CRIME IN THE STREETS (director: Don Siegel; screenwriters: from the play by Reginald Rose/Reginald Rose; cinematographer: Sam Leavitt; editor: Richard Meyer; music: Franz Waxman; cast: John Cassavetes (Frankie Dane), Sal Mineo (Angelo ‘Baby’ Gioia), James Whitmore (Wagner), Mark Rydell (Lou), Virginia Gregg (Mrs. Dane), Peter J. Votrian (Richie Dane), Denise Alexander (Maria Gioia), Malcolm Atterbury (Mr. McAllister), Dan Terranova (Blockbuster), Will Kuluva (Mr. Gioia), James Ogg (Lenny; Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Vincent M. Fennelly; Allied Artists; 1956)
“A lively and intense melodrama about a youth gang hanging out in the mean city streets.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Don Siegel’s (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) early B film made on a shoestring budget and filmed on the studio lot that features just a back-alley set, is based on the television play by Reginald Rose. It has bug-eyed 18-year-old deadbeat juvenile delinquent Frankie Dane (John Cassavetes) go ape over anyone touching him and with him explaining away his anger to the forever meddling earnest social worker Wagner (James Whitmore) as caused by living in a tenement slum, as he states: “Who put the stink in my room?” It’s a lively and intense melodrama about a youth gang hanging out in the mean city streets, and is much more relevant and potent than the same themed The Wanderers and West Side Story. Though it’s talky and emphasizes the psychodrama rather the action, its few action scenes are nevertheless well-executed.
The heart-stopping opening scene is set by the docks as the Hornets, led by Frankie, rumble with their rival gang the Dukes, as soon as a foghorn sounds. The Hornets grab one of the Dukes as a prisoner and after roughing him up Lenny pulls a zip-gun on him and threatens revenge for the Dukes jumping him, which was the cause of the fight. Frankie’s upstairs neighbor, Mr. McAllister, passes by the alley and reports the incident to the police. They arrest Lenny. When Frankie next sees McAllister, he calls him out and threatens him for snitching. McAllister slaps him hard across the face, and Frankie singles out fellow gang members, the chicken-hearted 15-year-old Baby (Sal Mineo) and the psychotic Lou (Mark Rydell), to help him bump off McAllister, the rest of the gang turns their back on Frankie and refuses to commit a murder. The dedicated bachelor Wagner, who works overtime without pay and receives a salary of only $75 a week at the neighborhood Duane Settlement House, realizes something is up with the gang and does his best to try and talk with an unresponsive Frankie in order to save him. While Wagner is talking with Frankie’s innocent 10-year-old brother Richie (Peter J. Votrian), the kid blurts out he overheard Frankie say he was going to kill someone. Trying to talk to Frankie’s hardworking waitress mom with no success, the social worker again confronts Frankie for a personal chat. Wagner tells Frankie that he’s angry at the world because his uncaring father ran away from the family when he was eight without ever saying goodbye to him and ever since then he’s had a chip on his shoulder. But this doesn’t stop Frankie from killing McAllister, it takes his brother to do that.
Cassavetes, Mineo and Rydell played the same parts for the television play. This was Cassavetes’ debut as a film actor. Though dated, the film is still of interest because of Siegel’s fine direction, the fine performances by the superb cast, and it still has something to say of value.
REVIEWED ON 4/26/2005 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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