Port of New York (1949)
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This was 7 years before The King and I would make Yul Brynner a bald box office giant. Much of Yul's pleasant killer personality would be used in future bad guy roles such as Westworld, The Ten Commandments and Magnificent Seven. In this 1949 film, Yul seems to enjoy playing cat and mouse with his intended victims. He being the cat, of course.
Scott Brady did an excellent job as the good guy here. Lots of good action scenes with Scott apparently doing his own falls.
The plot basically is the bad guys want to bring one million dollars worth of narcotics into the U.S. One million dollars worth of narcotics today would be a misdemeanor.
This is a joy to watch just for the history. DeSoto Cabs follow Checker Cabs. Grand Central Station is shown during rush hour. Rush hour was anytime in the 1940s. Men's suits looked smart. Neville Brand is seen here shortly after his World War II service ended. He is the guy who is operating the ship's steering wheel in some scenes.
All of New York looks dressed up for a holiday but that is just what people wore in 1949. Good scenes, good plot, good cast.
The guy who plays Dolly Carney does an excellent job. His name was Arthur Blake. Interestingly, Yul Brynner, Scott Brady and Arthur Blake all died in 1985.
This one is worth watching.
Narrated by future news-reader Chet Huntley, "Port of New York" is a surprisingly good feature. The leading man is Rober, who channels William Holden well; if he hadn't met with misfortune, Rober might have had a successful TV crime drama. The fine supporting cast is highlighted by Blake's drug-addicted stand-up comic; he's the one introduced while entertaining patrons with his impersonation of Charles Laughton in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935). Noir photographer George E. Diskant excels. Today, the main attraction will by an early look at Mr. Brynner, who plays the villainous drug lord with most of his hair intact, and unshaven.
******* Port of New York (11/28/49) Laslo Benedek ~ Richard Rober, Scott Brady, Yul Brynner, K.T. Stevens
This would be a most obscure film if it were not for the fact that it contains Yul Brynner's screen debut. At the time Brynner was 29 years old and working on and off Broadway and it would be another two years before his breakthrough part in Rodgers&Hammerstein's The King and I.
For those who are used to the hyper-masculine Brynner in such films as The King and I, Taras Bulba, and The Ten Commandments, Port of New York is a radical departure from casting. Brynner plays it fey in this one, he's a most epicene, but very deadly crook. I have to say that when he came to Hollywood for good seven years later he never played a part like the one he has in Port of New York ever again in his career.
Brady and Rober make a pair of stalwart government agents and K.T. Stevens is just fine as Brynner's luckless girlfriend. Best performance in the film is that of Arthur Blake who plays a nightclub comedian and another luckless individual who gets in way over his head in the rackets. Blake's performance is similar to the role Zero Mostel had in The Enforcer the following year.
Port of New York was shot in New York and it contains shots of things long gone like an elevated train station at Canal Street. That familiar voice you hear narrating is that Chet Huntley before he teamed with David Brinkley to become NBC's nightly news anchors and rating's leaders in that field for years. You'll also see Neville Brand in a small role as one of Brynner's henchmen.
Port of New York is not a great noir film, but entertaining enough and nothing the cast or crew have anything to be embarrassed about.
Scott Brady and Richard Rober deliver generally good performances as federal agents whose goal is to track down a shipment of narcotics. Although they are portrayed as heroes, neither has star quality and their acting is occasionally hammy. The rest of the cast plays a convincing ensemble of feds, thugs, dealers, and dames.
The direction and cinematography are excellent with some beautifully composed classic noir scenes where Brady and Rober explore a dark warehouse. The plot is predictable without major twists or sharp dialog, although the stentorian narrator gives the movie an interesting fascist undertone as war-on-drugs propaganda.
The print (Classic Film Noir, Volume 2) is quite good although the sound track is scratchy. Despite its flaws, this is a well-crafted fast-paced minor film noir worth adding to your collection.
Yul Brynner was particularly malevolent in his role, foreshadowed by the way he relates to girl friend Toni Cardell (K.T. Stevens) - "Please darling, you must not become a nuisance". Unfortunately, he perceived her in just that way, she didn't make it to the end of the story. Nor for that matter did Scott Brady, who was actually top billed here for his performance as customs agent Mickey Waters. You'd be hard pressed to find the lead actor of any film make his exit as quickly as Brady in this one, thanks again to Vicola's henchmen. That leaves narcotics officer Jim Flannery (Richard Rober) to make the save for the good guys, with a few twists and turns thrown against him along the way. William Challee and Neville Brand have just the right look for their roles as the top henchies, their craggy features make them almost a caricature.
