Mystery Street, The Black Dahlia, Red Manley, The Lady In The Dunes

Written by Joe D on November 25th, 2007

Another gem from The Film Noir Collection, Vol.4, Mystery Street by John Sturges, who also directed Bad Day At Black Rock and The Great Escape. Mystery Street intrigues me for several reasons. First and foremost it’s a good film. Excellent Cinematography by that master of Noir, John Alton. Also great Editing by Ferris Webster,my friend Pablo Ferro knew Ferris and really liked him. He edited a lot of great films. The Great Escape, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot etc., etc.


Crackerjack performances by such greats as Ricardo Montalban and Elsa Lanchester. Killer Boston locations from 1950. A lot of forensic detail since this story involves a skeleton found in the dunes of Cape Cod and a pathologist at the Harvard Medical School helps solve the case. Actually there are a lot of lurid details in this movie. It’s almost like a 50’s tabloid newspaper come to life. Several details reminded me of the Black Dahlia case which took place 3 years before this film came out. A woman’s body is found, through some sleuthing they find the guy she was last seen driving away with. Sure he spent some time with her but he didn’t kill her. He’s recently married and doesn’t want his wife to find out. Just like Red Manley, the first suspect in the Dahlia case. Manley was let off the hook but it eventually destroyed his marriage and he committed suicide.


Red Manley. Dahlia Suspect,Family Man, Suicide Victim Gets Frisked

The newspapermen hounded Manley and his wife and they do the same here with Henry and Grace Shanway. The girl,Vivian Heldon, was a rent-a-date type who was impregnated by a rich, upper crust clown. She tried to shake down the elitist snob James Joshua Harkley, who knocked her up, and she got killed by him instead. A similar scenario to the one proposed by Donald H. Wolfe in his book The Black Dahlia Files. He claimed Betty was snuffed by Bugsy Siegal because a rich Norman Chandler had gotten Betty pregnant and she wouldn’t have an abortion. So watching this movie is kind of like looking back in time at a similar murder investigation, much more interesting than watching Brian De Palma’s film.


Vivian Heldon, Pregnant Murder Victim, I told you this Film Was Lurid

Ricardo Montalban is excellent and it’s really cool to see a Latino lead in a movie from that time. Especially since he’s not playing Zorro or a Mexican Spitfire or some other stereotype. Montalban is a detective, hard nosed, dedicated, an asshole at times as he digs for the truth. He’s even convinced the wrong guy did it, an accurate portrayal, cops think everybody’s guilty. I guess that comes from spending so much time with criminals. The fact that the woman was murdered on Cape Cod and her remains discovered in the dunes reminded me of another real life case. The Lady in The Dunes, a famous unsolved case from 1974. An unknown woman’s body was discovered, her head was smashed in and almost severed. They couldn’t ID her from fingerprints because her hands had been chopped off and were never found.


Reconstructed Face of The Lady In The Dunes
The psycho that did this was never found. He or She could still be around today, it’s highly unlikely that whoever did the Dahlia is still kicking. I guess it’s possible but they’d have to be around 80 or 90. If you’d like more info on The Lady In The Dunes click the link below.

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jan
    Curtice Taylor

    Tanks so much for all this info on Mystery Street which my father Frank Taylor produced. It is indeed a little gem and very surprising that it got Oscar nod for screenplay which was unusual for a ” B ” film of the time

  2. May

    The man in your photo isn’t Red Manley but another BD suspect named Leslie Dillon.

  3. Jun
    Joe D

    Thanks for the correction Dan, I’ll fix it.

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