When The Hitting Stopped
"99 River Street", a 1953 film noir, tells the story of a frustrated, failed heavyweight boxing contender who still needs to hit. Ernie Driscoll (John Payne) was a punch away from the heavyweight championship. But after an eye injury, he was forced to leave the ring, to hold to his memories while driving a cab, and to contend with his sexy, shrewish wife Pauline (Peggy Castle) who expected something better and who is cuckolding Ernie with a violent jewelry thief. Ernie is drawn into the underworld of crime and murder not through boxing but through the death of his unfaithful wife at the hands of her double-crossing lover. With the help of his friend, an aspiring Broadway actress, Linda James (Evelyn Keyes) who has herself used Ernie to advance her career, Ernie is able to redeem himself and escape the bad guys at last. He is able to stop hitting and settle in to a modest, loving life with Linda as they own and operate a gas station.
"99 River Street" is a wonderfully gritty, brutal film with classically noir settings of boxing and cab driving on New York streets. It features tough hoodlums, including a sinister fence named Christopher (Jay Adler) who fronts as a pet store owner in Greenwich Village, the cuckolding jewel thief Victor Rawlins (Brad Dexter), and a violent glinty hit man who works for Christopher, Mickey (Jack Lambert). The film also offers sympathetic portrayals of Ernie's friends from cabbing and of his former boxing manager who still cares about him. The two women in the film radiate sexuality and show its indisputable power over men. Pauline the femme fatale is unsympathetic but sexually irresistible as the demanding wife while the budding actress Linda uses her wiles but also brings Ernie love at the end.
Phil Carlson directed this low-budget B film and Edward Small produced it. Franz Planer did the highly effective black and white noir cinematography. Although the film received poor reviews upon release, it has come to be highly regarded by lovers of noir film with perceptive analyses by Eddie Muller, the "Czar of Noir" and several others that are readily accessible online. This tough noir film shows the value of moving on with one's life and not being trapped in the past.