This one's actually a fairly gripping crime drama, made especially atmospheric and moody with all the great shots of the city coastline and East River traffic. Surprisingly, I found myself recognizing a lot of it from one of those leisure cruises around Manhattan made not long ago, even though this movie is pushing near sixty years old. I think some of those boats in the film might have made it till today.
Best of all, the film turned out to be a real bargain as part of a sixteen movie DVD package from Platinum Disc, simply titled 'Mobster Movies'. Though every film in the package is all but unknown, each, like "Port of New York", is turning out to be a minor gem from the 1940's and '50's.
The faces in the movie also furnish a boost. There're the three gimlet-eyed hard cases (Challee, Stevens, Kellogg), the exotic looking Brynner, and the two meek-looking fall-guys (Blake, Carter), while Rober and Brady are appropriately clean-cut and strong-jawed. Brynner, of course, is particularly notable for his effortless accent and Euro-Asian appearance. The latter seems appropriate for a time when the Cold War was heating up. Thus Hollywood's lauding law enforcement at a tense time comes as no surprise.
Except for Brynner and a couple jarring scenes as when Brynner turns on the disloyal Stevens, there's nothing particularly memorable here. Just solid entertainment done in highly competent fashion.
First scene when Toni tries to escape from Paul
Toni: I went to station to my get my ticket
Paul: (looking through Toni's purse) And you lost your ticket on the way home...Toni, where you planning on going?
Toni: Near the west coast, then travel whenever place I can get.
Paul:(angrily) You are most ungrateful, Toni(pulling down the blinds and moves closer) most ungrateful.
Second scene when Paul kills Toni
Paul: You are a frightened woman, you're nervous and a lie. Toni: What do you mean, Paul?
Paul: You are bad risk, Toni. A very risk! (grabs his handkerchief to smother Toni) (smother Toni until there's no life in her)
Paul: Die you, bitch!
What really amazed me in this film was Yul Brynner with his natural hair! If you want see Brynner before his shaved dome then this is the movie for you.
A few miles outside of New York harbour, at 3.30am one morning, an attractive young woman called Toni Cardell (K.T.Stevens) is out on a deck of the "S S Florentine" and watches as the ship's purser, who's on a lower deck, throws a life-raft into the sea and dives in after it. He's soon picked up by a passing motor boat into which he throws a bag and the men in the boat immediately stab him to death and throw his body overboard before making a quick exit.
Later that morning, after all the passengers have left the ship, a customs officer discovers that a very-high value shipment of raw narcotics which was destined for medical use, has gone missing and as the purser knew the combination for the vault in which the narcotics were kept and had also disappeared along with his papers, he naturally becomes the focus of the investigation that follows.
Toni's been involved in drug-smuggling or some time and is the girlfriend of Paul Vicola (Yul Brynner) who's the head of the gang. She gets cold feet about being so closely involved with a murder situation and becomes desperate to leave. Her debonair boyfriend isn't prepared to entertain the idea and also refuses to give her any money to quit, so she contacts the Treasury Department to offer information for a pay-off. Before she's able to tell them all she knows, Vicola catches up with her and having found out what she's done, strangles her to death.
Using some information that they'd obtained from Toni and working on hunches, Narcotics Agent Jim Flannery (Richard Rober) and Customs Agent Mickey Waters (Scott Brady) stake-out a locker on Penn Station and wait for someone to collect the parcel of narcotics that they know it contains. When they follow the messenger who collects the parcel, he leads them to a nightclub where he delivers the drugs to an entertainer called Dolly Carney (Arthur Blake). When they arrest Carney and take him in for questioning, he soon provides them with the leads they need to hunt down Vicola and bring an end to his gang's activities.
As Vicola, Yul Brynner (in his first screen role) is superficially very genteel but also incredibly ruthless. His character is obsessed with eliminating risks and is quite chilling when he makes some remarks (e.g. "you're a bad risk Toni.....a very bad risk"). The scene in which he murders Toni at her dressing table is brilliantly set up with both the murderer and the victim seen in the multiple reflections that the mirror creates. This is just one of many examples that this film contains of the talent of cinematographer George E Diskant whose shadowy compositions contribute so much to the powerful and often threatening atmosphere of the piece. Despite its low budget, B-movie status, "Port of New York" is enjoyable to watch and packs a lot of story into its 82 minutes.
