Street of Chance (1942) + added comments
Posted by Solomon on 8/16/2017, 5:42 am
This noir is very well known. The Zeus dvd is said to be a good copy, whereas many years ago, the available print was quite bad. I replaced the latter a few years back by a print off the internet, an avi file, that's quite good, not remastered. It runs 74 minutes and is of unknown origin. It looks as if it were made from a print shown at movie theaters or perhaps a 16 mm version. I do not see the movie on YouTube at present, which surprises me.
At any rate, I finally got around to watching it again and was pleasantly surprised by the quality, which does convey the blacks and whites quite well. The story surprised me too. My faulty recollection was that this was going to be like "The Woman in the Window", a cop-out, but it was not. It's a genuine mystery.
The story itself has a number of challenges of credibility, that it just about manages to stave off. Claire Trevor has to keep looking past Burgess Meredith's odd behavior, but then she has her own motives.
This one is rightly regarded as an early American noir and so should not be missed on that score. However, it's just an average movie and average noir because it doesn't make us feel or sense what should be the undercurrents of danger, threat, anxiety, manipulation and uncertainty. Granted, Burgess Meredith is working against a wall of unknowns, but it doesn't feel like Mark Stevens in Dark Corner. The casting of Meredith is a problem. The directing of Claire Trevor is another problem. The script seems to wander from one place to another during his quest and in their dialog with one another. It's rather hard to work up enthusiasm for this movie beyond its basic premise and the cinematography. By Murder, My Sweet (1944), the noir world is hitting on all cylinders.
Followed by Dan Hodges, who uses the film as a conduit to what is (IMO) one of his very best pieces of research on the evolution of film noir:
Re: Street of Chance (1942) -- Historical Context
Posted by Dan Hodges on 8/16/2017, 10:41 pm
Yes, going to the link below to my website would mean reading a lot of film noir history and analysis.
But I think it's worth it.
Street of Chance is one of many film noirs, both crime noirs as well as spy noirs, that were released during the WWII era, and these films share critical plot elements, and only the historical context can explain why the full range of these plot elements were present during those years and, furthermore, why that range of plot elements ceased to be present in post-WWII film noirs.
In fact, among all the "war noirs" that I examine, I have a special interest in Street of Chance. It is the only film noir whose literary source, Cornell Woolrich's Black Curtain (1941), that I quote in my post. I do so in order to show how the key female character in the novel differs from the film. It is not a trivial difference.
While Dan's essay should be read in its entirety, for the purposes of streamlining the discussion we excerpt from it the portion that deals with Street of Chance:
In three war noirs, based on novels by Cornell Woolrich, the criminal-catchers find out that their ally is false.
Ella Raines doggedly and bravely tracks down leads to exonerate her boss of murder. His best friend is her ally, the real killer, Franchot Tone (Phantom Lady).
Kim Hunter first helps her husband, Dean Jagger, elude capture by the police. After he is found and jailed for robbery and murder, she figures out the killer is her ex-boyfriend, Robert Mitchum, who has pretended to be her ally. However, she cannot convince the chief detective, Neil Hamilton, of the truth. It isn’t until Mitchum becomes wild-eyed and frantic that Hamilton can see what Hunter deduced (When Strangers Marry).
Because she believes they have a romance, Claire Trevor reluctantly gives a man, Burgess Merideth, whatever assistance he wants so that he can prove himself innocent of murder. However, Trevor is the killer, and Merideth is married. Moments after their mutual discoveries, Trevor is shot by a police detective. Before dying she clears Merideth of the killing, for he has pretended again to love her (Street of Chance).
An aside, but an illuminating one, is that Trevor’s character is a false female ally in the adapted screenplay, whereas she is a true ally in Cornell Woolrich’s original novel, The Black Curtain, published in 1941. (Quotations below from the Ballantine Books edition, 1982.)
She helps the man that she loves to solve the mystery (in the same ways as in the film). Then she is unintentionally shot to death by the killer. The man never reveals to her that he is married. He says to a police detective, “She was a great kid. Without her–” (137)
On the last page of the book, as the man is returning by train to his wife, it says:
“[He] caught a fleeting glimpse of a familiar mound. He saw the small headstone that had been his only gift to Ruth Dillon. Ruth who had given him so much, the past and the future. He raised two fingers to his temple, brought them out again in salute. Salute and farewell.” (148)
A salute indeed, to his ally.
Not only are private civilians the criminal-catchers in war noirs, they are also working class. Moreover, their class character is the key to grasping the double meaning of the war noir formula.
[some transitional text excised...]
Crime stories are a displacement of class conflict in the real world. The usual root of struggle is property. Insofar as true class struggle isn’t waged around the house but rather throughout society, the property at stake is in the public arena. The capitalist class, of course, possesses almost all property. On the other hand, the working class is essentially propertyless. In the class struggle, workers aim to advance their material position; capitalists try to constrain them. Therefore, workers, as displaced in crime stories, are criminals.
State power, through law enforcement, serves to protect the propertied against assault by the propertyless. Law enforcement officials, therefore, are the displacement of state power, standing for the interests of capitalists.
Social disharmony is, by definition, a constant feature of the crime story; yet the underlying social tension in it can vary. The U.S. entry into WWII radically affected the “normal” crime story’s focus on public property. Common cultural representations of class conflict were abandoned as the social context made it desirable instead for representations of cross-class ceasefire, if not cooperation. For example, the no-strike pledge contributed to forming this context.
Film noir, consequently, began without public property in plots because displaced “normal” class struggle wasn’t appropriate for wartime crime stories.
It should be noted that what's needed to tie this together as neatly as possible is a chart depicting crimes as they occur in war noirs as opposed to later noirs. Many war noirs feature murder as the primary crime, and not theft. Dan can probably quantify all of that fairly quickly from his list of war noirs discussed in the full breadth of the essay.
Finally, our other Dan (Dan in the MW) suggests that Street of Chance is a bit more deficient as an entertainment than Mike did (Dan H. has more expansive territory to cover and does not comment on the overall quality of the film). Here's what Dan K. had to say:
Re: Street of Chance (1942) -- Historical Context
Posted by Dan in the MW on 8/26/2017, 8:32 am
This film was easily one of the most disappointing film noir titles that I had waited forever to see. It was a total letdown. I much prefer the episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in which Richard Basehart played the amnesiac.
Burgess Meredith's character vanishes for a year and is allowed to return to his place of employment with no questions asked? This Woolrich tale deserved better than Street of Chance.