The 1948 film noir, Race Street, tells the story of what happens when the mob comes to San Francisco.
Led by the ruthless Phil Dickson (Frank Faylen, who you might recognize as Ernie the Cab Driver from It’s a Wonderful Life), the mob is looking to move in on San Francisco’s bookmaking rackets. Dickson wants all of the bookies to pay him for protection. Of course, he knows that he’s going to have a hard time convincing some of them to go along with his plans so he comes up with the brilliant idea of making an example of one bookie. He sends two of his men to talk to a small-time bookie named Hal Towers (Harry Morgan). They tell Hal that he can either pay Phil or he can suffer the consequences. Hal says that he’ll suffer the consequences so they promptly through him down a flight of stairs, killing him.
When Hal’s best friend, nightclub owner Dan Gannin (George Raft), discovers what has happened, he swears that he’s going to get revenge. Even after Dickson’s men abduct Dan and give him a brutal beating, Dan remains committed to getting justice for Hal. Lt. Barney Runson (William Bendix), who has been Dan’s best friend since childhood, tries to convince Dan to let the police handle it. He even tries to get Dan’s sister, Elaine (Gale Robbins) and Dan’s mysterious girlfriend, Robbie (Marilyn Maxwell), to convince him to back off but Dan won’t hear of it. Of course, because this is a film noir, Robbie has secret of her own….
Race Street is a low-budget noir that only has a running time of 79 minutes but still somehow finds time to sneak in a few musical performances from Gale Robbins. When the film first started, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much. George Raft seemed bored with his role and William Bendix’s opening narration didn’t fill me with much confidence. However, it didn’t take long for the film to win me over. Harry Morgan, for instance, brought a lot of wounded dignity to his relatively small role and his monologue before his murder is surprisingly moving. Frank Faylen was cast against type as the evil mobster but it worked. Seeing the normally amiable Faylen threatening to kill people was a good reminder that not all monsters look like monsters. Some of them look like the friendly Bedford Falls cab driver. As befits a film noir, the film is full of ominous shadows and sudden bursts of violence. The scenes where Hal is murdered and Dan is beaten both stand out as being perhaps a bit more brutal than one might expect a film from 1948 to be.
Race Street is a minor noir but aficionados of the genre should enjoy it. This is a short and no-nonsense film that gets the job done. It’s an offer you should not refuse.
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