Two federal agents work to crack a gang of murderous drug dealers who are operating out of the Port of New York.
The strengths here are obvious, Diskant's photography provides atmospheric dread, the location shooting of New York is superb, and the smoothly villainous portrayal by Brynner is on the money and sets him on the path to the "A" list. Pic is kinda semi-documentary in style, complete with narration of course, and it's often violent enough to keep one hooked to the end.
Minor film noir but not without merits. 6/10
The film starts in that documentary style with a voice-over. It goes on a bit too much and the film gets bogged down and a bit slow with the arrival of entertainer Arthur Blake (Dolly). I lost track of what was going on for a while and then found myself watching people in the dark running about and fighting each other - whoa....what's going on? Who's who? I'm afraid that was the result of my mind wandering because the film got a bit boring.
Anyway, Yul Brynner is the standout in the cast but it all seems to be quite a predictable story with a climax that could have been better. It seems as if some tension is building towards the end of the film, and then it's all over in a sudden. It's not a bad film, but neither is it particularly good.
With Scott Brady on Brynnur's trail, backed by newsreel like narration not leaving out any detail, it is obvious how crime once again won't pay. Great location footage of New York (particularly a shot of the elevated train station at Canal Street above the Manhattan Bridge, no longer at that spot) makes this of historical importance, as well as the fact it was one of few films to tackle the subject of drug trafficking. The "B" studios at this time (Eagle Lion, Lippert, Screen Guild, PRC and Monogram) gave us some of the more interesting film noirs to study, and this one is among the goodies. Brynnur leaves no stone unturned in his performance of a ruthless killer. This gives a new meaning to Mrs. Anna's question, "Shall We Dance?".
Right away, though, I had a slight problem in that nobody anywhere is named Miss Toni Cardell. It's the kind of echt-schiksa name that somebody might dream up because it sounded right, like "Ellie Arroway" in Carl Sagan's novel, "Contact." But just try to find a name like Toni Cardell in a phone book, especially in Shanghai. I dare you.
Secondly, the crate carrying the dope is opened by customs agents. It's a big crate, the size of a wardrobe, and it's filled entirely with sand. A reasonable inference is that a LOT of dope is missing, yet when the box of narcotics is finally discovered in a locker at Grand Central Station, it's only big enough to contain, say, three dictionaries.
Those, of course, are minor things. Yet this is a minor movie. It's a routine track-'em-down mystery with T-men putting themselves in danger by posing as somebody else. Scott Brady is okay. He's an Irishman with Burt Lancaster's habit of sticking out his jaw in a defiant scowl when he's angry. It's rather likable. His partner, Richard Rober, on the other hand, has practically nothing to offer, a bland, acceptably handsome contract player. He's the one who should have been knocked off early on, allowing Scott Brady to continue the chase.
Best performance, hands down -- Yul Brynner with hair as the Vladimir Putin look-alike who heads the whole operation. What a background the guy had. A Jew from Sakhalin Island off the Siberian coast, a stint at the Sorbonne in Paris, a trapeze artist. "The King and I" brought him fame but left him socked into a domineering and unsubtle persona. Here, he gives his most earnest performance. He's suave, handsome, delicate even. And -- this being 1949, the year when the Cold War became an undeniable fact -- his Russian accent fits the temporal template. He's better here than he ever was later.
But, taken as a whole, what we have here is an inexpensive Eagle Lion crime drama with self-sacrificing heroes and ruthless villains. Nice to see the Coast Guard in action. Even if, to pump up the action, the writers and Lazlo Benedict, the director, have Brynner shooting his snub-nosed revolver at an 83-footer armed with a 20 millimeter cannon on the bow.
Diverting, yes, but not much new.
With 59 years having past, I found this movie an unintended heartbreak. Young people might not believe this but in 1949 the narcotics trade was limited to small areas of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles --- not all 50 states, not every town in America. The Federal agents portrayed in this movie might have just cried if they could have seen 14 years into the future when narcotics swept across the USA like a hurricane and infected our lives, our streets, our schools.
