Gunman in the Streets (1950)

  |  Crime, Drama

Gunman in the Streets (1950) Poster

American army deserter turned criminal-on-the-run Eddy Roback must evade the French authorities in a nation-wide manhunt as he attempts to cross the border into Belgium.


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11 October 2007 | Bunuel1976
| GUNMAN IN THE STREETS (Frank Tuttle, 1950) ***
As had been the case with STRANGE ILLUSION (1945), I kept postponing my purchase of this film's All Day Entertainment DVD ever since its 2002 release; then, it surprisingly turned up not too long ago on late-night Italian TV (in English with forced Italian subtitles) which I decided to tape and have now taken this opportunity – i.e. my unfortunately erratic month-long "Film Noir" marathon – to finally check out GUNMAN IN THE STREETS.

Being uniquely a French production shot in English (though, supposedly, there's a simultaneously-made French-language version directed by one Boris Lewin!) and involving talent of mixed nationality on both sides of the camera, this overlooked gem is justly celebrated by connoisseurs now as a 'lost' genre classic. Gritty and uncompromising, it's bookended – like THE WILD BUNCH (1969)! – by a couple of exciting and elaborately staged shootouts of startling violence to which, I'd say, contemporary American cinema had no equivalent: the opener (involving gangster Dane Clark's daring daylight escape from police custody) taking place in crowded streets and the finale in the gang's warehouse hideout (which the police approach as if it were a military operation).

Clark is a compelling presence here (see also my review of PAID TO KILL [1954] for comparison): edgy yet bold and with a decidedly mean streak about him, he evokes memories of James Cagney in WHITE HEAT (1949) – check out his final enraged assertion that he doesn't need anyone a' la Cody Jarrett going berserk at the "top of the world"– and, like that film, this is really a 1930s gangster picture brought up to date. Of the French actors, the ones who come off best are those most at ease with the "foreign" language – both Simone Signoret and Fernand Gravet had appeared in English-speaking roles before; she excels as the quintessential gangster's moll, young but obviously seasoned and whose death scene achieves a near-poetic quality, while he brings a quiet determination (concealed under an air of old-style sophistication) to his Police Commissioner role. Clark manages to remain one step ahead of the law till the very end – though he nearly escapes getting caught in a department store and in a police raid on his former headquarters; for a long part of the duration, he holes up in the apartment of a sleazy photographer (with an amiable but ill-treated white feline as a pet) who ratted on him.

American director Tuttle is best-known for THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), the noir classic which made a star of Alan Ladd and with whom he would soon reteam for another gangster flick – HELL ON FRISCO BAY (1955). Eugen Shufftan's camera-work throughout is dazzling, vividly capturing the essential realism of the French locations; Joe Hajos' moody score is also notable. If there's a quibble I have with the film, it's that we never learn what kind of racket Clark is involved in – because of this, it loses some steam during the last act (where he meets up with his anonymous-looking criminal associates) but picks up the pace again with the afore-mentioned climactic bout of nihilism. By the way, some reviewers mention a 1975 film called LA TRAQUE (with Mimsy Farmer and Michel Lonsdale) as a remake of this one – but, from what I read on the IMDb, it seems to have a totally different plot line!

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