The Street With No Name (1948)

The Street With No Name (1948) is a gangster gang-busting cop-on-the-inside undercover documentary style FBI procedural crime wave film noir from William Keighley, starring Mark Stevens and Richard Widmark as uneasy cat and mouse opponents in the burgeoning game of federal crime detection.

As the 1950s approached classic film noir began to make an uneasy turn towards portraying, usually via the medium of the earnest authoritarian male voiceover, the technological and forensic crime detection methods.

Never much required in earlier film noir, the voiceover becomes an unnoticed interruption in the crime drama, and forms one aspect of the documentary style noir storytelling, and aspect somewhat determined to lecture and inform, as well as providing the useful service of telling the audience what is happening on screen.

As an FBI trainee, mark Stevens (who plays agent Gene Cordell) shows great promise, and can shoot at targets while able to determine if they are goodies or baddies — a staple of the training regimen and soon to be a staple trope.

Premise by teletype — The Street With No Name (1948)

Mark Stevens is voice-overed into action on the streets where he hangs about in the fictional Skid Row area of the fictional Center City, until he hooks up with the crime gang of his film noir dream, and becomes trusted enough to become involved in their capers and heists.

Hold-up at Central City — The Street With No Name (1948)

A crime wave, including a holdup at a nightclub that ends in a murder and a bank robbery in which a guard is killed, has hit Center City. A squad of FBI agents headed by inspector George A. Briggs meets with local FBI field officer Richard Atkins, police chief Bernard Harmatz and Police Commissioner Ralph Demory. 

Forensic detail in The Street With No Name (1948)

After Briggs interrogates suspect Robert Danker, who claims he was not involved in either killing and that he has been framed, various tests are run at the FBI laboratory in Washington that exonerate Danker. Later Danker, who has been bailed out by a certain "John Smith," is found stabbed to death. 

Interrogation — Lloyd Nolan and Ed Begley in The Street With No Name (1948)

At the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Briggs briefs agent Gene Cordell, who is going undercover in Center City to try to infiltrate the gang Briggs thinks is responsible for all three killings. Cordell takes a bus into Center City and rents a room at the same Skid Row hotel in which Danker had been living. 

Full FBI training in film noir with Mark Stevens in The Street With No Name (1948)

Fellow agent Cy Gordon is in a similar hotel across the street from him. Using the name George Manly, Cordell makes himself known in the area by going to the local gym and picking a fight with one of the boxers training there. He is spotted by owner Alec Stiles, who offers him cash if he can last against the boxer. He does, and Alec pays him off.

Dives of noir in The Street With No Name (1948)

John McIntire plays this fellow agent Cy Gordon, and he can be spotted with various technological crime solving devices — including a lit match which he waves from side to side and a radio headset.

Showing a young FBI agent going undercover to infiltrate a crime ring and in such positive circumstances, may of course have worked to recruit for the agency. This young man personally impresses and forms a relationship with the mob head, and a part of this involves a demonstration boxing match in which the agent finds himself tested in a tough urban gym.

Richard Widmark in The Street With No Name (1948)

Further, in The Street With No Name (1948) the mob head is a good looking leading man type, unlike the creepy mob bosses found in such films as T-Men (1947). To heighten the excitement, William Keighley as in earlier productions focuses on the FBI's high tech communication system, with radio contact in The Street With No Name, and full on ballistics classes.

For film noir staples that emerged as fully formed tight-ass tropes still used on the television dramas of today The Street With No Name (1948) can barely be beat.

John McIntire in The Street With No Name (1948)

Diners of noir in The Street With No Name (1948)

As mentioned, the training scenes at FBI headquarters in The Street With No Name is entirely staple. The agent has life size images of crooks which pop up on a firing range, and he has to make snap decisions on whether to shoot or not.

Another major trope arises in the shoot out finale at the factory warehouse. There are many dark and dangerous shots of staircases and industrial equipment through which the hero chases the bad guy. This sort of setting has been used for the finales of an infinite amount of film and TV crime dramas since, and although this may not be the exact first film to employ this industrialised cinematic tactic it is certainly an early example — along with the similar but more explosive oil refinery finale of Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949) which was released shortly after.

The documentary style noir angle of The Street With No Name (1948) is played hard. There's the voiceover, and there is the ongoing procedural elements, which takes great pleasure in taking us down the lab and showing us how to match ballistics. There are street shots aplenty with the characters playing their dramas amid the real life scuz of the urban decadence.

Streets of noir in The Street With No Name (1948)

Many shots in the film show what the narration describes in fact as Skid Row, a tough urban area. A full fat selection of locales are thoroughly explored as well, including pin ball arcades, diners, cheap hotels, pool rooms, a ferry boat terminal, and a gym that trains people in boxing and acts as the main front for the criminal gang operated by Richard Widmark.

Boarding houses of noir in The Street With No Name (1948)

Exploring this region takes up a lot of the time, and works to generate that feel concerning this fictional street with no name  —  the street itself being in fact The United States of America. The film is topped and tailed and thus framed with the seal of the FBI, so there is no doubting the emphasis on the morality of the picture — it's about urban clean-up and the unstoppable rise of the gangs and rackets which had been charted by the proto-noir and film noir since the early 1930s.

Vile wife beater Alec Stiles played by Richard Widmark with Barbara Lawrence in The Street With No Name (1948)

Much of the first half of the film shows the FBI agent hero played by Mark Stevens going undercover as a hood and gradually becoming accepted in this world. Although it's accompanied by the grim voiceover of the super-imposing law, this assignment is clearly presented as a fun and emotionally gratifying experience for the man. Skid Row in Center City as a vision is in fact one of an urban utopia where men can find fulfilment.

