Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Noir Watch: Mystery Street (1950)
Format: Noir Alley on TCM/ DVR
In his intro to the movie, Muller mentions that this movie is perhaps less Film Noir and more police procedural, specifically of what we now consider to be the CSI variety.
The movie takes a while to getting to the character, but it stars Ricardo Montalban as a police detective located in Boston/ Cape Cod. This is Montalban in 1950 when he's still young and hungry, his good looks and perfect voice haven't yet become the almost self-parody they would be by the time he was wearing a white suit and running a magical island.
Muller doesn't talk about her in either the opening or closing, but Elsa Lanchester appears in the film as a conniving landlord with a booze problem. This is circa The Big Clock Lanchester, so more than a decade away from her appearance as The Bride, and not yet in matronly weirdo mode that she'd master for stuff like That Darn Cat!.
The movie's actual plot is so close to what's now an hour-long drama police procedural, it's almost weird to see it fill up a full 90 minutes. We get the set-up of a young woman talking a drunk into driving his car which she takes him (black out drunk) to Cape Cod, where she abandons him and takes the car, only to get murdered.
Flash forward a few months, and someone finds the skeletal remains of the victim, and while Montalban's cop is frustrated, he manages to pair with a department at Harvard that begins the scientific work to unravel who the victim was, and then - how did she die.
Beat for beat, it's familiar, but it's also decades ahead of its time, right down to the interviews of local color and possible leads who are blase about talking to the cops. But it's also thrilling to see all of this play out on screen for what was some of the first scientific police work like this - mixed with good old-fashioned detectiving, that I can remember seeing at this early date.
For all that, it's also really cool to see Boston in the 1950's where parts of the movie were shot on location. And, I did actually really like Montalban and Lanchester in the movie. They rolled the dice on Montalban in the lead, and it pays off very well. If this were 2002, Montalban would have been doing that same role on TV for a decade. Lanchester plays daffy, not-quite-harmless Lanchester to a T, and it's one more role she's in where I wonder why she's not better remembered.
A fun movie in its macabre way, and worth a viewing if you're a TV cop-show watcher.