Mystery Street

Mystery Street

Director: John Sturges

Cast: John Sturges, Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett

     
 

Blonde good-time girl Vivian Heldon (Jan Sterling), who lives in a cheap rooming house in a working-class section of Boston, run by the inquisitive and neurotic Mrs. Smerrling (Elsa Lanchester), goes out one night after a phone conversation with her boyfriend, proclaiming that she's got big plans and mightSee more details below

Overview

Blonde good-time girl Vivian Heldon (Jan Sterling), who lives in a cheap rooming house in a working-class section of Boston, run by the inquisitive and neurotic Mrs. Smerrling (Elsa Lanchester), goes out one night after a phone conversation with her boyfriend, proclaiming that she's got big plans and might even move to a nicer place. After putting in her shift as a waitress at a cheap dive called The Grass Skirt, she latches onto Henry Shanway (Marshall Thompson), an innocently drunk patron, who's trying to wash away his sadness over his wife's stillborn child. She uses Henry's car with him in tow to drive out to Cape Cod, then strands him on foot and meets her boyfriend -- but when she arrives, he puts a bullet into her, then strips the body, throws it into the sea, and drops the clothes and the car into a lake. Six months later, an ornithologist from the cape spots the skeleton of a human foot sticking up through the sand. Enter Lt. Peter Morales (Ricardo Montalban) of the Boston PD; he and his partner on this case, Det. Sharkey (Wally Maher), bring the bones to Dr. McAdoo (Bruce Bennett), of Harvard University's forensic medical laboratory. Over the next few days, McAdoo and his staff are able to determine the gender, age, and general appearance of the person to whom the bones belonged, and that this is a case of murder -- and that the victim was pregnant. Morales and Sharkey, combing through what they know about the victim and the missing persons records of six nearby states, eventually tie the skeleton up with Vivian Heldon, who disappeared on just about the same day the victim was killed, and also to Shanway's car, which he reported stolen that day. The poor slob, who is merely trying to cover up a drunken lapse from his wife (Sally Forrest), acts guilty enough and lies about just enough so that Morales is certain that he's the murderer. His investigation isn't helped by the interference of Mrs. Smerrling, who sold Vivian's belongings when she didn't return to her room, and now seems fixated, even obsessed with the details of the case and its connection to her rooming house. While the police tighten the screws on Shanway, she backtracks Vivian's phone calls and makes contact with the woman's boyfriend, James Joshua Harkley (Edmon Ryan), member of a wealthy Boston family, and a married man; she also manages to steal a vital piece of evidence. But instead of turning it over to the police, she uses it to blackmail Harkley. Meanwhile, the district attorney sets an early trial date for Shanway, but with the opening arguments only a week away, Morales begins to develop doubts about Shanway's guilt, in addition to harboring his own sympathy for Grace Shanway, whose life is being gradually destroyed by the prosecution on her husband -- not that Morales thinks he's innocent, but there's enough that's not right about the case, including the missing murder weapon, that he's not 100-percent sure. And that's when Vivian's friend and neighbor, Jackie Elcott (Betsy Blair) reports how strangely Mrs. Smerrling is acting, and the fact that she's got a gun. But before they can question her, Harkley kills Mrs. Smerrling -- now it's a race between Morales and Harkley to see who can get to the murder weapon first.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
John Sturges's Mystery Street may not have been the first movie to delve into forensic pathology, but it was the first Hollywood film to use it as the basis for a crime story set in postwar America. In that sense, it's the not-too-distant forerunner to CSI, CSI: Miami, Cold Case Files, Quincy, M.E., etc., and on that level alone should appeal to modern audiences. But it's also got a topical element that's just as relevant in 2006 as it was in 1950 -- the character of Lt. Morales, as portrayed by Ricardo Montalban, runs into some not-so-subtle prejudice over his accent and the fact that he wasn't necessarily born in the United States; it gets especially vicious when he's dealing with Harkley (Edmon Ryan), an upper-crust potential suspect from Boston's old-money society. And in addition to that element of the plot, there's an entirely separate and equally appealing aspect to the movie in Elsa Lanchester's portrayal of Mrs. Smerrling; a twitchy, neurotic, grasping woman, she's one of the nuttiest roles ever essayed by Lanchester, and she almost steals the movie, as a soft-spoken loony who can't resist thrusting herself into the life (or death) of one of her tenants. Add to that the superb photography by John Alton (including lots of location shooting) and a fine score, plus a brace of excellent supporting performances (especially by Marshall Thompson and Sally Forrest as a couple victimized by circumstance), and the movie is an enduring winner of a thriller -- in 1950 and well into the 21st century.

Product Details

Release Date:
08/12/2003
UPC:
0794054895223
Original Release:
1950
Rating:
NR
Source:
Pbs (Direct)
Region Code:
1
Presentation:
[B&W, Letterbox]
Sound:
[Dolby Surround]
Time:
1:00:00

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Ricardo Montalban Lt. Peter Morales
Sally Forrest Grace Shanway
Bruce Bennett Dr. McAdoo
Elsa Lanchester Mrs. Smerrling
Marshall Thompson Henry Shanway
Jan Sterling Vivian Heldon
Edmon Ryan James Joshua Harkley
Betsy Blair Jackie Elcott
Wally Maher Tim Sharkey
Ralph Dumke Tattooist, Jim Black
Willard Waterman Mortician
Walter Burke Ornithologist
Don Shelton District Attorney
Brad Hatton Bartender
Jim Hayward Constable Fischer
William Leicester Doctor
Arthur Lowe Sailor
Allen O'Locklin Photographer
Mary Jane Smith Actor
Douglas Carter Counterman
May McAvoy Nurse
Sherry Hall Clerk
Eula Guy Mrs. Fischer
Virginia Mullen Neighbor
King Donovan Reporter
Ralph Brooks Reporter
George Sherwood Reporter
John Crawford Reporter
Ned Glass Dr. Levy
Matt Moore Dr. Rockton
Maurice Samuels Tailor
John Maxwell Det. Kilrain
Robert Foulk Det. O'Hara
Louise Lorimer Mrs. Shanway
Napoleon Whiting Redcap
Jack Shea Policeman
Juanita Quigley Daughter
Lucille Curtis Mrs. Harkley
Charles Wagenheim Clerk
David McMahon Det. Garrity
Frank Overton Guard
Bert Davidson Dr. Thorpe
Mack Chandler Doorman
Ralph Montgomery Waiter
Elsie Baker Elderly Lady
Jim Frasher High School Boy
Ernesto Morelli Portuguese Fisherman
Robert Strong Policeman
George Brand Man in Bedroom
Fred Santley Pawnbroker
Perry Ivins Alienist
Peter Thompson Law Student
Fred E. Sherman Photographer

Technical Credits
John Sturges Director
John Alton Cinematographer
Sydney Boehm Screenwriter
Richard Brooks Screenwriter
Jack Dawn Makeup
Cedric Gibbons Art Director
Ralph S. Hurst Set Decoration/Design
Rudolph G. Kopp Score Composer
Gabriel Scognamillo Art Director
Katha Seidman Production Designer
Leonard Spigelgass Screenwriter
Ferris Webster Editor
Edwin B. Willis Set Decoration/Design

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