Category Archives: Richard Widmark

The Street With No Name (1948)

Another great role for Richard Widmark

This film begins with a pseudo-documentary style as a narrator recounts various methods in which the FBI solves crime, and this is a lead-in to the meat of the story of The Street With No Name. FBI agent, Gene Cordell (Mark Stevens), goes undercover as criminal George Manley in order to infiltrate a gang headed by the explosive yet calculating Alec Stiles (Richard Widmark). The methods of 1940s crime detection seem archaic, but once the story gets underway, suspense mounts until the film’s exciting conclusion.

Richard Widmark excels in playing the role of the brutal, heartless baddie, and as Stiles, he certainly is credible and threatening as the clever gang leader who has developed a unique method for screening potential new gang members. This classic film noir illustrates how crime is deeply entrenched in society, and also shows the lengths to which the FBI is prepared to go to identify and remove the rotten roots at the base of some seemingly unconnected murders. Widmark dominates the film (he’s one of my favourite male noir actors), but he’s so evil, you have to support the brave undercover FBI agent who risks his life. The sets are ominously dark and moody–lots of use of shadow and fog. Fans of film noir should add this title to a list of ‘must-see’ films. Directed by William Keighley.

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Road House (1948)

“If you like the sound of gravel.”

Jefty (Richard Widmark) owns a Road House in a small town. It’s managed by childhood friend, Pete Morgan (Cornell Wilde). Jefty, who has a reputation with the ladies, brings home a sultry singer, Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino), and when Pete hears that she’s getting $250 a week for singing in the bar, he’s against the deal. Jefty, apparently, has a history of bringing female singers back to the road house, and then expecting more than just a few songs for his money. Pete tries to dump Lily at the train station, and Lily refuses to leave. This initial maneuver by Pete sets him at odds with Lily. But then when Pete hears Lily sing, he realizes that she’s worth every penny Jefty’s paying her.

Jefty soon makes it clear that Lily is hired to entertain the crowds that swarm to listen to her every night, but that in her spare time, she belongs to him. Lily is experienced enough to know how to manage Jefty. Circumstances, however, throw her into Pete’s company, and they fall in love. Jefty feels crossed. He’s not about to let his manager leave town with Lily, so he devises a plan that guarantees that the couple will be under his sadistic thumb for a long time….

Lily, Jefty, and Pete could make an interesting love triangle. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough of a hint early in the film to explain Jefty’s later actions. His character isn’t explored adequately to explain his evil actions once the couple try to leave town. It’s clear that Jefty has a problem with using his female singers (and that Pete is tired of moping up after Jefty), but Jefty’s character is not warped beyond a certain weakness where women are concerned. Pete and Jefty should be foils for one another, but neither character is distinct enough to really bring this out. Pete is too bland, and Jefty isn’t spoiled and evil enough. There are just not enough sparks here. Widmark as Jefty does a credible job with the restraints placed upon him by the narrow role. There are shades of Tommy Ugo (Kiss of Death) when Jefty goes crazy in the final scenes, so for film noir fans, this film is well worth watching. Lupino, as the singer who sounds as though she’s smoked her way through a six-pack-a-day habit for years, is great. From director Jean Negulesco.

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Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

 “You’re a gal with a lot of variations.”

In Don’t Bother to Knock, when an affluent society couple staying in a large New York hotel mention to bellhop, Eddie (Elisha Cook Jr.) that they need a babysitter for their daughter, Bunny, he suggests his niece, Nell (Marilyn Monroe). Nell arrives at Room 809 and she looks neat, and clean, but there’s something about her distracted manner that should ring alarm bells for any parent. Unfortunately, Mr. And Mrs. Jones float off for the evening leaving Nell in charge of Bunny while they attend a dinner in one of the hotel’s dining rooms.

Lounge singer Lyn Leslie (Anne Bancroft) is performing her usual evening routine when her beau, airline pilot, Jeb Towers (Richard Widmark) arrives. Lyn has decided to break up with Jeb because he’s cold, and he doesn’t “have an understanding heart.” Frustrated and irritated, Jeb goes back upstairs to his hotel room. Once in his room, Jeb spots Nell across the way, and on an impulse, he decides to call her and invite himself over.

The role of Nell allows Marilyn Monroe to really show her talent as an actress. She’s just amazing in this role, and if you haven’t seen the film, watching Monroe’s facial expressions will give you new respect for her talents. Jeb imagines he’s hit the jackpot when he finds this beautiful, lonely woman. When he sets eyes on Nell, he tells her, “you might have been a droopy looking job,” and as far as he’s concerned, he’s there in a hotel room with a beautiful stranger to have a no-strings attached evening. Ironically, Jeb finds himself involved up to his neck. Loaded with great one-liners, the film grows increasingly tenser as Nell unravels before Jeb’s eyes. Marilyn Monroe fans will love this film, and Widmark fans will be also pleased with his performance. Widmark does an excellent job of playing the irritated lover who wants to step on the rebound into another romance, but instead he has a pivotal experience of his lifetime. From director Roy Ward Baker.

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Night and the City (1950)

 “Harry’s an artist without an art.”

Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a small-time hustler in London. Harry has big ideas, but one scheme after another fails. Loyal girlfriend, Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney) always bails him out like the true co-dependent she is. One day, Harry desperately insinuates himself in the troubled relationship between crooked wrestling promoter Kristo (Herbert Lom) and his aging wrestling champion father, Gregorius the Great (Stanislaus Zbyszko). Fabian smooth talks Gregorius into signing a contract for his protege Nikolas. In very typical Fabian style, Harry imagines that he now controls all of the boxing in London. There’s a small problem with money, however, so Fabian hits everyone he knows for the cash he needs to start his promoting business.

He turns to shady nightclub owner, Phil Nosseross, owner of the Silver Fox Night Club. But Phil’s greedy wife, Helen (Googie Withers) has plans of her own …

Night and the City is a must-see for all film noir fans. Widmark delivers a great performance as hard-luck Harry–a little man with big plans. He’s so sure he’s ready for the big time and just needs the front money to create his dreams. From his cheap, loud checkered suits to his petulance when he can’t get the money he wants, Harry is a perfect character study. A superior supporting cast back Widmark, and the film is loaded with some great characters. Phil and Helen Nosseross are a shady pair who deserve one another–a couple of low-lifes who’ve managed to hit the big time. Various other low-lifes are scattered throughout the film, and they’re all full of big dreams just like Harry. Gregorius is in contrast to the toughs and the hoods; he’s an old-time wrestler–a man with principles. Ironically Gregorius throws his lot in with Harry–a man with no principles whatsoever. Night and The City from director Jules Dassin is a perfect film noir gem.

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