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STAKEOUT ON DOPE STREET(director/writer: Irvin Kershner; screenwriters: Andrew J. Fenady/Tom McGrath/Irwin Schwartz; cinematographers: Mark Jeffrey aka: Haskell Wexler; editor: Melvin Sloan; music: Richard Markowitz; cast: Yale Wexler (Jim Bowers), Jonathan Haze (Julian ‘Ves’ Vespucci), Moe Miller (Nick Raymond), Abby Dalton (Kathy), Allen Kramer (Danny), Herman Rudin (Mitch), Phillip Mansour (Lenny), Frank Harding (Capt. Richard R. Allen), Carol Nelson (Nick’s girl), Slate Harlow (Officer Lynn Donahue), Matt Resnick (Sgt. Fred Matthews), Ed Schaff (Samuel Alber), Charles Guasti (Jerome Lake), Bill Shaw (Chuck), Herschel Bernardi (Underworld Boss; Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Andrew J. Fenady/Roger Corman; Warner Brothers; 1958)
“Serves up a grim warning about messing with heroin.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directorial debut of Irvin Kershner (“The Empire Strikes Back”/”Eyes of Laura Mars”/”The Young Captives”), nothing to write home about, was this Los Angeles based film noir that is done documentary style with a narrative voice-over; it tells about the troubles of a trio of clean-cut somewhat dimwitted youngsters and serves up a grim warning about messing with heroin. It’s shot in black and white, and has a few graphic dope scenes that unfortunately lack street creds. Screenwriters Andrew J. Fenady, Tom McGrath and Irwin Schwartz keep the story hopping and tack on a morality lesson about the evils of heroin, that includes a lengthy monologue from a junkie (Allen Kramer) over the travails of going cold turkey.

Plainclothes L. A. narcotic detectives, Sgt. Fred Matthews and officer Lynn Donahue, on a stakeout near Chavez Ravine (before it became Dodger Stadium), nab pusher Jerome Lake with a briefcase that contains a tin can with two pounds of uncut heroin. Before they can bring him into the stationhouse mob enforcers Mitch and Lenny ambush them and kill Lake and Matthews, and injure Donahue. Lake tossed the briefcase in the bushes, which was not found by the gunmen as a backup police car approached. The next day teenager Ves (Jonathan Haze) finds the locked briefcase while on a delivery errand for his pop’s grocery store (I guess the cops were either too lazy or dumb to do a thorough search of the crime scene). Ves takes the locked briefcase into the back room of the grocery, where he hangs out with his two close pals–Jimmy (Yale Wexler, kid brother of cinematographer Haskell), an unemployed aspiring artist, and Nick (Moe Miller), a bodybuilding grease monkey. They pry open the briefcase and discover it’s filled with ladies cosmetics, which they split three ways; the can with the heroin is labeled face powder and when they open it they don’t recognize that it’s smack–so they toss it out. The clueless trio then sell the empty briefcase for $4 to a secondhand store. Jim discusses marriage with his bowling alley cashier pretty girlfriend Kathy (Abby Dalton), who gives him the brushoff because he’s broke with no prospects and she wants to go suburban with a good-provider hubby. While still chatting with Kathy, Jim notices a newspaper headline of the missing briefcase with the can of heroin, and rushes off to tell Nick and Ves that they just threw away a fortune. The boys find the can in the city dump, and Nick talks the now reluctant Jim into selling the horse and getting rich rather than turning it over to the cops. Since they don’t know squat about dope, Nick takes them to meet the middle-aged junkie Danny, who works in the same garage as Nick, and he agrees to sell the stuff for them and split the profits four ways. With both the police and the mob looking for the valuable heroin, the naive boys don’t realize the danger they are in as they only gloat about the money pouring in. When Jimmy’s squeeze rejects the expensive bracelet he gives her as a present after he tells her how he got the money, he has second thoughts and quits selling the dope. But the mobsters trace the drugs to Danny and work him over when they visit his dumpy place, and then work over visitors Nick and Ves. At gunpoint, Ves is forced to get Jimmy to bring over the can. But he flees from the hit men and ends up in an industrial yard, climbing the high tower of a power plant, where the police come in the nick of time and shoot one gangster and arrest the other. The three boys are taken into custody, but it ends without us knowing their punishment.

Since this was a low budget non-union picture documentary filmmaker Haskell Wexler, who was the cinematographer, used the names of his sons Mark Jeffrey as his pseudonym to disguise his identity. Of further note, there’s also a nifty jazz soundtrack that slices into the sorrowful mood of the story with some well placed disjointed riffs.

REVIEWED ON 11/13/2007 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”