At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

99 RIVER STREET (KINO/Lorber)

By • May 22nd, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

This juicy little noir excited me on TV when I was young, disappointed me when I saw it twenty years later in a repertory theater, and now, on KINO’s BluRay, it’s back up in my estimation, probably because of the fine mastering given to Franz Planer’s cinematography, and because of the flabbergasting compilation of ill-fated twists that pile up during the first 50 minutes. The film’s flaws are tough ones, though they manage not to derail the enjoyment: the two fights in the center of the film are better than the one that launches the narrative (which commentator Eddie Muller, who otherwise extolls the film’s virtues, can’t stop vilifying) and the one that wraps it up. And there’s a dreadfully misjudged use of inner monologue during the finale (which Muller suspiciously sidesteps, choosing to talk about something else while it unfolds). If you can tolerate these difficulties, you will reap far more gratifying rewards along the way.

Edward Small produced. An indie filmmaker with a vast trail of credits behind him, and a nearly equal amount of films that he didn’t take credit for, including, for example, IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. I wonder why? CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN I can understand, but IT! I don’t get? And JACK THE GIANT KILLER, wonderful film, but again no on-screen credit. Maybe, based on what I’ve been told, it might be because that one went way over budget? But then he goes and takes credit for BOY, DID I GET A WRONG NUMBER and I’LL TAKE SWEDEN?! I guess there’s a logical explanation to be found somewhere.

John Payne gives a harsh, uncompromising performance as Ernie Driscoll, who had his chance at the boxing title, but sustained a deep cut over his eye and the fight was stopped. His wife is sick of him dwelling on it and wants out. Her route to freedom involves a smiling psychopath named Victor Rawlins (Brad Dexter), but that only complicates things, first for her, and then for Ernie, who sinks into a criminal quagmire, none of it his own doing — of course not; it’s a film noir! The pit of dreadful circumstances into which he descends is one of the most deftly plotted of the genre. And he has fine support from Peggie Castle, Frank Faylen, Dexter, Evelyn Keyes, Jack Lambert (who shares a great scene with Payne – a career best for him) and Jay Adler. They’re all wonderful to watch, as are the slew of even smaller supporting roles. Everyone’s given nuance and focus by director Karlson.

There’s an instance or two of wavering light in the frame, but otherwise it’s a radiant mastering. The trailer misrepresents the story and is grainy and dupey, but oddly enough it gets the light balance right on a third act process shot which the film itself actually flubs). Muller, noir’s gift to the commentary track biz, does a fine job here, relaxed, humorous, willing to point out the flaws as well as the virtues, oozing with biographical info about the many thesps on display, and – added bonus – was good friends with lead actress Evelyn Keyes, who led quite the frisky life, and lived to a ripe old age.

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