Stakeout On Dope Street, 1958. 7/10

Guess what this is about? Dope. On a street. In fact, it’s two pounds of uncut heroin that shows up in a field, the result of a shoot-out between the cops and some grungy hoods. After the cops mop-up, we have genius delinquents Jim, Ves, and Nick (Yale Wexler, Johnathan Hayes, and Steven Marlo). They’re the accidental lucky recipients of the stash, which they unknowingly dispose of. [I learned some new names for heroin: mooch, happy dust, kokomo.] As expected, both the cops and the real gangsters (that the stuff belongs to) want it pretty badly too.

Problem for our would-be hoods is that they have to off the “happy dust” to cash in on their opportunity. Big deal–they’ve already pulled off the miracle of retrieving the Tinkertoy-sized “junk” container from what must’ve been one of the largest refuse disposal sites in the world, the L.A. city dump. They’re actually not idiots or junkies themselves. One of them wants to just turn it in.

Nick thinks the stuff represents “a dame ten feet tall” (what? how about two five-foot tall chicks?) Jim’s more cautious…Ves plays dumb. Nick goes on “You squares stay pure! I’ll swing this myself!” That does it as far as convincing the others. Nick knows a possible fence: a real ex-con, and current junkie, Danny (Allen Kramer).

Danny has an actual shack roughed into a hillside. When the boys come calling, he’s asleep, naturally. He’s also completely convincing as a junkie, unable to utter a more complete thought than “you kids are gonna get inna lotta trouble!” unsurprisingly, Danny, astonished that the sample is uncut, is hot for the stuff: “I’ll take all you got!” They strike an initial deal. Danny’s plenty curious about how these dorks came into it, but he’s put off “Look, dad, we don’t ask where you sell it.”

Sticking a packet in his shoe, he sets off to find a customer. Meanwhile, the cops are frustrated “there’s not a whisper of a rumble, anywhere.” All they know is “there’s a lot of horse on the loose.” Is it a new mob? No, just three jokers and a junkie dealer.

Pretty soon the boys are checking out a new Mercedes 190SL; Jim, hoping to win over Cathy (Abby Dalton), gets her some jewelry. Somehow, she knows that perennially-broke Jim must be up to something fishy. “You’re peddling the stuff aren’t you!” The fact that he’s not personally selling it doesn’t wash with her. She’s not only not sold on the deal, she blows him off: “Ok, the world’s lousy, but that doesn’t give you a right to do it [sell junk].”

Jim talks with Danny about what it’s like to be on the stuff. We get a pretty authentic description, very creepy, and ending with jail: “[you] find yourself in an iron cage” [with] “the pain that owns you” and “you beg to die.” It gets worse, with hallucinatory audio effects. So, Danny was clean three times and went back to it. He gets Jim to promise to not get into it.

The pawnshop owner who took the ominous briefcase that held the Tinkertoy cannister gets wise, and goes to the police. Most importantly, he gives up one of the guy’s names; plus the ‘syndicate’ guys are closing in from the other side. All this leads to another dork summit meeting; as before, they’re divided as to what to do. Jim has the inside scoop “In a way, this stuff got us hooked to” and “some kid gets off on a joy-pop, and [then] he greases the skids to the morgue!” That’s it, daddy-o.

Sounds like a fight coming. Yep, Jim and Nick start to tussle, but Ves gets them to back down. The capper is, someone has already died from an overdose. Jim says he’s done. Nick and Ves hit the bowling alley. The cops case their hang-outs; the syndicate guys find Danny. Cathy’s cool for a bit; they promise to double-date with her and another girl.

Viola! Cathy finds the appropriate blond double-dater. Nick, however, finds Danny; the bad guys find Nick. These horrific scenes at Danny’s underworld digs are cut with normal funsy stuff back at the bowling alley. Ves tries to talk to Nick, but Nick hies off looking for Jim. Now, of course, Ves gets the treatment from the gangsters. Is that shack of Danny’s going to be a mass-grave? Meanwhile, back in normality, Jim’s playing pinball, and he gets a call from under-duress-Ves.

The goons try and get Ves to convince Jim to bring the stuff to him. But Jim tells him no dice, he’s turnng it in to the cops. Back behind the store, Jim gets the stuff; but the goons are waiting for him. He runs. Ves, somewhat the worse for wear, is left to chill back at the store. He’s obviously going to call the cops.

Jim, frantic, is a bit more agile than the goons, and manages to shimmy up a water tower. Good action coming up. The braver goon nonetheless gets skittish climbing up so high. That sets the stage for a cunning denouement: Jim pours the stuff down in his pursuer’s face. That’s a wake-up (crank-up?) call. The cops arrive to snipe the guy, now looking like a Pillsbury Doughboy, from his powdery perch. Nick’s in the hospital, but Ves’s ok.

Pretty good melodrama. The narrator comes close to spoiling the noir-ish atmosphere with predictable cliches. Maybe this was meant as a cautionary tale for the highschool classroom. In that respect, it succeeds admirably. The three guys are types, certainly: Ves, the gullable one, Nick the hot-shot, and Jim, the thoughtful, more sensible one.

Cathy doesn’t have a lot to do, but she does give us a moral center. She wants to marry Jim, but wonders–before the dope thing starts–if they can really make it. She’s in love, but practical. On the other hand, she’s completely put off by the easy-money the dealing brings, also very sensible.

Danny has probably the most interesting character here; he’s definitely the real-deal addict, and insightful enough not to delude himself about it. The goons are rugged tough-guys, the cops roles are small, but are also well-thought-out. They’re not omniscient, just regular guys that want things to get better.

It’s interesting that parents are in the background; the ‘kids’ are actually of college-age, but hardly very mature–Jim is more on the ball, but they get deep into the mess before he gives it up.

Farmermouse dug the hep-cat and swingin’-chick scene at the bowling alley, so he gives this seven pinball machines. 7/10.

[One more narrator gripe: he describes the 190SL roadster as the “fastest” sports car; but the Jaguar next to it in the lot has about twice the engine (size and horsepower) as the Mercedes, and was quite a bit faster]

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