99 River Street (1953) is a gritty film noir classic that follows a down and out boxer as he deals with gangsters as a result of his wife’s infidelity.
I am excited to be bringing my first review of a film noir classic. So let’s jump right into Episode 38 99 River Street (1953). This movie was written for the screen and shows the gritty life of an ex-boxer turned cabbie that gets involved with gangsters as a result of his wife’s infidelity.
John Payne played the role of ex-boxer and current cab driver Ernie Driscoll. Payne was born in 1912 to a well to do family. He was raised in Roanoke, Virginia. The easy life continued until the death of his father forcing Payne to withdraw from school to help support the family. He eventually went to Columbia where he studied journalism. Besides working as a nurse and a singer he made extra money boxing and wrestling. Did I mention that he was 6 foot 4 inches tall?
While working in a play he was seen by Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn offered him a contract and he had a minor role in Dodsworth (1936). Shortly after this, he was released from the studio. He started doing a bit of freelance work in comedies and musicals. Paramount took his contract in 1937, and he was in Bob Hope’s College Swing (1938). That same year he was in Garden of the Moon (1938), a Busby Berkeley musical, with co-star Pat O’Brien. In 1940, he went to work for 20th Century-Fox. He started making some pretty good movies that included: Tin Pan Alley (1940), Week-End in Havana (1941), and in Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Iceland (1942) with Norwegian three-time Olympian figure skater Sonja Henie. It was his work in Remember the Day (1941), with Claudette Colbert, where he did some of his finest work. He also starred with Betty Grable in Springtime in the Rockies (1942), before spending two years in the Army.
After the military, he was in The Dolly Sisters (1945) with Betty Grable. Following World War II he stared in some very fine movies. These movies include Sentimental Journey (1946) with Maureen O’Hara, great epic of life The Razor’s Edge (1946) co-starring Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), again with O’Hara, and Larceny (1948).
He left 20th Century-Fox in the late 1940s and began making a standard fare of movies that included: El Paso (1949), Tripoli (1950), Passage West (1951), Kansas City Confidential (1952). 99 River Street (1953), Silver Lode (1954) and Slightly Scarlet (1956). He had a TV show, The Restless Gun from 1957-1958.
In 1961, he was hit by a car in New York. It took a couple of years before he could return to acting and he was affected by the accident later in life. By the 70s he was reduced to TV only. In 1975, he retired to a quiet life and passed away at the age of 77 in 1989.
Evelyn Keyes played Linda James aspiring actress and friend to Driscoll. Keyes was a B actress but she had many first-rate movies including: Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), The Jolson Story (1946), Mrs. Mike (1949), The Prowler (1951) and 99 River Street (1953). She never really received the attention she deserved.
Keyes was a very attractive actress but this movie did not do her justice. It could be the poodle curled hair style or the excessive close-up of her eyes shifting side to side to show she was thinking.
Keyes was born in Texas in 1916. When her father died she was moved to Atlanta, GA to live with her mother and grandmother. She grew up taking dance and voice lessons and hoped to be a ballerina. Instead, she worked as a chorus girl before moving to California when she was 20. Not long after she got to Hollywood she somehow met Cecil B. DeMille. As a result of this meeting, she was given a Paramount contract. She was given a small part in a pirate film The Buccaneer (1938), which was followed by a part in Union Pacific (1939). David O. Selznick cast her Suellen O’Hara, the younger sister of Scarlett in Gone with the Wind (1939). She was signed with Columbia Pictures and after she started dating director Charles Vidor she made three films for him: The Lady in Question (1940) (her first at Columbia), Ladies in Retirement (1941) and The Desperadoes (1943).
While at Columbia Keyes played some top roles such as Boris Karloff’s daughter in the crime horror film Before I Hang (1940) and as a blind woman friend horribly scarred Peter Lorre in The Face Behind the Mask (1941). But every time there would be a low-budget clinker to go along with the good role. These include films such as Dangerous Blondes (1943), Beyond the Sacramento (1940), A Thousand and One Nights (1945) or The Thrill of Brazil (1946.
She was married to director John Huston from 1946-1950. During this time she was in The Jolson Story (1946), film noir classic Johnny O’Clock (1947) with Dick Powell, and in the title role of the comedy The Mating of Millie (1948) which co-starring Glenn Ford.
Later in her life, she appeared in TV shows as a guest and wrote a couple of tell-all books. She died at the age of 99.
Brad Dexter played Victor Rawlins the diamond thief and primary bad guy. He specialized in playing tough guys. He was born in Nevada in 1917. As an adult, he boxed and trained at the Pasadena Playhouse. He joined the Air Corps during World War II. He ended up being in the play “Winged Victory.” After the war, John Huston spotted him in a play and cast him as a heavy in The Asphalt Jungle (1950). All through the 50s, he played the same type of roles in dramas and westerns. His most famous role was as one of the seven in The Magnificent Seven (1960). However, he was overshadowed by the other actors. In the 1970s he shifted into producing.
