“Mystery Street” is a 1950 black and white film noir that I decided to write about because it’s one of very few old Hollywood movies shot in the Boston area. The plot is the story of Vivian Heldon, a girl who works at a low-class bar called the Grass Skirt. She’s gotten pregnant by a married man and is trying to get him to pay for her child. She calls up the father Joshua Harkley who lives down on Cape Cod and tells him to meet her at her bar. When he doesn’t show up and leaves his phone off the hook, she convinces a drunk to let her drive him home. But instead, she drives sixty miles to Harkley’s town, Barnstable and calls him to force a showdown. Because the drunk (Henry Shanway) is starting to sober up and complain she abandons him on the side of the road and drives off with his car to the rendezvous with Harkley on a lonely road. Harkley shoots her and dumps her naked body in the ocean and drives the car into a canal.
Three months later Heldon’s skeleton washes up on the beach. The local police Lieutenant Peter Morales, played by the inimitable Ricardo Montalban, goes to the Harvard Medical School’s crack forensic expert, Dr. McAdoo to try and discover whose bones were found and how she died.
Using estimated date of death and a photograph of the skull on a transparency they superimpose it over each photograph of a missing woman from that time period and are able to determine that Vivian Heldon was the probable victim. Also, they find the bones of her unborn child and a broken rib that showed traces of the metal from a bullet and they deduce that Vivian was murdered. Next, they find from the bar patrons that Vivian left the bar with a man driving a specific color and model car. Looking into stolen car records for that date they find Henry Shanway. Once the bar patrons identify Shanway in a police line-up he is arrested for the murder. Also, Shanway’s car is pulled out of the water sealing his fate.
After that there is a whole bunch of interaction between Vivian’s landlady and the murderer culminating in her stealing the murder weapon, a service .45 automatic that she found in his office desk drawer. Meanwhile Dr. McAdoo figures out that based on which rib was hit, it was possible that the bullet was still embedded in the car. Finding the bullet they then try to find the gun to cinch the story. But Shanway doesn’t have a gun. This disturbs Morales who then starts checking the rest of Heldon’s contacts to see if any of them had a gun. Of course, when he checks Harkley’s desk the gun isn’t there. But this alerts Harkley that the landlady has stolen his gun. He goes to her home and chokes her until she agrees to tell him where she hid it, a storage locker at the train depot. But just then the police show up and to keep her quiet Harkley hits the landlady on the head, knocking her out and eventually killing her. Harkley escapes but Morales finds the key to the locker and decides to stake out the depot and find out who tries to get the gun. After a lot of running around a train yard Morales catches Hartley and Shanway is saved from false conviction. Three cheers for forensic medicine and Ricardo Montalban.
This is a solid B movie. The acting is pretty good and the forensic science was state of the art in 1950. But I have to take off points for lack of local authenticity. At one point one of the “locals” pronounces Barnstable as if it sounded like the two words barn and stable. Now admittedly I’m a refugee here in New England with my Brooklyn accent and all, but even I’ve picked up more of the local names than that.
I’ll recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys both old movies and police procedurals.