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99 River Street (1953)

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99 River Street (1953)

Postby moira finnie » October 20th, 2009, 6:23 am

99 River Street (1953), a rarely seen Phil Karlson film featuring one of John Payne and Evelyn Keyes' best performances, is available in a beautiful black and white print online at hulu, beginning here. (Btw, the site has a completely incorrect plot description posted for this film).
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One of the worst looking movie posters ever may not have helped this little movie's marketability.

Is it a perfect movie or director Karlson's best work? Perhaps not, but Payne's capacity for creating an appealing character afflicted with a crippling paralysis of self-confidence and more than a touch of self-pity (seen in some interesting flashes in films as diverse as The Dolly Sisters, Sentimental Journey, The Razor's Edge and Kansas City Confidential), may never been better on screen. This may have been due in part to Payne as well as Karlson's contributions to the script, credited to George Zuckerman for story and Robert Smith for screenplay. A big, athletic looking lug, Payne's doughy, slightly hangdog face and capacity for bursts of violent action are put to good use throughout this movie as he builds a fairly nuanced character nearing the end of his tether. One quibble: would John Payne's character of Ernie ever trust another female again, given his experiences in this film? You decide, but I have my doubts, though that niggling question adds somewhat to the suspense and tension of this story.
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A careworn and anxious John Payne as the former heavyweight contender, Ernie Driscoll.

The film, photographed exquisitely by cinematographer Franz Planer mostly at night, tells the story of a washed-up former heavyweight fighter Ernie Driscoll (Payne) who can no longer get in the ring without damaging his already impaired optic nerve, though he can still relive his moment of defeat via the television replay, in a neat opening sequence. Ernie's visions of the future have shriveled along with his marriage to former showgirl, Peggie Castle, though he still harbors a small dream of owning his own service station, much to Peggie's mocking disgust.
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Peggie Castle as Ernie's dissatisfied wife, may think that her frustrated dreams might be satisfied by that slick operator, Brad Dexter.

Nursing his wounded spirit and hauling around an unhealthy sense of bitterness, Payne drives a cab now, mumbling to himself about his dashed dreams. When he's not brooding, Payne spills his troubles at an all night coffee shop, seeking some rather simplistic marital advice from his former trainer turned dispatcher, Frank Faylen, who recommends trite patches such as flowers, candy and getting his wife pregnant to shore up a marriage that is rapidly taking on water. Impulsively visiting his wife at her job at a high end florist, Payne is rapidly disillusioned about his wife's loyalty and he understandably begins to behave impulsively like a man without a future or hope.
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Dispatcher, sounding board and friend Frank Faylen passes out advice and guidance to his buddy, Payne.

Another loiterer at the cafe is a shopworn, would-be Broadway actress, Evelyn Keyes, whose desperation over her life and career receives some support from Payne, who also lends the actress small amounts of money and a friendly ear. Payne and Keyes are an odd pair, whose slight friendship and eventual alliance grows out of mutual underlying despair and their tacit recognition of their spiritual kinship. Are they a romantic pair? I'd like to know your take on that aspect of this script.
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Evelyn Keyes acting her way through real life.

As the story progresses, even as his own troubles threaten to overwhelm him, Payne's tentative bond with the struggling actress takes a compelling twist that reveals his character's underlying generosity and compassion even if it strains credibility. Despite committing an act that might permanently alienate a lesser man, the twosome share their eventual pursuit of those who are responsible for shattering Payne's threadbare life further. Perhaps Payne's forgiving nature and distracted state of mind allow him to let Keyes' rather duplicitous character near him again, but her character's turnabout seems a bit unlikely, even if her capacity for being all things to all men make her a useful companion in this hunt for Brad Dexter, who plays a jewel thief and cold-hearted adulterer. Dexter, who is usually a limited actor with little impact on screen, is used well by the director in this film. His slick appearance, stylish manner and tough guy veneer perfectly conveys his character's shallowness and menacing presence.
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Life throws Ernie (John Payne, seen with Evelyn Keyes) one unexpected curve after another.

I don't want to spoil the experience you might have watching this very well made B movie, but suffice it to say that John Payne's character and acting is exceptionally good and quite complex as he finds some meaning in his largely pointless existence as his adrenalin-fueled journey into darkness progresses. As his desperation grows with each new assault on his self-esteem and ragged hope for the future, one chaotic event after another and the violence that accompanies them gradually rouses him from his isolated injustice collecting and goads him to take action to right things at any cost. Throughout this nocturnal effort to find his way out of the maze of his life, he is supported ably by Keyes as a born manipulator (or is she?), Faylen as the always believable salt-of-the-earth helper, Brad Dexter in an even better role than he enjoyed in The Asphalt Jungle, and, to top things off, a wonderfully expressive Jay Adler, as a pet shop owner/fence, whose remark that he "doesn't do business with women" triggers some unexpected action.
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Above, Jay Adler and Brad Dexter try to come to terms.
Below, Adler is helped by the always reliable heavy, Jack Lambert, who pummels Payne in several scenes.

