99 River Street, 1953

This not only hits all of the noir motifs and uses all of its devices–it even adds a faked story to thicken the plot. John Payne’s Ernie Driscoll is set up by his cheating wife Pauline (Peggie Castle), only to get blamed for her murder because she’s been set up by her gangster boyfriend Rawlings (Brad Dexter). Meanwhile, Ernie’s girlfriend Linda (Evelyn Keyes), uses him by pretending she’s murdered someone to create a scene of dramatic tension for an audition. Fittingly, the made-up theatrical problems become real as they put the police on Ernie’s trail.

At least Linda actually feels bad about duping him. With her and his loyal boss’s assistance, Ernie hurtles along relentlessly in the dark streets and sleazy joints in a race to find Rawlings and clear himself before Rawlings can leave the country.. The ending sequence is a masterpiece. The dingy waterfront, a car wreck, Ernie getting shot, having flashbacks as he fights Rawlings, and a very last-second rescue.

Almost everyone is squabbling and fighting with just about anyone: Pauline with Ernie and then with Rawlings, the gangsters with each other, the police with Ernie, and, finally, Ernie with Rawlings. Not a happy world; Ernie’s redemption comes at the price of losing his wife, getting beat up and almost killed. Usually a happily-wrapped ending diminishes a film noir, but in 99 River Street it’s a welcome relief from the gloom and doom. Plus Ernie does more than merely survive. 9/10.

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