Frank Faylen played Stan Hogan, friend, and boss of Driscoll. Faylen was from a vaudeville family and both before and after college, he worked in vaudeville as well. When the tour traveled to Los Angles he was given a screen test and as a result, had a 30-year career acting. He has had several famous roles such as the mean male nurse Bim in The Lost Weekend (1945) and as the cab driver, Ernie in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). It’s funny that he played a cabbie in that movie also. In It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) he was friends with the cop was named Burt and the names were given to the Sesame Street pair based on these roles. He is perhaps best known as the father of TVs Dobie on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” 1959. He retired after acting in Funny Girl (1968) and died in 1985.
Peggie Castle played Pauline Driscoll the unfateful wife of Ernie Driscoll. Castle was described as a tall, blonde-haired, green-eyed beauty. Her career did not reflect her looks, however. She was confined to b-roles and generally played the other women in movies such as Harem Girl (1952), Wagons West (1952), The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951), and Jesse James’ Women (1954). Her best roles include Payment on Demand (1951) with Bette Davis, 99 River Street (1953), I, the Jury (1953), The White Orchid (1954), Miracle in the Rain (1956), and Seven Hills of Rome (1957). In television, for three years she played the sexy saloon girl girlfriend of Marshal Dan Troop the western “Lawman” 1958. That sounds a lot like Gunsmoke. She left acting in 1962. Castle developed a heavy drinking problem and died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1973 at the young age of 45.
Jay Adler played Christopher the diamond fence and all around tough guy. Adler was born in 1896 in New York City. I’m seeing a trend. He was from an acting family and has almost 100 TV and movie credits. He is best known for 99 River Street (1953), The Killing (1956), The Family Jewels (1965) and The Big Combo (1955). He died in 1978.
Jack Lambert played Mickey a member of the diamond fencing game. He was from Yonker, New York. I’m seeing a trend. Beginning in acting during WWII and continuing through 1970 Lambert never received the credit he deserved. Lambert was a decent actor he had the look of a tough guy and that is what he specialized in.
The movie begins with a heavyweight box match but it pulls back and Ernie Driscoll (John Payne) is watching on a small television set. He is one of the fighters on the TV from four years earlier. Driscoll is about to win the heavyweight championship when a freak hit to his eye causes the fight to be stopped making Driscoll lose. He is also banned from fighting because he could lose his sight if hit again.
Driscoll is living in a small apartment with his resentful wife. He is working as a taxi driver and nothing he wants to do is good enough for her. She says he kept her from being a star even though she was only a showgirl when they met. Driscoll wants to open a gas station. His wife, Pauline Driscoll (Peggie Castle) is working at a florist and she is showing signs of having an affair. She goes back to finish her night shift in a huff.
Driscoll’s dispatcher and buddy Stan Hogan (Frank Faylen) meets him at the drug store where they hang out. Stan advises him having kids to fix the marital problems. Flowers, dinner, drinks, whisper in her ear, and then make a baby. Driscoll thinks this is a good idea. Exactly how many times was he hit in the head while boxing? So Driscoll buys the big box of chocolates. About this time his other friend
Linda James (Evelyn Keyes) tells him she is auditioning for a spot on Broadway. She is supposed to see the producer at 9 pm. No alarm bells go off.
Driscoll goes to surprise pickup Pauline but surprise. Victor Rawlins (Brad Dexter) is there telling Pauline about the robbery they planned and how he took $50,000 diamonds off the Dutchman. They plan to leave on a boat after they sell the hot diamonds to a fence named Christopher (Jay Adler). They also have to get forged passports. When Driscoll pulls up he sees Pauline and Victor playing missy face in the florist. Victor walks right up to the cab and says 300 Park south. When Pauline gets there she realizes it’s Driscoll. He drives away. Not too much of a hothead. Pauline says he will kill her and they go to the location of the fence instead. The fences operation is in a pet store. Christopher tells him not to bring Pauline in the back but Victor does anyway. The other fence in the store is Mickey (Jack Lambert).
Christopher tells Rawlins he made a mistake and that he never deals with women. Mickey pulls a gun and Christopher says again he never deals with women. Then Mickey says that Rawlins killed the Dutchman during the robbery. Pauline freaks and Rawlins slaps her.
Driscoll comes back to the cab shop and takes it all out on Stan for giving bad advice.