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As to the themes of this movie, it has quite a bit to say about violence, (which is treated in a realistic way, with every blow, whether psychological or physical, leaving a mark), handling life's roller coaster ride, and in one of the most scathing sequences, has much to say about the blurring of the line between acting and reality in "real life".
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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby Mr. Arkadin » October 20th, 2009, 7:18 am

Hi Moira, nice assessment of 99 River Street. Unfortunately, I was only able to catch this once long ago, and since then I've found more reading material on the film than prints for sale (or showing on TCM).

I'll be interested to check out the film again at hulu and look forward to Mr. D and The Big O's thoughts on this one (I know Dewey has some rhymes to blab--he gave me a book that spotlighted this movie! [King of the B's]).

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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby kingrat » October 21st, 2009, 4:28 pm

Is this a better film that THE BROTHERS RICO? That's the only Karlson film I've seen, and I'd echo Dewey's comment that that one is "pretty routine."

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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby Dewey1960 » October 21st, 2009, 4:45 pm

Hi all. First off, I'd like to simply pay the appropriate kudos to Moira for her wonderful assessment of 99 RIVER STREET which is, in my own opinion, Phil Karlson's finest moment in the noir universe. It's a powerhouse film, loaded with enough bravura cinematic technique to fill a dozen films. I'd also like to add, as an aside to kingrat, that THE BROTHERS RICO doesn't even appear to be directed by the same person; I feel it (along with FIVE AGAINST THE HOUSE) is Karlson's lamest film. The fact that RIVER STREET has been ignored by the home vid market is yet another astonishing example of the insipidness of the industry.
I have my own personal, sentimental relationship with this film. It was the first noir film I ever programmed theatrically back at the Roxie in San Francisco. I put it on a double-bill with Joseph H. Lewis' THE BIG COMBO (if memory serves me the date was Thursday, June 13, 1991) and the show was a complete sold-out affair! What a night!
TCM aired 99 RIVER STREET back in the late 90s. I don't recall seeing it listed since. TCM Programmer, please take heed. It's a UA film and shouldn't be that difficult to schedule.
Incidentally, the book Arkadin mentioned in his post, THE KINGS OF THE Bs, published in 1976 and now out of print, is absolutely indispensable for any serious or casual student of film noir (or any of the other permutations of the classic B film) and should be sought out at once! It should be fairly easily found on Amazon or eBay for a reasonable price.

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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby moira finnie » October 21st, 2009, 6:47 pm

Wow, I thought I was the only philistine who could barely finish The Brothers Rico. What a disappointment and I am even a Richard Conte fan (especially Thieves Highway). Now I'm worried after reading your remark about Phil Karlson's other film I haven't seen, since I've been looking forward to Five Against the House. It can't have as disappointing a denouement as Kansas City Confidential, can it? :? I loved the first half of that movie, the introduction of all the great lugs at the resort, and it went straight downhill from there for me, especially when poor Colleen Gray had nothing to do with her character except become a bourgeois nag.

Thanks for chiming in on the splendid 99 River Street. I know that watching a movie on a computer may not be ideal, but honest, the print is so good and the film is so absorbing that I forgot all about that while watching it on hulu for free. Perhaps the sudden appearance on that platform indicates that it may be moving toward dvd or broadcast on TCM?
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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby Dewey1960 » October 22nd, 2009, 9:01 am

"Wow, I thought I was the only philistine who could barely finish The Brothers Rico. What a disappointment and I am even a Richard Conte fan (especially Thieves Highway)."
Frankly, I don't know anyone who's a fan of RICO. It's simply dull as dirt.

"Now I'm worried after reading your remark about Phil Karlson's other film I haven't seen, since I've been looking forward to Five Against the House."
Who knows? You might even like FIVE AGAINST THE HOUSE. I find it amazing that Sony opted for this dog over such worthier candidates as JOHNNY O'CLOCK, PUSHOVER, DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD and THE BURGLAR for their upcoming film noir box set. Makes you kind of scratch your head, doesn't it?

