Wednesday, December 9, 2020

THE CELLULOID ROAD TRIP BLOGATHON: Mystery Street, 1950


Dr. Annette Bochenek of Hometowns to Hollywood is hosting a shared imagined road trip through the United States via The Celluloid Road Trip Blogathon on December 9th - 11th. Hitch your ride HERE.


This blog's contribution is a trip to Massachusetts courtesy of MGM and the crime drama Mystery Street, 1950.

Jan Sterling

Jan Sterling plays Vivian Heldon. Vivian is a girl "in a jam," and you know what that means in 1950. Not to worry, Vivian can take of herself and she knows what she has to do. Some man will have to pay. Six months from this time her bleached bones will be discovered in Cape Cod.

Ricardo Montalban

Ricardo Montalban plays Detective Peter Moralis who has caught his first murder case. He is smart enough to do the job and cool enough to be persistent. 

Bruce Bennett, Ned Glass, Ricardo Montalban

A murder investigation is not a solitary endeavour. Bruce Bennett plays a Harvard Medical professor, Dr. McAdoo. His forensic skills and "big picture" attitude will be of immeasurable help to building a case and in the maturing of Morales's detecting skills. Ned Glass is the lab assistant Dr. Levy.

Betsy Drake, Jan Sterling, Elsa Lanchester

A murder victim is not a solitary creature. Vivian lived in a Beacon Street boarding house. She had a friend in Jackie Elcott played by Betsy Drake. Betsy, a night shift waitress, was a true friend, the sort who worries and notifies the police when a girl is missing. Elsa Lanchester plays the landlady Mrs.  Smerrling. Mrs. Smerrling is not a friend and has no friends. She wants her rent and she spies on her boarders. What's in it for her is Mrs. Smerrling's motto.

Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Marshall Thompson

Marshall Thompson plays Henry Shanway. The night of Vivian's disappearance, she draws him into her drama. She didn't mean him any harm, in fact, she didn't think of him at all. Henry was drunk and depressed, and embarrassed. His lies are little ones, but they lead to him being the number one suspect in Vivian's murder.

Sally Forrest plays Grace Shanway, a devoted and frightened wife. Their lives are ripped open by the investigation and she has every right to resent it. After all, we know Henry Shanway is innocent. 

Elsa Lanchester, Edmon Ryan

Mrs. Smerrling knows Henry Shanway is innocent as well, but that won't put any money in her pocket. Vivian had a black book full of suspects, but Mrs. Smerrling follows the trail that lead to James Joshua Harkley played by Edmon Ryan. Neither of these malefactors is as smart as they believe.


Forensics, legwork, instinct, and the all-important persistence come into play when looking for the vital key that will solve the case. 


Leonard Spigelgass (So Evil My Love) was nominated by the Academy for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story for Mystery Street. The screenplay is by Sydney Boehm (The Big Heat) and Richard Brooks (Crossfire). Cinematographer John Alton (He Walked by Night) imbues the police procedural with a chilling sense of noir fatalism. John Sturges directed Mystery Street, just one of many interesting "little" films from the director who would become known for his epics such as The Great Escape.

The post-war years saw Hollywood stretching outside of the studio to filming in actual locations to give the audience the realism they sought, and MGM was on board. Beacon Hill, Cape Cod, Hyannis, Boston, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Square, and Trinity Station are captured in the time capsule of a police procedural.


The shifting, whispering sands reveal the mortal remains of Vivian Heldon to an ornithologist played by Walter Burke.


No wonder cops get flat feet. Our detectives march all over Harvard Square before being directed to the Medical School at Roxbury.


Morales meets McAdoo, and I would have been more than happy to a series of mysteries with these characters and actors.


Trinity Place Station is the location of the exciting finale of Mystery Street.
















16 comments:

  1. If John Alton was DP on this one, I’m sure it looks terrific. I’ve been to Boston and other parts of Massachusetts a number of times, and in recent years there’s been a surge of Boston-based films, but I don’t recall seeing one from the studio era with as many location shots around Massachusetts as this.

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    1. There are a lot of interesting movies from MGM in this era when Dore Schary took over the studio. They're not flashy but they really hold up.

      A lot of Maritimers (East Coast of Canada) have relatives in New England. My paternal grandmother spent a lot of time with her Boston cousins. When we were little we would often hear "That's not how we do it in Boston", and she had pictures of people called "Kennedy" on her wall. We accepted this as one of Nana's quirks.

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  2. Wow. How did I miss this until now? Thank you for writing about this movie and introducing me to it. The pictures you've chosen here emphasize that realism you're talking about. It really makes such a difference when movies, especially like this one, are filmed on location. The atmosphere it creates is like having another character. This is excellent, thank you.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. I know Mystery Street will meet all your expectations. The characters are three-dimensional and interesting, and Elsa Lanchester is outstanding. You feel like you've stepped back in time.

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  3. RICARDO MONTALBAN guest starred on MURDER, SHE WROTE. I want to mention the passing of another M.S.W. guest star. ABBY DALTON died on Nov. 23 at the age of 88. I know her from FALCON CREST as JULIA CUMSON, the daughter of ANGELA CHANNING(JANE WYMAN) and the mother of LANCE CUMSON(LORENZO LAMAS). I saw Abby on her two eps of HOTEL. On her second one she was paired up with her FALCON CREST husband JOHN SAXON.

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    1. I think I'll plan some sort of a marathon with all of the Ricardo Montalban guest starring roles I may have in my collection.

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  4. I mentioned earlier this year that JOHN SAXON died at the age of 83. Now ABBY DALTON. I didn't mention that another FALCON CREST actor died back in March. JOHN CALLAHAN died at the age of 66. He played ERIC STAVROS, the son of PETER STAVROS(CESAR ROMERO) and the stepson of ANGELA CHANNING. John is best known for his daytime soap opera roles. Like Abby Dalton, John Callahan and John Saxon guest starred on MURDER, SHE WROTE. John Callahan was once married to actress EVA LARUE. They played a married couple on ALL MY CHILDREN.

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    1. Abby Dalton, John Saxon, and John Callahan will be fondly remembered by all of their fans.

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  5. "No wonder cops get flat feet." Indeed! I got tired just reading this and following the characters on their journey!

    I'll have to look for this movie. What a great supporting cast. (I'm always happy to see Ned Glass turn up. His TV work is so familiar and warm/fuzzy, but his movie roles always surprise me with their edginess.)

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    1. It is a terrific movie. The surprising script and location work make it stand out. Ned Glass was a special treat. You never know where he will show up.

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  6. I always like reading about actors before they hit Fantasy Island and The Love Boat, so this was a real treat with Ricardo Montelban.. thanks for your review as another to check out now for his dulcet tones.

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    1. I believe a trench coat suits Ricardo Montalban better than his white suite as Mr. Roarke.

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  7. Those are some pretty impressive behind Mystery Street. Co-screenwriter Richard Brooks became one of the finest writer-directors from the 1950s through the 1970s. John Sturges also had an impressive career in front of him. Too bad this one isn't streaming for free!

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    1. Once seen, Mystery Street goes on the list of movies you just might watch again when the opportunity presents itself. Of course, we have to get that first watch under our belts. Do the streaming folks know what they are doing?

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  8. You made a good point about on-location filming shoots, e.g. the scenes in Boston & area. Those always make the film extra interesting, because it's like a trip back in time.

    As for this film, I've got to track it down. I know I'll love it.

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    1. Definitely. It is just the sort of thing you will go for.

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