City Streets Reviews
Worth a rental.
Gary Cooper as an urban gangster? Yep! It's hard to believe, but City Streets is a gangster picture with a very young Gary Cooper. If you get a chance to see this pre-code movie, catch it, because, it hasn't been released on DVD yet. The movie is based on a Dashiell Hammett story.
Nan Cooley (played by beautiful Sylvia Sidney, in her first film) is the daughter of bootlegger under-boss Pop Cooley (Guy Kibbee), who works for Big Fellow Maskal (Paul Lukas). Nan has enjoyed the extravagant gangsta lifestyle, and has gotten accustomed to covering for Pop.
Nan has fallen in love with a young carnival worker who works at a shooting gallery. The Kid (Cooper) used to be a circus cowboy, and is content with his small-change (but honest) life, where Nan wants him to work for her Dad and afford the big cars, nice clothes, etc. She knows that The Kid is a crack shot and would be good at it.
Then one night Nan gets caught with the murder weapon that her Dad used and has to go to prison. Pop tells the Kid that he needs his help to afford to get Nan out of prison early. All the time, a reforming Nan is thankful that she didn't talk The Kid into this life of crime.
Director Rouben Mamoulian, did an excellent job of filming this with artful camera angles, close-ups, and even an inner (voice-over) monologue that was revolutionary for its time. While Nan ponders her life of crime and the fact that The Kid is now in "the Beer Business" you're thinking and worrying along with her. This is an excellent little movie, and I highly recommend it.
But all kidding aside, the young Gary Cooper is adequate in CITY STREETS, a story penned by Dashiell Hammett - which works more as a kind of "morality tale". I don't think Cooper's character was meant to be a gangster anyway. Cooper here plays "The Kid" - the cash-strapped boyfriend to Nan (Sylvia Sidney). Nan was raised by her step-father, "Pop" Cooley (Guy Kibbee), a seemingly jovial underling to succesful beer racketeer "Big Fellow" Mascal (Paul Lukas). Nan is conditioned to the ways of a racketeer by her step-dad, who would go so far as to reward her for keeping secrets - something which will come in handy when "Pop" later becomes prime suspect in a shooting.
"The Kid" is employed at the local carnival shooting gallery, but is himself very proficient with the pistols - and pleased to show off his marksmanship to potential customers - a talent not lost on Nan. She tries to persuade "The Kid" to quit the carnival and join up with her "Pop"... but "The Kid" wants no part of the dark side. He is proud of making an honest living:
Nan: "We can't even afford to get married."
The Kid: "If you love me, you'd marry me anyway."
Nan, disappointed: "Yeah...and live in a tent."
The Kid: "Why not?!?"
Nan: "I don't like tents..."
The Kid: "It isn't the tents. It's me..."
* MILD SPOILERS TO FOLLOW *
The above romantic scene was nicely shot at a moonlit beach by cinematographer Lee Garmes who takes full advantage of the use of light and shadows in this film...but, I think this is merely a warm-up for Garmes, who would use the same techniques to much better results in SCARFACE (1932). Director Rouben Mamoulian eschews the showing of graphic violence here - opting instead for off-camera killings...something that may disappoint some viewers - especially the climactic scenes, which comes off as possibly too non-confrontational for modern audience (referred to as hokey, or out-dated by some reviewers I've read). But I think it's very well in keeping with Dashiell Hammett's story of a couple trying to break free of the circle of violence created by the racketeers in this story. I too laughed at first, but "old fashioned" as it may seem - "The Kid" being able to disarm his adversaries without the use of violence is actually refreshing, now that I think about it...and plays very well with the morality of the story...and shows us that the ends doesn't necessarily have to justify the use of the "means" (if ya get what I mean...heh heh) and thus Mamoulian shows us the soaring birds to symbolize true freedom. Hmmmm...there are actually other "bird" references sprinkled throughout this film but I'll let you discover them for yourself.
Of special note and interest to trivia buffs is the use of voice-over narration in this film. Filmmakers were still experimenting with sound at the time and Rouben Mamoulian and actress Sylvia Sidney would be credited with the first use of this story-telling technique here...