Jolly Cinema > 21:30


Rouben Mamoulian


Wednesday 28/06/2023


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

An audacious gangster film with breathtaking visual qualities, City Streets has enough innovations within it to match what a dozen other key films from the same period had to offer. As a gangster film, it bears little resemblance to the more famous films of the genre from the early 1930s, even though it was based on one of the very few original stories that hardboiled author Dashiell Hammett wrote for the screen. In his tale, an easy-going playground sharpshooter called The Kid is in love with Nan, the daughter of a bootlegger. Nan’s father has been accused of murder and she refuses to testify against him, serving time in prison in his stead. In her absence, The Kid, who had previously refused to work for racketeers, joins the gang to earn money for Nan’s early release. When Nan is eventually freed, they are driven to find a way out of the life of crime.
Mamoulian’s countless innovations, some striking to this day, others slightly dated, were too avant-garde for the Paramount bosses, who thought they would baffle audiences. Many of these devices soon became part of the standard grammar of filmmaking: disembodied voices overlaid over a close-up of Sylvia Sidney to convey recollections and impressions of things past; violence implied through sound rather than being shown directly; cutting according to conceptual association; mise-en-scène based around the symbolism of objects.
Mamoulian’s blaze of ideas, which create a deliberately staccato pace, are brought stunningly into a coherent whole by Lee Garmes’ cinematography itself a hybrid of different styles from documentary to expressionism – blended luminously in dark, deep shadows. The continuity of space or time is achieved by a style that, contrary to its aim, appears fragmentary. It allows objects and movements with some sort of association (literal, metaphorical) to thread the scenes together through visual metonymy and synecdoche: a head of beer cut to a beer bottle, cut to stream of water, cut  to drops of water. Joined together, they make a visual symphony.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Dashiell Hammett. Scen.: Oliver H.P. Garrett. F.: Lee Garmes. M.: William Shea. Mus.: Sidney Cutner. Int.: Gary Cooper (The Kid), Sylvia Sidney (Nan), Paul Lukas (Big Fella Maskal), Wynne Gibson (Aggie), William Boyd (McCoy), Guy Kibbee (Pop Cooley), Stanley Fields (Blackie), Betty Sinclair (Pansy). Prod.: E. Lloyd Sheldon per Paramount. 35mm. D.: 83’. Bn.