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April 19, 2012

Gunman in the Streets

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Frank Tuttle - 1950
Allday Entertainment Region 1 DVD

"In the middle drawer are pictures of me in nude . . . at age 2." And so Simone Signoret teases the detective looking for an escaped convict, as well as the audience. Signoret is not exactly a femme fatale in this film. As repeated by her and the convict, played by Dane Clark, everybody is playing out their predestined roles.

Gunman is in the Streets bears a strange history as the English language version of a film that was shot with essentially the same cast in a French language version with a different director as La Traque. A somewhat cut version played in Britain and Canada, but never in the United States. There are several probable reasons why the film never got a U.S. release. At the time, director Frank Tuttle, a former member of the Communist party, was dodging the blacklist. Tuttle later named names, notably Jules Dassin, and made three more films in Hollywood before retiring. Dane Clark's star was on the wane, before settling to a career of guest shots on television. While Simone Signoret had appeared in a couple of English language films prior to Gunman in the Streets, it would be several years before her Oscar winning turn in Room at the Top.

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What may have put off potential stateside distributors is the Gunman in the Streets was, by the standards of the time, a rough film. Clark kicks a wounded cop, socks Signoret in the jaw, leaves an informer to inhale the fumes of a gas stove, and does some self-surgery, removing a bullet from his upper arm. In a bit of grim humor, Clark regales the informer, an antique dealer of ambiguous motives and sexuality, with how he almost got burned alive in the police van, shooting his way out. The posters for the film tried to sell Clark's character, an army deserter turned holdup man, into someone in the tradition of the film and real life gangster of the Thirties - "Dillinger, Little Caesar, Scarface, Capone". Clark's Eddie Roback might be as nasty, if not nastier, but he lacks the charisma of his cinematic predecessors.

Eugen Schufftan has some very adoring shots of Signoret. One fantastic image is a close up with Signoret holding a very large wine glass in front of her lips. There is also the beautiful shot of Signoret, hearing the whistle of a train, that sounds almost like a scream, knowing that she has lost her final chance to get away from Clark. A good part of the film was shot at night in the streets of Paris. Some point of view shots of when Clark and Signoret drive much too fast on a foggy night through a wooded back road, must have made for tense viewing on the big screen. Signoret was game enough to run barefoot through the streets of a small French town near the Belgian border during the final sequence.

While the film on the DVD is the complete version, it's hardly pristine, as if no one bothered to clean up the print. The stray hairs, scratches and such might be considered a blemish by some, although I thought they added to a seedy kind of charm. Even with Joe Hajos wonderfully sad and dreamy score, this is the kind of film that would have been best seen in a worn second run theater on the cheap, rather than a first run picture palace.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 19, 2012 08:21 AM