99 River Street (1953): Phil Karlson’s Film Noir, Starring John Payne and Evelyn Keyes

Phil Karlson, the underestimated Hollywood director, helmed 99 River Street, a B-level film noir, starring John Payne and Evelyn Keyes.

Produced by Edward Small, the tale is rather familiar, but the narrative is taut and well-executed, with good production values, especially Franz Planer’s moody cinematography that heighten a nocturnal crime story.

John Payne gives a solid performance as Ernie Driscoll, a boxer whose injury in the ring forced him to give up prize fighting.  To his wife’s chagrin, he is now working as a New York taxi driver, aspiring to open his own gas station.

His wife Pauline, unhappy living a hard life with no luxuries, keeps arguing and humiliating him as a “nobody.”  Meanwhile, she is having an affair with the  superficially suave Victor Rawlins (Brad Dexter), who is actually a diamonds thief.

An arrangement Rawlins made, to be paid for a batch of diamonds he has stolen, falls through.  His fence claims that it was the presence of Pauline that has impeded the deal. In an effort to rekindle it, Rawlins kills Pauline and attempts to frame Driscoll for the murder.

From then on the movie becomes a variation of the “wrongly accused man seeking revenge.” With the help of a female acquaintance, Linda James (Evelyn Keyes), Driscoll tries to track down Rawlins before the criminal leaves the country.

The last reel, marked by several chases, is particularly striking, not least due to the violent encounters among all those involved.

The film begins and ends with scenes at the rings, and in the final scene, Driscoll, who began as a loser, has fulfilled his dream of owning a gas station, and getting the good-bad girl.


Released by United Artists

Running time: 83 Minutes