The Naked Street

Not many B-movies have an acting pedigree quite like today’s movie, 1955’s “The Naked Street.”  It features Academy Award winners Anthony Quinn & Anne Bancroft…not to mention Farley Granger from Hitchock’s “Rope” and “Strangers on a Train,” and the one and only Peter Graves.  I’m more used to films that star Who?, Never-heard-them and What’s-her-face?

Quinn plays mobster with the incredibly un-ethnic name, Phil Regal.  Really, Phil?  How many movie mobster have their been named Phil!?  Though he’s a tough guy who’s goons burn a guy up under a bridge in the opening scene, Phil dutifully visits the old neighborhood each Sunday to visit his mama (Else Neft) and his sister Rosalie (Bancroft).  During one visit, he learns that Rosalie is pregnant.  Phil demands to know who the father is so he can force him to marry Rosalie.  Unfortunately, the father, Nicky Bradna (Granger), is on death row for having murdered a local liquor store owner during a robbery attempt.  But since Phil’s only concerned that his sister be happy, he has his goons get the witnesses to change their stories so that the case will be dismissed and Nicky freed from prison.

Upon release, Nicky figures that he’ll be going to work for Phil, but Phil wants Nicky to keep his nose clean and gets him a low-paying job driving a truck.  This causes Nicky to resent Phil, despite the fact that he saved him from the chair.  After Rosalie’s baby dies in childbirth, Phil no longer has reason to be good to Nicky, meanwhile Nicky begins to cheat on Rosalie.  Soon, Phil hatches a plot to frame Nicky for another murder and land him in the electric chair…for real this time.  But Nicky has a plan of his own, using a reporter (Graves) to make Phil pay in the end.

For a B-movie, we have some really great performances…not surprising considering the cast, but it’s Quinn that really makes this movie special.  He just makes such a great gangster.  He’s tough, he’s suave, he’s believable.  So many movie gangsters are over-the-top, they could never exist in the real world.  The slightest offense and they’ve got your head in a vice.  But Quinn doesn’t explode with anger…he simmers, he calculates.  Granger does a great job as well, making his character a lovable slime ball.

Though Graves also does a fine job as a reporter writing about Phil Regal’s questionable business dealings, his role is the weak element of the film.  The character is a bit too straight-laced.  He supposedly comes from the same neighborhood as Regal, but is way too goody-goody for that to be believable.  He’s even given a backstory that involves a cop father killed on the beat when he was a kid.  It probably would’ve worked better had the reporter had a similar, crime family type background that he had somehow risen above.  Graves’ narration is also in need of some help.  Narration fits a noir film like this, but the problem here is that it comes and goes and really adds nothing to the story or the atmosphere.

There is nothing spectacular about “The Naked Street,” but it’s still a great piece.  If you’re a fan of any of the four leads, especially Quinn, it should not be missed.

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