"Perhaps the sudden appearance (of 99 RIVER STREET) on that platform indicates that it may be moving toward dvd or broadcast on TCM?"
Perhaps. MGM, who controls RIVER STREET, has been fairly diligent about getting good films out there. And it does actually have a history on TCM. It would be a very welcome sight.

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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby ChiO » October 22nd, 2009, 9:06 am

I regret to report that I was unable to watch 99 RIVER STREET once it got to about the third commercial. Oh, well...I was planning on buying a copy this week anyway.

But in the 20 or so minutes I saw, Ms. Castle delivered a line I thought about all day: when riding in the front seat of the cab that Payne is driving, she says, I wish I could ride in the back seat someday. (or something like that)

Back seat with Payne driving? Back seat alone with someone else driving? Back seat with another man and someone else driving? Back seat with another man and Payne driving? The one thing I was confident of was that she sure didn't mean that she wanted to be in the back seat with Payne. Pretty cruel stuff.
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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby Dewey1960 » October 22nd, 2009, 9:15 am

Back seat with Payne driving? Back seat alone with someone else driving? Back seat with another man and someone else driving? Back seat with another man and Payne driving? The one thing I was confident of was that she sure didn't mean that she wanted to be in the back seat with Payne. Pretty cruel stuff.
I think she meant in the back seat with a cabbie (any cabbie) driving; a caustic commentary on hubby Payne's inability to provide her with a better life. You're right; this film is rife with brutality, both physical and emotional. Catch it when you can!

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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby moira finnie » October 22nd, 2009, 11:26 am

Dewey1960 wrote:You're right; this film is rife with brutality, both physical and emotional. Catch it when you can!


It's the psychological and emotional cruelty that left a mark on my memory. Especially that scene in the theater. How could Payne ever let that woman back in his cab after that--much less his life? Unless of course, he started to become more of a willing masochist than he appeared to want to be. Hmmm...

Sorry about the commercials, Chio. I guess I'm a peasant. If 30 second commercials three times in one movie are the price it takes to see this flick, I'll pay it. Gosh, maybe I'm a masochist now. :roll:
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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby Dewey1960 » October 22nd, 2009, 11:34 am

Gosh, maybe I'm a masochist now.

Welcome to 99 RIVER STREET where it intersects with SCARLET STREET in the unholy noir universe.

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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby ChiO » October 22nd, 2009, 1:50 pm

Sorry about the commercials, Chio. I guess I'm a peasant. If 30 second commercials three times in one movie are the price it takes to see this flick, I'll pay it.


So would I...but Hulu wouldn't let me. It froze as the 3rd commercial was about to start and wouldn't continue unless I changed my settings or waved a headless chicken over the CPU. My Luddite fears took over my body and that was that.
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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby CineMaven » October 22nd, 2009, 3:10 pm

99 River Street (1953), a rarely seen Phil Karlson film featuring one of John Payne and Evelyn Keyes' best performances, is available in a beautiful black and white print online at hulu, beginning here. (Btw, the site has a completely incorrect plot description posted for this film). - Moirafinnie. (10/20/2009 - 7:23am)

I see trolling for topics is being perpetrated elsewhere, but based on your recommendation Moira, this is one I'm putting on my list. You haven't steered me wrong yet. And I also see your genuine love for film.
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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby moira finnie » October 22nd, 2009, 3:46 pm

CineMaven wrote:I see trolling for topics is being perpetrated elsewhere, but based on your recommendation Moira, this is one I'm putting on my list. You haven't steered me wrong yet.

I'm sorry I don't know what you mean Cinie? I learned of this movie's presence on hulu about a week ago via a noir nudge on twitter, God help me. I guess that makes me a twit. Won't be the first time, *sigh*...or the last.

Hope you like it anyway.
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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby CineMaven » October 22nd, 2009, 9:20 pm

You have NOTHING to apologize for. Understand now?
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Re: 99 River Street (1953)

Postby moira finnie » October 23rd, 2009, 5:47 am

I gotta start reading more of those cockamamie posts over on the mother ship. I was not serious, but figured I'd missed something over "there"...Guess I'll have to stop "ignoring" people on that planet, huh?
No offense taken, I was just puzzled.

I'm so hoping that y'all will post your impressions of this uncovered gem when you have a chance to see it as well.

Hmmm, "John Payne, actor-auteur" sounds a little odd, doesn't it? But maybe a thread devoted to this guy's evolution from glorified chorus boy to tough guy as a parallel to Dick Powell's career arc might be fun to toy with in the future? Um, I think I better have a cup of java before tackling that one. :wink:
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