Street of Chance (1942)

Burgess Meredith, Claire Trevor, Louise Platt, Sheldon Leonard,
After an accident, a New York man with amnesia finds out the ugly truth about his real identity and past by interacting with people who seem to know him well.
  • 6.3 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Garrett Fort, Cornell Woolrich, Writer:
  • Jack Hively, Director:
  • Producer:
6 / 10

As luck would have it

Street of Chance is directed by Jack Hively and adapted to screenplay by Garrett Fort from the novel "The Black Curtain" written by Cornell Woolrich. It stars Burgess Meredith, Claire Trevor, Louise Platt, Sheldon Leonard, Frieda Inescort and Jerome Cowan. Music is by David Buttolph and cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl.

After being felled by falling wreckage from a New York building, Frank Thompson awakes in the street to find he has some sort of amnesia and his life may not be as he thought. As he starts to piece together his life he comes to realise he may have committed a murder and is actually on the run!

An early entry in the original film noir cycle, Street of Chance takes what would become a familiar film noir theme, amnesia, and seasons it with betrayal and the vagaries of fate. It's also a point of interest to note that it's the first filmic adaptation of one of noir hero Woolrich's literary works, while the visual marker set here by Sparkuhl (Among the Living) signposts the influence of German Expressionism on the noir film making style. The visuals range from low lighted cramped rooms to the various diagonal and vertical shadows that psychologically patternize the spaces inhabited by the lead characters.

The story itself is not so hot, once the narrative settles into a steady and unspectacular rhythm, as the key ladies in Frank Thompson's life come into play, there's a distinct lack of mystery or suspense. Which is a shame as the acting is of good quality even if the principals aren't asked to stretch their respective thespian skills. Still, with the visuals so strong and the satisfying Woolrich feel to proceedings (though the finale is changed here from that of the novel), it's worth seeking out by noiristas. 6.5/10

7 / 10

early noir with amnesia angle

Paramount's "Street of Chance" is an early, and certainly not full-fledged, entry in the film noir canon. It qualifies mainly for being based on a work by that master of paranoia and cruel fate, Cornell Woolrich -- using the familiar amnesia premise to trigger the protagonist's alienation -- and by its oppressively moody low-key lighting. The first few reels offer a true noir milieu of urban angst and displacement -- the hero, injured by falling construction material, discovers a year-long lapse in his life -- and worse, he's suspected of murder and has a completely unremembered lover in addition to his puzzled wife. As the film progresses and he narrows in on the truth, it resolves itself into something closer to Gothic melodrama, with a more traditional view of human transgression and frailty. The blending of the two genres is reminiscent of the studio's "Among the Living" from the previous year rather than the out-and-out noirs "This Gun For Hire" and "The Glass Key" of its own release year.

Paramount's B-picture unit offered a higher degree of professionalism than most, reflected by the fine level of performance and technical achievement here. Burgess Meredith's lead character is far too benign to be a true Woolrichian anti-hero, but Claire Trevor shows underlying tinges of femme-fatalité which would serve her well later in her career. Lower-rank director Jack Hively contributes a few visual cachets, particularly the unexpected discovery of a pivotal character lurking in the background, and an over-the-transom tracking shot to end the picture that is almost Antonioniesque. Unfortunately, he doesn't milk the character conflict for much intensity, and the denouement is disappointingly soft.

7 / 10

Early Noir Hits All the Buttons

This movie hits all the buttons for Film Noir, and I'm willing to call it so. there are lots of earlier movies with elements that finally fused together to make Film Noir, and many movies that almost hit it around this time (like THE MALTESE FALCON), but Noir was a movement, and it's not leaders that make movements, it's followers, like Jack Hively, the B director of this one.

Burgess Meredith is walking down the street when he is knocked down by some rubble from a demolition job. When he gets up, he finds a cigarette case and hat with the wrong initials, and when he goes home, wife Louise Platt tells him he has been missing for more than a year. He goes to the office to get his job back, only to find Sheldon Leonard in hot pursuit. When he goes back to the part of town where he regained his memory, there Claire Trevor is, telling him to get off the street. He's her man and he's wanted for murder.

It's based on one of Cornell Woolrich's overwrought crime novels and, as usual, Burgess Meredith plays a nice, amiable fellow, rather wasted. Claire Trevor has all the good lines, and Sheldon Leonard is fine in a straight role. Despite that voice, meant for Runyonesque hoods, he was a good actor.

If the answer to the mystery is milked a bit to make the movie last a few minutes longer, the answer still came as a surprise to me. I expect you'll enjoy it, not only for its early, pure Noir, but for a fairly played, if mildly hysterical, mystery.

6 / 10

Burgess Meredith has amnesia

Prolific writer Cornell Woolrich, who wrote Rear Window, No Man of Her Own, and many other mysteries, is the author of "Street of Chance" from 1942. The movie stars Burgess Meredith, Claire Trevor, Frieda Inescort, Jerome Cowan, Adeline De Walt Reynolds, Louise Platt, and Sheldon Leonard.

Frank Thompson (Meredith) is hit by part of a building at E. 22nd and Third Avenue, and when he comes to, has a lighter and a hat with the initials DN. He returns home to his wife (Platt), only to find out she moved away a year earlier. When he catches up with her, she's shocked to see him but welcomes him back. It doesn't take long for him to realize someone (Sheldon Leonard) is after him.

Desperate, he sends Virginia to her mother's and returns to 22nd St., hoping to find someone who knows him under this other name. Turns out his name is Danny Nearing, and police are searching for him, suspecting him of murder.

Though Danny's girlfriend (Trevor), who works for the man whose brother was murdered, tries everything she can to keep him hidden, Frank/Danny knows he didn't kill anyone and wants the truth.

This is a pretty good film, thanks to the performances of Meredith and Trevor. It was easy to figure out, but after you've seen as many of these as I have, they usually are.

Of interest was the old woman who can only communicate with one blink for yes and two for no, Adeline De Walt Reynolds, who began her career at the age of 78, in 1941. She graduated from college at the age of 64. I guess I'd call her a late bloomer. She lived to 99.

6 / 10

Better Than Average Noir

This noir whodunnit is manned by Burgess Meredith, who gives a textured performance, and an early career appearance of Claire Trevor, who would go to greater things. Even Sheldon Leonard, as a deadpan cop, is mildly amusing. The amnesia plot, however, wears a bit thin on the nerves, as it so cliched. and was done too often in noir.

For a B film, this is not too bad. It keeps your interest for over an hour and is decently paced by the director, Jack Hively. Initially, one thinks the protagonist is the target of gangsters, but we find out quickly it is just trigger-happy cops. There is no explanation, however, as to why Jack transforms into Naehring for a year, and dumps his loving wife for that same year. Despite that hole in the plot, the film is entertaining.