After the critical success of his first film “Applause,” which was shot in New York, Rouben Mamoulian went to Hollywood and made “City Streets.” Based on an original screenplay from Dashiell Hammett, this urban crime drama features the very young and gorgeous Gary Cooper in one of his best performances to date (before he became star).
In the impressive opening shot, we see a close-up of Sylvia Sidney's face, with one eye closed, before the camera pulls back to reveal a fairground shooting-stall.
Sideny plays Nan, a girl whose stepfather Pop Cooley (character actor Guy Kibbee) is a henchman of the beer-running racketeer Big Boy Maskal (Hungarian born actor Paul Lukas). Upon meeting the Kid (Cooper), a lanky Westerner employed in a carnival, she falls hard for him. She also urges him to join the racketeers for the easy money to be made, but he refuses.
Pop Cooley is assigned to “bump off” Blackie, because Maskal wants Field’s girl Agnes. Pop takes Blackie for a “ride” and is later freed on an alibi supplied by Agnes.
When Nan refuses to “squeal,” she is sent to prison. As a result, the Kid joins the racketeers, hoping to save Nan. But while in jail, Nan, now disillusioned gets furious when she learns about the Kid’s decision.
Upon release, Nan tries to convince the Kid to leave the gangsters, but he refuses. Soon, however, he crosses the racketeer and then outwits his henchmen, who are plotting to “get” him.
To prevent this, Nan meets Maskal, begging him to throw the Kid out of the gang. Agnes enters and shoots Maskal for betraying her, then locks Nan inside. Nan is found with Maskal’s body and is taken for a ride. The Kid foils the gangster’s plot and rescues Nan.
Innovative director Mamoulian was proud that the audience never sees the killings or any other violeance on screen.
Cast in a role originally intended for the IT girl Clara Bow, Sylvia Sidney renders a good performance in a part that later typecast her as a downtrodden Depression victim.
In contrast, rising star Cooper never again played such a morally dubious role in his lengthy career.
Gary Cooper (The Kid)
Sylvia Sidney (Nan)
Paul Lukas (Big Boy Maskal)
William “Stage” Boyd (McCoy)
Guy Kibbee (Pop Cooley)
Stanley Fields (Blackie)
Wynne Gibson (Agnes)
Betty Sinclair (Pansy)
Barbara Leonard (Girl)
Terry Carroll (Esther March)
Edward Le Saint (Shooting Gallery Patron)
Robert Homans (Inspector)
Willard Robertson (Detective)
Hal Price (Shooting Gallery Onlooker)
Ethan Laidlaw (Killer at prison)
George Regas (Machine-gunner)
Bob Kortman (Servant)
Leo Willis (Henchman)
Bill Elliott (Dance Extra)
Director: Rouben Mamoulian.
Producer: E. Lloyd Sheldon.
Screenplay by Oliver H.P. Garrett, based on an original screenplay by Dashiell Hammett.
Adaptation: Max Marcin.
Photographer: Lee Garmes.
Editor: William Shea.
Sound Recorders: J.A. Goodrich, M.M. Paggie.
Running time: 82 Minutes.
Released April 18, 1931.