Stan gives him the advice to get a cup of coffee and they will meet and talk at the end of the shift. Linda is at the drug store desperate to find Driscoll. Linda tells him she killed a man. She tells him they have to go to the theater and when they do there is a sign for the play which is titled “They call it murder.” When they go backstage there is a body lying on the floor.
She gives the basic story that the producer Waldo Dagget (Ian Wolfe) sexual assault her and she killed him with an iron poker. Linda really looks crazy while she is telling her tale. Driscoll says he will load the body into the cab like an old drunk, drive him to the Hudson River, and dump the body in a gravel pit. When Driscoll grabs the body the lights come on and everyone is alive. They offer Driscoll $20 for his words. Insulted and feeling betrayed he hits the men. They are going to call the police for publicity.
Driscoll drives to Paulmann’s gym where he has a daymare with the mirror and the tells Pop Durkee (Eddy Waller) that he wants back into the fight game. Pop will not let him fight. But finally Pop says if Driscoll has to fight it will be for him.
Pauline calls Stan and asks Driscoll to pick her up. She says the address is 304 Park South, a bar. Driscoll goes into the bar and starts drinking. Wow. Is this a good thing for a cabbie to do? Rawlins puts a scarf around Pauline’s throat and strangles her. After one drink he storms out and doesn’t notice the dead women it the back seat of his cab. He drives back to his apartment to look for Pauline. He begins packing to move out. The doorbell rings and its Linda. When the play people called the police Linda quit and Driscoll explains his hands are deadly weapons and he will be put in jail if arrested. Driscoll opens the back door of the cab and he and Linda see Pauline’s dead body. Linda jumps in to help hide the body. Why is everyone in this movie so willing to help with murders? Driscoll quickly figured out that Rawlins did it and Linda goes along to help.
The police are looking for Driscoll at the cab stand for the assault charges. They head to 300 Park south to look for Rawlins. Driscoll gets the number of the room from the manager who had a foot log safety chain on her door. Only the largest people couldn’t get through.
Driscoll breaks into the apartment and begins searching. Driscoll is slugged by Mickey from the pet shop who pulls a gun on him. He puts Driscoll in a chair and starts judo chopping him for info. Driscoll gets the jump on Mickey and begins interrogating him. Mickey was trying to get the diamonds for himself.
The police find the taxi and Mickey tells Driscoll that Rawlins was leaving from Jersey City. Rawlins goes to the pet shop and tells Christopher that he got rid of Pauline. He tries to give Christopher the diamonds but he refuses to give him the money. Rawlins forces him to give the 50k and leaves the diamonds.
Driscoll and Linda make it back to the cab stand. They use the call sheets from all of the cab companies to try and locate Rawlins. Stan lets Driscoll hide upstairs based only on his word that he didn’t murder Pauline.
Driscoll tells Linda that all dames are the same. They talk about what it would be like if they had met earlier. The police come back
looking for the pair. Stan gives them a cover cab. Christopher the fence knows Rawlins is looking for a passport so they are trying to track him down. Christopher makes contact with Monk the forger and finds out the cafe that Rawlins is waiting in. Christopher, Mickey, and another guy head out. Stan gives Driscoll the location and he and Linda head that way.
Linda goes in to try and lure Rawlins outside so Driscoll can beat the truth out of him. While she is inside Mickey grabs Driscoll and uses a gun to get him back in the car with Christopher and the other man. After a few questions, they knock Driscoll out. Linda is at the bar doing the southern deb mating call – I’m so drunk. Monk comes and gives the passports to Rawlins.
Linda throws everything but the kitchen sink at Rawlins but he ain’t having none. She even does so post-war dirty dancing.
Desperate to get him outside she drops the name of the girl he murdered. She tries to get him out the front door but he drags out back and starts slapping her. About that time Mickey shows up with a gun and takes the pair towards the dock. Christopher and the car follow. Driscoll wakes up in time to hear that they plan on killing him and Linda. Driscoll socks the driver and presses the gas pedal to the floor. He jumps out just before it crashes into a crane.
Mickey starts shooting at Driscoll and while he is distracted Rawlins wraps him with a giant chain, takes his gun, and runs away. Driscoll sends Linda for the police and goes after Rawlins. Rawlins shoots him in the chest but is out of bullets. He hears a forklift and stops his attempted murder. Driscoll summons his inner strength and chases him onto the boat. Driscoll gets knocked down and relives his last fight but this time winning as he beats Rawlins.
The police come and in the next scene, Driscoll says he got his gas station and is happily married to Linda. Stan gives the old whisper in her ear advice. Driscoll does and Linda smiles happily.
World-Famous Short Summary – Bad advice from boss leads ex-boxer on a long drive
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Beware the moors
Ernie Driscoll: There are worse things than murder. You can kill someone an inch at a time.