’s taut direction, give the movie a straight-from-the-headlines tabloid feel. This is further aided by Norbert Brodine’s straight-to-the-point photography, which beautifully captures the movie (as is boasted in the opening titles) at authentic New York locations. And the flawless cast further punches the movie’s gritty tableau across. Mature, Widmark, Donlevy, and utterly charming Coleen Gray (also making her film debut here) provide a riveting movie experience.

A lot of films-noir make their points with heightened dialogue and stylized photography. Kiss of Death gives you the refreshing feeling of seeing an Everyman placed in the middle of a film-noir situation and doing his best to escape it. (Talk about stylized, though — if you ever hear anyone laugh like Richard Widmark, run for the hills.)