Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and Edge of the City

A New York Waterfront double bill, one more New York than the other.

First, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.

This movie should have been called “Slaughter in Long Beach,” but that’s okay. The lack of real NYC locations were more than made up for by the great gritty cast, including Dan Duryea, Walter Matthau, and a silver-haired Charles McGraw, along with tons of memorable bit parts like “Midget” the sawed-off alcoholic dock worker and the birdy little woman who thinks she’s the victim of mysterious death-rays. Not to mention the classy and still stunning Julie Adams, who was the special guest of the evening.

A longshoreman (Mickey Shaugnessy) is gunned down in the stairwell of his tenement apartment, but refuses to rat out the perps to the cops. A naïve young D.A. thinks he can break the waterfront code of silence and make a case against the shooters, but finds himself dragged down into the violent underworld of vigilante justice.

I’m generally not a fan of drawn-out courtroom scenes, but the trial in this movie is fantastic, with Dan Duryea as the merciless defense attorney and a snarling, hostile McGraw as a cop on the witness stand. I also loved the bit with the priest praying for forgiveness while handing out axe handles and rubber hoses to rioting strikers.

This film straddles the line between Noir and social commentary, but it never felt too heavy handed and was always entertaining. Definitely worth watching.

Julie Adams has been a guest before at Noir City, not to mention various screenings of The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and she is always gracious and lovely. Last night was no exception. I especially liked her story about the skin-tight leather pants she had to wear in the zillion and one low budget westerns she made early in her career. Apparently they were so tight that she was unable to get up on a horse and had to have a second identical but looser pair made for riding. Westerns notwithstanding, she’ll always be the Creature’s girlfriend to me.

Next, Edge of the City.

This movie really delivered on the vintage New York street scenes, shot on location in Harlem and along the waterfront. It probably falls more on the social commentary side of the fence, but still retains plenty of noirish flavor.

Troubled drifter Axel (Cassavetes) gets a job on the docks and is befriended by a fellow worker, the gregarious T.T. (Poitier.) But Axel has a dark secret that allows him to be taken advantage of by a racist bully (memorably played by Jack Warden) until the tense, simmering violence under the surface finally boils over into a spectacular cargo hook fight (!) to the death.

This is a story about a deep friendship between two men, possibly even too deep for the time, since there were apparently complaints from censors about the overt homosexual overtones of one scene in particular. Amazingly the director didn’t cave and the movie remains as originally intended.

It’s a little heavy on the 50s psychobabble but still well worth tracking down. Both Poitier and Cassvetes are at the top of their game in this one. And did I mention the cargo hook fight? Cargo hook fight! Seriously, go watch this now.

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