Sue England, Stephen McNally, and Barbara Whiting in City Across the River (1949)



(director/writer: Maxwell Shane; screenwriters: from Irving Shulman’s book “The Amboy Dukes”/ Dennis Cooper; cinematographer: Maury Gertsman; editor: Ted J. Kent; cast: Peter Fernandez (Frank Cusack), Thelma Ritter (Mrs. Cusack), Stephen McNally (Stan Albert), Jeff Corey (Lieutenant Macon), Bert Conway (Mr. Hayes), Tony Curtis (Mitch), Richard Jaeckel (Bull), Sue England (Betty), Mickey Knox (Larry), Robert Osterloh (Mr. Bannon), Joshua Shelley (Crazy), Drew Pearson (Himself), Richard Benedict (Gaggsy Steens), Sharon McManus (Alice Cusack), Joe Turkel (Shimmy), Barbara Whiting (Annie Kane), Sara Berner (Selma),Al Ramsen (Benny),Luis Van Rooten (Joe Cusack); Runtime: 90; U-1; 1949)


“This film missed what teenage life was like in the city slums by a country mile.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a much softened version of Irving Schulman’s “The Amboy Dukes,” a book about a rough gang of teenagers in the postwar period of Brooklyn. Drew Pearson narrates the opening of the film, despairing about slums as the cause of juvenile delinquency. Pearson says delinquency could happen in any city where such slum conditions prevail. The City Across the River refers to Brooklyn as the inferior location to Manhattan, and those who live there look to Manhattan as a place to escape to and expand their horizons. Drew Pearson’s serious voice gives this film its documentary feel; and, the gang in action, is mindful of all those Dead End Kids’ feature movies.

This is a tired and clichéd film with its main selling point all the good location shots of the city. Tony Curtis made his film debut, taking a small part as one of the Amboy Dukes. All the gang members are stock characters and the predictable story sheds little insight about juvenile delinquency, offering only an outsider’s look into the grimness of street life.

The film’s protagonist, Frank Cusack (Fernandez), is a lifeless 16-year-old, who speaks his lines as if he were stepping on some Brillo pads. His problems are at home and in the slum environment. His parents are hard workers, but not able to scrape enough money to live better. His mother (Thelma Ritter) is a nag, always picking on her husband (Luis Van Rooten) to get tougher with Frank and make him stop hanging out with the gang. The younger sister (Sharon) is close with Frank and yearns for the day that she can escape from this neighborhood. Since Frank is a poor student in a vocational high school and can’t stand living at home, he either hangs around a poolroom or with the Amboy Dukes.

The Dukes are hired by a local gangster Gaggy (Benedict) to work over a restaurant owner. The gangster is the brother of a community center counselor, Stan Albert (Stephen McNally), who tries to help the kids in the neighborhood not get into trouble. His main purpose in life is to make sure the neighborhood kids don’t grow up to be like his gangster brother. Frankie is someone he sees drifting into trouble and even though he goes out of his way to help, he can’t find a way to reach him.

The big event is an accidental killing of Frankie’s high school shop teacher (Osterloh), which causes Frankie to realize that he can never escape from his environment. The teacher is ironically shot by a zip gun made in his shop class by Frankie’s fellow gang member Benny (Ramsen). The killing occurs as Frankie and Benny were struggling with the teacher, who resisted when they asked him to put in a good word with the principal so that their parents wouldn’t have to miss a day of work to come to school because they led a class riot. The murder makes them realize that they are in big trouble and have ruined their lives by hanging out with a tough gang like the Amboy Dukes. Benny observes that Frank is not trustworthy when he watches him take away another gang member’s date and cheat on his own girlfriend. The story line hinges on betrayal and lost dreams.

This film missed what teenage life was like in the city slums by a country mile and instead threw together a cliché-ridden story. The book was a popular hard-hitting novel. This film lost everything about the novel that was essential, and the robotic acting didn’t help. The only thing diverting was some of the odd touches: the candy store lady insulting her customers while dispensing egg creams; a gang member called Crazy (Shelley), who is thinking about ordering ice cream mixed with French fries and potato salad musing that it should taste good together, after all he likes those foods separately.