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Thursday, July 3, 2014

'Race Street' DVD: Three Tough Guys and a Dame

Race Street
The creative variations on noir themes in the 1948 drama "Race Street," which Warner Archive released on DVD seversl weeks ago, make it must-see for fans of that genre and general classic films alike. The casting of veteran film gangster George Raft, William Bendix of the classic '50s sitcom "The Life of Riley," and Harry Morgan of the early '60s sitcom "Pete and Gladys" (not to mention Frank Faylen of the "Dobie Gillis" sitcom) should seal the deal regarding everyone else.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of a scene that expertly captures the multiple (but highly compatible) elements of "Race" in a few minutes.

The first twist in "Race" relates to the close relationship that childhood friends Raft's Dan Gannin and Bendix's police detective Barney Runson maintain despite Gannin openly being the informal (and truly benevolent) leader of the gaggle of bookies in their community. Neither take great efforts to avoid being seen with the other, and both largely respect the right of the other to go about his business.

The next twist relates to the nightclub that Dan is using to finance his retirement from criminal activity being much more of a place in which Lucy and Ricky would perform than either a sleazy dive or a haven for crime lords. The fact that ice cream is on the menu reinforces that Dan runs a respectable joint.

This club relates to the twist in the form of the medium-scale upbeat song-and-dance numbers in "Race." This style of entertainment is rare in a noir film.

The central plot relates to Borg-like out-of-town muscle moving in on the action. Like the "Star Trek" bad guys, resistance is largely futile regarding these hoods. Gannin and his group have the choice of either paying over a portion of their ill-gotten proceeds or taking a fatal fall down a flight of stairs.

Runson knows of the plot but not who it is behind it, and Gannin ain't talkin'. This may relate to Runson using persistent friendly persuasion, rather than bright lights and rubber hoses, as an interrogation technique.

The interlopers directing their attention to Morgan's small-time operator Hal, who is a childhood friend of both Runson and Gannin, gets the action truly rolling. Needless to say, Runson and Gannin disagree about the proper means to avenge their friend.

The dame who is mixed in with all this is Gannin's girl Robbie Lawrence, played by Marilyn Maxwell. The absence of an apparent femme fatale throughout much of this film alone suggests that the impression that Lawrence may be too good to be true may be accurate.

The combination of elements results in Gannin soon finding himself squeezed by the new hoods in town on one side and Runson, who ain't no dope, on the other. The code by which Gannin stubbornly abides largely dictates the effectiveness of these efforts.

These elements also provide plenty of scenes full of tough talk and action and set the stage for twists that range from ones that can be seen a mile away to those that knock you from behind.

All of this climaxes in a final scene that adheres to the unwritten Hollywood code that dictates the outcome for characters who engage in even not-so nefarious activity.

This adherence to the noir formula while adding fresh touches nicely works; this makes "Race" another Archive title that is a special treat in the form of being the type of film that they simply do not make them like anymore.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Race" is welcome to email me; connecting on Twitter via @tvdvdguy is also an option.