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December 13, 2005

Richard Widmark Double Feature

The Street with No Name
William Keighley - 1948
20th Century-Fox Region 1 DVD

To the Devil a Daughter
Peter Sykes - 1976
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

For those you missed the news, Richard Widmark received a Career Achievement award from the Los Angeles Film Critics recently. The choice of Widmark is interesting because, while many would agree on the quality of his work, Richard Widmark is probably remembered better for a handful of films that he appeared in, such as Kiss of Death and Pickup on South Street. And while he co-starred with some film's biggest icons such as Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne, Widmark never had that mythic aura. In examing his filmography, Widmark was usually top billed in lower to middle budget films, while frequently taking second bill in bigger productions. With the exception of his debut film performance as Tommy Udo, the giggling killer of Kiss of Death, we usually remember the film before we remember Widmark.

In his second film, The Street with No Name, Widmark plays a slightly less sociopathic gangster. Widmark's character shares the same last name, Stiles, as his character in his last film, True Colors. Bland and beefy Mark Stevens plays an F.B.I. agent who infiltrates Widmark's gang. The film is part noir, very dark, high and low angle photography, and part police procedural. The film begins with a teletype message supposedly from J. Edgar Hoover himself warning audiences that they were potential victims of crime. We next see an attempted heist at a roadhouse. From the voice-over setting up the story, we get the idea that the victims are partially to blame, drinking and dancing at an hour when good citizens are home sleeping. This first scene opens with a literal bang when a nervous woman screams and gets shot by Widmark. The film then cuts to a scene in a crime lab which could be called C.S.I., B.C. where we see a couple of technicians comparing bullets.

While the film takes place in a fictional city, it was shot literally on the streets of Los Angeles as part of the trend of documentary style crime films. Director William Keighley was a house director at Warner Brothers making crime films with Bogart, Cagney and Robinson. The film is brightened by character actors Lloyd Nolan, Ed Begley, John McIntire, and Barbara Lawrence as Widmark's eye candy and punching bag. Harry Kleiner's screenplay was reworked by Sam Fuller for House of Bamboo. While The Street with No Name is entertaining, my favorite early Widmark performance is in Jules Dassin's Night and the City with its consistently dreamlike and sometimes nightmarish view of London.

London was where Widmark filmed part of To the Devil a Daughter, his last theatrical film with top billing. Perhaps Widmark thought being in a horror film would be as good for him as The Omen was for Gregory Peck. The film also carries the distinction of being the last Hammer horror film to be made for theaters, afterwhich the studio eked out a few productions for television. Widmark plays a writer with an interest in devil worship. Denholm Elliot seeks out Widmark to rescue his daughter, Natassia Kinski, from the clutches of the evil Christopher Lee. The film is sort of like Rosemary's Baby until the end when the film gets a bit more graphic. As bloody as the film gets, the most horrifying bit of this movie is that Christopher Lee has a nude scene. The then sixteen year old Kinski is also seen to full advantage. Pussy Galore, also known as Honor Blackman stays dressed throughout her performance. The documentary on To the Devil indicates that Widmark hated making the film and almost walked out on the production. For all the problems with the production, including a constantly re-written script, the film looks good thanks to cinematographer David Watkin. The expected payoff at the end never comes, undermined by a perfunctory ending. It's a frustrating way to close a Hammer movie, as well as the Hammer studio.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 13, 2005 05:56 PM


I applaud the choice of Richard Widmark for a lifetime achievement award! He's bee a favorite of mine for many years.

Posted by: Pat at December 21, 2005 02:13 PM

not sure exactly whom I am writing here. But
as simple fans of Richard Widmark, his brithday
being December 26, we would like to express
appreciation for his wonderful performances as
well as for him as a person. You can just tell.
we loved the comment he made when asked about
Ronald Reagan. Still do.

Posted by: jane and jarratt mar;tin at December 26, 2005 03:26 PM