Terror Street (1953)

Terror Street (1953) is not the tale of terror its title may promise. But it stars Dan Duryea, and is a classic slice of limey noir.

It's crummy, and it's wooden, and it moves the pace of a cement snail at times. Terror Street also falls into the film noir 'Lousy Husband' sub-genre.

Men fail as much as they succeed in film noir, and if you are a lousy husband, you'd better be prepared for the bizarre consequences.

And don't be looking for much terror, film noir fans, as you venture down terror street. That would asking a lot.

There may yet be terror lurking there, but Terror Street is going to make you wait.

Instead, over the first nearly twenty minutes of Terror Street, you will find what seem like hours of solid wood largely coming from Dan Duryea, although this is barely his fault. It is as if Duryea has been asked to perform as solidly woodenly as he can by the directors of the piece; as if there is nothing else for him to do.

So Dan steps up with solid wood for the fans.

And the mis en scene, the action, the script and the psychic landscape of terror street, provides if truth be told, all the terror of a plate of cold Limey porridge.

So what is the point of Terror Street (1953)? How could this slice of Brit noir have come to have been made, and had the manufacturers of this misnamed flick understood anything of the dark noir rumblings which had been piling their way across the Atlantic for nearly fifteen years?

It is a good question, and one which may provide some of the clues to the understanding of British film noir. If there can even be said to have been such a thing as British film noir.

This movie, known in the UK by the more descriptive title of 36 Hours, was released in the United States as Terror Street, is a 1953 British film noir directed by Montgomery Tully and starring Dan Duryea. It was made by Hammer Film Productions; and if you look carefully in the credits you will find major league Hammer player Jimmy Sangster working as Assistant Director.

Thank goodness for the training! Because Sangster would go on to make many films, and just about all of them darker, and containing more terror, than Terror Street.

Dan Duryea - Solid Wood

Bill Rogers (who is played by Dan Duryea - where do they come out with these names? Bill Rogers! Like Steve Rollins in Hell on Frisco Bay (also 1953) - just the name. They gave it some thought. Right?

Bill Rogers, nonetheless, is an American pilot stationed in the States, who goes AWOL and heads to England to find out why he hasn't heard from his wife lately.

Upon his arrival, he learns details that suggest she has left him and is living a life which involves many male friends. In her new apartment, an angry Rogers awaits her return and anticipates their confrontation. 

Then there is an incredibly prosaic flashback which tells of their wholesome romance and marriage, and even includes some cheesy photographs to prove they were once in love and a truly earnest couple.

The Cheese Before the Storm
Weird 'holiday snap' montage in Terror Street (1953)

This flashback reveals airman Rogers to be a pretty lousy husband however; not cheatin' and not gamblin' and not even much of a drunk. But just a kind of lousy guy, who just treats his guid wife like she is a piece of trash, raising his voice at her slightest attempt at independent thought; just really being a jerk.

Out of the flashback, and when she shows up, Duryea (in his excellent guise as Bill Rogers) is suddenly knocked unconscious from behind. When he awakes he finds his wife has been murdered, and that he is the prime suspect. With only 36 hours at his disposal, Rogers takes it upon himself to track down the actual killer!

And here we are on Terror Street!

It goes down bad on TERROR STREET!

Although it took what may have been among the most mind-numbing twenty minutes of our lives, we have finally made it on to Terror Street. So let the TERROR begin!


And Terror Street is a film which might also have its own SPOILER ALERT - simply because when the murder upon which the movie hangs is committed, we see who committed it, meaning a certain lowering of the terror, yet again, and of course any suspense that the barely-existent terror may have fostered.

... more terror as the night goes on

The terror deepens as Dan Duryea goes on the run, most briefly, through the London night, only to take refuge in a house where he explains the plot of the film so far to an English woman who by a miracle has not been following the slow, slow action. The wood stiffens, the porridge thickens. The woman's name is 'Jenny Miller', another masterpiece of character creation.

Moderate terror

Interestingly however, Jenny Miller begins to help Bill Rogers, although even she doesn't know why she ends up lying to the police.

From this point on, and for the next long while, we are all pedestrians on Terror Street, as Dan Duryea figures his way through the war-wrecked and poverty stricken east-end.

Cheese melts terror

The action in the East End of London is likely the most fascinating aspects to Terror Street. It kind of is the 'one-way road to violence' that is promised on the movie poster. What is lost in terror is gained in the various tenuous redemptive acts and scenes which make a man of lousy-husband Dan.

This is the fascinating medium within which the movie lies; it lies within the marriage of Dan Duryea, the lousy husband, and his soon to be murdered, isn't' that a convenient fantasy, wife. The fact that his driving motivation as husband is to find out why he has not heard from his wife for a while, and does not  ever have to confront the fact that it is or may be because he is a lousy husband.

Cheese melts terror, but nothing can melt being a lousy husband. It's not even as if he is jealous and lousy; he is in fact just not very good. The results are painful for his wife and the resulting murder hunt, an analogy for the hunt he fails to make within himself with answers. 

Any more complex an analysis, and that would take this film noir to its natural core; a kind of weak man having a fantasy.

Spend 36 Hours at Wikipedia

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