Crime drama with an interesting premise. A gangster, Pop Cooley (Guy Kibbie) hangs a murder rap on his daughter, Nan (Slyvia Sidney). She goes to prison; meanwhile, her boyfriend, known as The Kid (Gary Cooper), infiltrates the gang to avenge Nan. Maybe he gets too far in, because when Man gets out of the slammer, it’s no simple thing getting Kid back on track.
A real treat are the cutesy names for some of the supporting cast: there’s Big Fellow Maskel (Paul Lukas), Blackie (Stanley Fields), Pansy (Betty Sinclair), and Baldy (Bert Hanlon). Somewhat more in the mainstream, we have McCoy (William Boyd), the Police Inspector (Robert Homans) Esther (Barabara Leonard), and Agnes (Wynne Gibson). City Streets is based on a Dashiell Hammett story.
We start with Prohibition pipe line: beer trucks rolling, a bottling/ distillery, and, a payoff. Two groups of gangsters face off; look at all that beer in the barrel! Not only that, but the parting line, “no hard feelings” becomes a bit ironic, as one gangleader’s hat flows first in the barrel, and then in the Atlantic, where, no doubt, its owner ‘sleeps with the fishes’.
Pop Cooley comes out swimmingly on that deal; he glances in on Nan, who scoots out to a car and drives away. At the shooting gallery, she meets up with Kid, who can’t resist showing off. They amble around, as he can’t help winning various prizes for her.
At the beach, they cuddle “gosh, it’s great!” She muses. She wants Kid to get into her dad’s bootlegging business. Otherwise, they’d “have to live in a tent” if they got married. He’d rather be poor and honest. They argue, but make up.
When she gets home, Pops chides her for hanging out with the likes of the Kid. At a hotel, Pops sees Blackie tell off Big Fellow for hanging out with Agnes. Big Fellow asks Pops “If anything happens to Blackie, could you hold his mob together?” No problem for Pops.
So, Pops calls on Agnes and Blackie. Then he phones home, telling Nan to meet around the corner; he and Blackie are going to Joe’s. Hmm, the game is afoot. Dramatically, we see Blackie followed down the corridor by Pops’ enormous shadow.
Jan waits in an alcove, while the two guys pull up. Pops shoots Blackie, then hands the murder weapon to Nan for her to get rid of. She walks away from the scene as cops converge toward it. Unfortunately, an officer stops her. Meanwhile, Pops is at Agnes’s, going over his alibi with the cops.
Nan got caught anyway, and gets the business at police headquarters. They bring in Pops to ‘talk sense’ to her. But he tells to not give up the ghost “no one in the beer racket ever squawked on a pal yet”; he figures to trust her attorney to get her off.
So, she doesn’t talk. Pops shows up at the shooting gallery to recruit Kid. He tells Kid that the cops framed Nan; that’s not entirely made up, but leaves out the simple fact that Pops set her up in the first place. Anyway, she’s locked up for the murder, where she befriends Esther. Well, Pops convinced Kid to drive trucks for the racket.
Esther gets out, only to find that her Johnny has been killed in his own car. Ironically, Nan takes solace in her (mistaken) belief that Kid’s still clean. He visits her in prison; she’s chagrined to learn that he’s turned crooked. Not only that, but he admits “beer, I love it!” Then it’s her turn to get out of the ‘big house’.
At least Kid doesn’t get shot. Back home, she greeted by Big Fellow and good ol Pops. Dad’s disgustingly unrepenitent; possibly he was able to wangle an early release for her. She meets her new stepmom, Pansy. Kid calls Big Fellow ‘chief’. They plan a mob “coming out party” for her.
She wants to skip the party, and the mob in general; while he’s pretty much all-in. Swanky party anyway. They’ve effectively switched roles as far as mob stuff’s concerned. She tries to talk Big Fellow into laying off on Kid; Big’s basically trying to pick up on her. Agnes is not amused. But, Pops short changes his daughter again, encouraging Big to hit on her.
Kid isn’t any cool with that, but Nan warns him that Blackie was killed for less. “How about those two guys from Detroit?” Goes the idle men’s room chatter between Big and McCoy. Well, the wary couple has left already. The ‘bad’ bad guys roll up at Nans; stupidly, Kid goes to the door.
Ah, but it’s Kid who gets the drop on them. So much for the torpedoes from Detroit. Kid tells her he’s going to see to see the Big Fellow. She hesitates, but then calls Big. Looks like she’s planning an ambush of her own.
Yep, as Big takes Agnes around, Nan goes out on the street packing a pistol. Meanwhile, Kid searches for Nan at the club. Big kicks Agnes out; Nan closes in. He finds her gun. Agnes, lurking outside, sees him nuzzle up to her. Kid speeds across town, sensing trouble. Agnes peeps in the door just enough to grab the loose gun. Nan is framed again, as Agnes pops Big twice–then shuts the door, crying for help.
Kid gets there, believing Nan when she says that she didn’t do it. McCoy doesn’t agree; but when he asks who’s running the mob now, the guys guys agree that Kid does. He says that he’ll handle the situation. Calling Nan, he makes an arrangement with her; the gugs think he’s going to ‘take care of her’, permanently, that is.
McCoy confronts Agnes with evidence that Big was “giving her the air”. A packed suitcase is the tell-tale sign. Well, looks like a thrilling denouement in store. Kid and Nan, with a clump of gangsters in the back seat, chases a train at high speed. They barely make the crossing ahead of the train. He’s scaring the heck out of them; it works because he has Nan cover them while he tells them to tbrow their guns out the windows.
That accomplished, he stops. He tells them they’re gonna walk home. Plus, by the way, guys, it was Agnes, not Nan who pulled the trigger on Big, and he’s out of the beer racket. Take that. The end.
This works fine, because the Nan/Kid romance is very compelling, and the gangster stuff is equally powerful, in its way. The authenticity was spot on, as, of course, as City Streets was made during Prohibition. Although we see little actual racketeering, except at the beginning, and in bits here and there, the criminals are convincingly dangerous and deadly.
Big Fellow would seem to be the evilest guy here, but actually, Pops is worse. Not only does he allow his daughter to be framed more than once, he’s got this smug debonair attitude about it. So, we get the nervous henchmen, ths out-and-out thugs, and the gentleman sociopath. On the other hand, there’s the powerless victims, Pansey, Esther, and Agnes (who turns victimizer).
This leaves Nan and Kid, who are definitely worth rooting for. Both of them are flawed, but each finds redemption; they find that their love is what’s worth having. Cooper and Sidney’s performances are excellent, and the supporting cast shows a variety of interesting personalities.
The pacing moves the plot along without dwelling on distractions. There’s plenty of space for tension and suspense to build, as these folks manuver around each other, leaving some bodies to step over. Entertaining and involving, City Streets is well worth a look. 8/10.