All this was done with the Federal government opening the door wide. When LBJ appointed crime-friendly Ramsey Clark as Attorney-General and appointed crime-friendly judges to the Supreme Court, this and other corrosive steps were applauded by Newsweek, Time, CBS and others. New York City lost 20% of its population and literally went bankrupt in the late '70's --- primarily because of unchecked crime. The 1966 movie "Death Wish" portrays this era well. This was your parents and grandparents era. It could not have happened without them. When you have time, search for their stash and tell them off.
Checking the ships cargo manifest the custom agents Micky Waters and Jim Flannery, Scott Brady & Richard Rober, come across a box of dangerous drugs slated to be used at a local hospital that's missing and has been replaced with 100 pounds of worthless and harmless sand. Later the person responsible for the switch is found floating in the East River murdered by his contacts in order to keep his mouth shut.
The leader of this gang of drug traffickers is the Suave cultured and music loving Paul Vicola, Yul Brynner. Vicola likes to keep things close to his very expensive vest and feels that his woman Toni Cardell, K.T Stevens, is a bit unhinged over what's been going on and has her followed by his hoods to see what she's up to. Toni, as Paul suspected, is about to give him and his gang up to the police and then, with what is expected to be a $25,000.00 reward, leave New York for the West Coast.
Getting Toni alone in her apartment Paul finds that she's about to turn him and is boys in and strangles her to death, this as custom Agent Waters is sitting in the lobby of Toni's apartment building providing her with government protection. Waters and his partner Flannery later, on a tip from the late Toni Cardell, check out the lockers at Penn. Station and find the missing drug shipment, cut and ready to be sold on the streets, and set up a sting to find out who the locker belongs to.
It turns out that the locker's contents are taken out and delivered, by special messenger, to entertainer Dolly Carney, Arthur Blake, who's fronting for Vicola's mob as a delivery boy. Putting Carney under arrest he breaks down and implicates Vicola's middle-man in this operation Leo Strosser, William Challee, who's involved in a ship maintenance business on the New York piers, a perfect place and cover to get drugs into the country.
Risking their lives both Waters and Flannery go under cover to get the goods on both Strasser and his boss Vicola but at, what later turned out to be, the cost of Micky Waters life. Carney who's let out of police custody ends up being kidnapped by Vicola's goons and after telling them what they wanted to know, about this Wyley (Frank Fenton) coming from Canada to buy the stolen drugs, is thrown out a hotel window and made to look like it was suicide.
The authorities take Wyley into custody with Agent Flannery going undercover impersonating him to get to the head of the drug gang Paul Vicola that leads to the movies exciting shoot-out at the Port of New York between Vicola and his hoodlum with the US Coast Guard and Custom agent Flannery.
Yul Brynner with a head of hair steals the movies acting honors with his portrayal of gangster Paul Vicola who's as deadly and murderous when he's in business as a big time drug trafficker as he's sophisticated and debonair as a lover of the world of musics classical symphonies and piano concerto's
The film begins in a semi-documentary style--with a narrator and film footage of a drug dealer being murdered and the discovery of a box of pharmaceuticals that is instead filled with sand. Federal agents get involved and the trail eventually leads to a very tough criminal boss (Brynner) who doesn't mind leaving a long trail of dead bodies.
What I loved about the film was how heartless it was. Folks are murdered in cold blood--nothing pretty about this. Brutal and tough...as well as well written and exciting throughout. Despite its being a cheap film there is nothing second-rate about it!
Richard Rober (killed a couple of years later in a car accident) makes a personable hero, several people get ruthlessly murdered and the low budget production and rather sordid subject matter complement each other well.
Opens with neat scenes of NY circa 1945. The film is about the flow of narcotics into NY harbor.
The movie is horrible. The music in no way reflects what's going on in the film. It's as if someone stuck a record on. It actually detracts do much from the movie that it becomes annoying.
It's not really a film noir so much as it is a Dragnet like movie
Agents Mickey Waters and John Flannery re-team to investigate the theft of medicinal narcotics from the S.S. Florentine.
The vicious gang responsible is headed by the ruthless, but debonair Paul Vicola, who doesn't hesitate to murder anyone who stands in his way. Vicola's girlfriend is garroted when she becomes unreliable, and when go-between nightclub comic Dolly Carney poses a risk, he is thrown from his apartment window.
After Waters is shot and killed trying to break into the gang's Brooklyn-based yacht club front, Flannery decides to go undercover and pose as a San Francicco drug dealer.
The gang is smoked out and after a furious gun battle, Vicola is apprehended and his gang broken.