Created by Dashiell Hammett
The almost forgotten City Streets (Paramount, 1931) was one of the few Dashiell Hammett stories written expressly to be adapted to film (a couple of Thin Man films were also in that group), and as such probably deserves our attention, even if it isn’t a private eye tale. I’ve no idea if the pre-code film itself is actually worth digging up or not, but who knows?
There’s some good camera work, supposedly, and a guy gets stabbed with a fork. And Carl Macek, in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (1980), calls it “an unusually decadent and stylish gangster film,” while Al Capone allegedly loved it, deeming it an accurate portrayal of the gangster life.
So… not a private eye tale, but it does star Gary Cooper as “THE KID, a laidback, hick carny working the shooting gallery racket at a traveling fair. Nan, the daughter of beer racketeer Pop Cooley, falls for him in a big way despite his lack of interest in joining daddy’s business and supporting her in the lifestyle she’s accustomed to. But, when daddy dearest frames her on a murder beef, and she’s sent to prison, Nan’s attitude changes.
While Nan’s whiling away her time in the big house, her father cons the Kid, who’s more than handy with a gun, into joining the gang in order to help free her, only to have the Kid end up running the gang. But when Nan is sprung, she wants nothing more to do with the mob and tries to get the Kid to quit.
- “Cooper is an unambitious carnival worker who’s drawn into the underworld by his love for racketeer’s daughter (Sidney). Stylish melodrama is more interesting for Mamoulian’s innovative presentation (and the stunning camerawork of Lee Garmes) than for its predictable plot. Lukas and Kibbee stand out in unusually smarmy characterizations. Notable, too, as Dashiell Hammett’s only original screen story.”
— Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide
- “The sophisticated, atmospheric City Streets (1931) is an unjustly forgotten movie full of visual storytelling and expressionistic camerawork. For 1931, a year when movies were still learning to “move” again after the coming of sound, it’s an especially impressive achievement, and it boasts the historical footnote of being – apparently – the first American film to use voiceover.”
— Turner Classic Movies (October 2010)
- CITY STREETS | Buy the DVD
(1931, Paramount Pictures)
83 minutes, black and white
Tagline: Love and courage pitted against a ruthless hate!
Based on an original story by Dashiell Hammett
Adaptation by Max Marcin
Screenplay by Oliver H.P. Garrett
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Cinematography by Lee Garmes
Produced by E. Lloyd Sheldon
Starring Gary Cooper as THE KID
with Sylvia Sidney as Nan
Also starring William Boyd, Paul Lukas, Guy Kibbee, Terry Carroll, Allan Cavan, William Elliott, Stanley Fields, Norman Foster, Wynne Gibson, Bert Hanlon, Robert Homans, Bob Kortman, Ethan Laidlaw