review for Mystery Street on AllMovie

Mystery Street (1950)
by Bruce Eder review

John Sturges's Mystery Street may not have been the first movie to delve into forensic pathology, but it was the first Hollywood film to use it as the basis for a crime story set in postwar America. In that sense, it's the not-too-distant forerunner to CSI, CSI: Miami, Cold Case Files, Quincy, M.E., etc., and on that level alone should appeal to modern audiences. But it's also got a topical element that's just as relevant in 2006 as it was in 1950 -- the character of Lt. Morales, as portrayed by Ricardo Montalban, runs into some not-so-subtle prejudice over his accent and the fact that he wasn't necessarily born in the United States; it gets especially vicious when he's dealing with Harkley (Edmon Ryan), an upper-crust potential suspect from Boston's old-money society. And in addition to that element of the plot, there's an entirely separate and equally appealing aspect to the movie in Elsa Lanchester's portrayal of Mrs. Smerrling; a twitchy, neurotic, grasping woman, she's one of the nuttiest roles ever essayed by Lanchester, and she almost steals the movie, as a soft-spoken loony who can't resist thrusting herself into the life (or death) of one of her tenants. Add to that the superb photography by John Alton (including lots of location shooting) and a fine score, plus a brace of excellent supporting performances (especially by Marshall Thompson and Sally Forrest as a couple victimized by circumstance), and the movie is an enduring winner of a thriller -- in 1950 and well into the 21st century.