Monday, September 28, 2020

City Streets

Nan Cooley (Sylvia Sidney) of Rouben Mamoulian's City Streets leads a charmed life. Her racketeer father ensures a comfortable life for her and she gets involved with circus sharpshooter The Kid (Gary Cooper). But then she gets sent to jail for being an accessory to murder, and Nan wants nothing to do with the criminal life...which is a problem because The Kid has since gotten into the business.

In contrast to Mamoulian's more lavish productions like Queen Christina and Blood and Sand, City Streets is more bare-bones to the director's other works. That's not to disregard it, far from it. If anything, we get to see glimpses of what would become fixtures in his later career.

Similar to what Mamoulian would do with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he depicts the duality of both Nan and The Kid's personalities in the life of crime. She seems fine with a sense of normalcy after her prison stint whereas he fully embraces the thrill of criminal behavior after first balking it. But what will this shift in attitudes mean for the couple?

Also on display in City Streets is a sort of misogyny that becomes more prevalent in later films in the genre. A moll becomes blind with jealousy as her man blatantly makes passes at Nan (who isn't interested) but her anger is directed solely at the other woman. Frustratingly, she's the only other female character of note in the film. Still, better than Nan being the token woman in a male-dominated film.

City Streets is surprisingly seedier than other genre titles of the era. In comparison to those starring James Cagney, there's an obvious emptiness in the opulence on display. (Material goods to make up for emotional vacancy?) And Mamoulian would feature that in later works too.

My Rating: ****1/2

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