Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Mystery Street" - a film noir

Turner Classic Movies is showing some great film noir movies this summer.
We watched "Mystery Street" the other night.

"Vivian Holden (Jan Sterling) is having some problems. She’s dead broke, owes her landlady two weeks worth of rent and the mysterious Hyannis 3633 man she keeps trying to reach on the phone is giving her the run around. In desperation, Vivian takes advantage of innocent-bystander Henry Shanway (Marshall Thompson), a sad man drinking away his sorrows in attempt to forget his sick wife current hospital stay. Vivian drives Henry’s yellow Ford down to Hyannis from Boston, abandoning Henry along the way. When Vivian finally confronts the Hyannis man that has been eluding her, she finds herself face-to-face with the barrel of his gun.

Six months later, Vivian Holden’s bones are found at a beach, but only we, the audience, know that those bones are hers. It’s up to Lieutenant Peter Morales (Ricardo Montalban) solve the mystery of both the crime and to identity the victim. What results is an intriguing film noir, directed by John Sturges, that blends murder mystery with forensic science. If anyone tells you forensic science is a new phenomenon in contemporary entertainment, just direct that person to Mystery Street (1950) and they will be in for a pleasant surprise. "
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What was so good about it you ask? Modern forensic science was fairly new at the time. The movie does a wonderful job at highlighting some of the new techniques. Prompted by a Dr. McAdoo at Harvard, the lieutenant is able to trace backwards what happened to the victim.

For instance, Dr. McAdoo points to the plants on the bones; saying that they were uprooted when she was buried, and those particular plants would have been blooming six months ago. They now have the approximate date of the death. He indicates that the bones belong to a female, about 65 inches in height. The bones of the feet indicate she would have been a "toe dancer." They now have approximate date of death, height, occupation and sex of the victim.  The pull together all missing female reports for that time and break down those that fit that description. Then they get photographs and superimpose the photos on a picture of the skull. They are able to identify the victim with that.

And so it goes... step by step and very deliberate.  It was an excellent movie and quite thrilling as they come closer and closer to finding the murderer.

It is black and white which adds to the feeling of the movie. I was not familiar with any of the actors other than Ricardo Montalban and Elsa Lancaster.  But it quickly grabbed my attention and held it.

Excellent movie! I highly recommend it.

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