Mystery Street (1950)
Director: John Sturges
Cast: Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett
Synopsis: A small town policeman is assisted by a Harvard professor when the skeletal remains of a pregnant prostitute turn up on a Massachusetts beach.
Mystery Street is a skilful blend of Film Noir and police forensic/procedural that makes effective use of authentic Boston locations, and boasts a fine natural performance from a young Ricardo Montalban.
`Fresh air couldn’t get in here with a permit,’ opines brassy Vivian Heldon (Jan Sterling), as she picks up a mark in The Grass Skirt, a sleazy bar (in a complex named Dreamland) with table lamps carved into the shape of hula-dancers whose grass skirts gyrate suggestively. Dumping the mark, she races off in his car to a rendezvous which ultimately sees her end up as nothing more than a bundle of bones in a plain cardboard box, grieved over by only a besotted tattooist.
After the girl’s murder, Ricardo Montalban, as the young police detective attempting to piece together the negligible evidence, becomes the focus of the movie. Montalban gives an appealing performance under director John Sturges assured direction (in what was to be the first of many successful movies Sturges would make for MGM).
Although there are a few plot inconsistencies, they are not enough to upset one’s enjoyment, and Sturges maintains a suitably dark atmosphere throughout, helped by a lack of any musical soundtrack, a device which helps to make the many scenes of greed and cruelty all the more believable. Elsa Lanchester stands out amongst a solid, professional cast as the victim’s snooping, scheming landlady who attempts to benefit from her lodger’s murder. Highly recommended.
(Reviewed 9th May 2002)