Cops of noir in The Street With No Name (1948)

Indeed, while described as run down and full of undesirable locales such as pool halls, Skid Row seems like a happy place — barring the super crummy hotel rooms. The streets are busy and thriving, and the people who are mostly men seem happy, and there seems little in the way of alcohol abuse and petty crime among the men.

The nightclub featured briefly at the beginning has a different feel and is rather Art Deco features like many of the Hollywood venues of the time. Unlike down at Skid Row the patrons here look middle class and are romantic couples, whereas most of the denizens of Skid Row are men.

The Street With No Name (1948)

Curiously The Street With No Name (1948) is not a film of distorted relationships and personalities, in which men are pressed face flat against the paranoiac fates of urban isolation. To the contrary, emotional and psychological trauma seems non-existent and shots with more than one person tend to be happy, suggesting strong bonding. 

It's an unstoppable trend in The Street With No Name (1948) in which the characters are often surrounded by crowds, which are noisy and friendly. Unlike the archetypical notion of the classic film noir which shows the city as a place of loneliness and stark alienation, William Keighley seems to suggest that in the city a man can make a huge numbers of friends. As George Manly, undercover cop Mark Stevens and his gangland boss Richard Widmark are often surrounded by crowds of men, in bars or in the boxing club, or any of many venues.

Barbara Lawrence in The Street With No Name (1948)

There are two tight exceptions here. The first is that hints are made towards Richard Widmark's character having more than just criminal smarts, but the possibility of something deeper. In his first scene we see Richard Widmark as crime boss Alec Stiles sniffing at a nasal spray — an item of coding that was always used in film noir to suggest that character was a drug addict.

This facet of his personality is never pursued, and criminal bonhomie replaces any substance-based isolation or abuse that may have brought a more isolating or existential aspect to the character.

The second exception is the presence of women — or to be fair to The Street With No Name (1948) — the one woman in the film.

It is said that the role of Judy Stiles, the wife of the gang leader, was offered to actress June Haver, but she turned it down, calling it an "unimportant role". She furthermore said: "After playing that role, I won't have any name". As a result, she was put on suspension by Fox.

June Haver's comments if accurate were entirely justified as there can be few worse female roles in 1940s film noir than there are in The Street With No Name (1948). The character of Judy — played by Barbara Lawrence — is the most inconsequential female role of the decade. Judy flounces back and forth a little, but otherwise barely appears — other than to clear up the mess made by the men, or in her main scene in which she is falsely accused and beaten up by her husband, played by Richard Widmark.

Tense domesticity with Richard Widmark and Barbara Lawrence in The Street With No Name (1948)

There's nothing more to it than that for poor Judy, to the point of doubting whether the producers should have foregone a female role altogether. Either way, The Street With No Name (1948) is so deep into male bonding and what that entails, that it portrays a world of men, a manworld where women are just not existent other than to be the occasional victim of brutality.

Among these men there's obviously a fair amount of wise-cracking and good noir advice for life:

There's only one scientific way to get rid of a stoolie: let the cops bump him off.

Easiest way to crack a safe: use the combination.

And as a successful top to bottom portrayal of the FBI at work while maintaining all the hoodlum fun of the film noir fair. There is a lot of detail about the FBI and gang methods, here and there fleshed out by facts from a real-life case. 

The presence of Ed Begley somewhat in the background is necessary it appears because there need to be two police chiefs in The Street With No Name (1948) as one of them is corrupt. Again film noir is not ashamed of suggesting that the reason such gangs exist and persist, and how they control so man many men and so much territory, and can rob and kill with impunity at times, is that they are politically and legally protected — in this case by a law enforcement head.

Laid flat the idea is a chilling one, although the reality of the newsreel may have well suggested that such arrangements were real, although it's not a notion that could if aired less discreetly have offered a lot of consolation to the law-abiding public.

Lloyd Nolan in The Street With No Name (1948)

Finally, there is an exchange between FBI agent John McIntire and a cab driver. This small scene emphasises the cab driver's full cooperation with the FBI agent, something which actually saves the day. In fact the cab driver is a sure-fire film noir morality role model, showing how good citizens work with the FBI while presenting the a fantasy that an ordinary guy can play a huge role in a major federal  bust.

Interestingly, before this bust a storytelling teletype brings a message to the audience instructing the final round-up, and it appears that none other than J. Edgar Hoover himself seems to have allowed his name to appear in print, emphasising the docu-reality of the drama and the possibility of FBI superiority.

It should be noted too that by the film noir naming system, The Street With No Name (1948) presents strong chops — implicit in the word street is the urban environment and implicit in the nameless nature of the street, is the forgetful alienation of the same city blocks.

The Street With No Name (1948) was one of several documentary-style thrillers from 20th Century Fox in the later 1940s, and a definite expression of a trend. This trend probably began with House On 92nd Street (1945) which actually has the same character of Inspector Briggs, played by Lloyd Nolan in it. The tension between the documentary style and the photo realism of the police procedural and the expressionistic and dramatic acting scenes makes for an exciting new feel. 

Mark Stevens in The Street With No Name (1948)

Turning perhaps to Anthony Mann for its truest expression, this documentary style plays well for several years and breeds a new and more morally complex brand of film noir such as T-Men (1945), and He Walked By Night (1948), and became a style that was easily pushed too far in a picture like I Was A Communist for the FBI (1951), as the purely propaganda noir began to emerge in the sullied early years of the 1950s.

Go down The Street With No Name (1948) at Wikipedia

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