Amnesia noir is one of my favorite subgenres, and as far as I can determine, Street of Chance (October 1942) was the second American amnesia film noir released just months behind Crossroads (July 1942). I believe Street of Chance contains more noir elements than Crossroads, not the least of which is Street’s source material, the Cornell Woolrich novel The Black Curtain (1941).
As he is walking down a New York City street, minding his own business, Frank Thompson (Burgess Meredith) is hit by a piece of falling debris from a construction site. As a result he doesn’t know who he is, how he got there, or why he’s carrying a cigarette case bearing the initials D.N.
But Frank remembers where he lives. When he encounters people from the neighborhood, some of them ask where he’s been keeping himself for the past year. Frank swears he was just there the day before. Even Frank’s wife Virginia (Louise Platt) is surprised to see him.
He’s still a little loopy, trying to fit all the pieces together, but when he sees a man (Sheldon Leonard) he assumes to be a thug following him, Frank realizes he’s in danger.
Okay, things could be worse, I guess…
But things get a little clearer - and worse - when Frank meets a woman named Ruth (Claire Trevor) who knows him as “Danny,” a man wanted for murder.
Street of Chance is an nifty amnesia noir that’s both contrived and fun, featuring some good performances, nice twists, and effective cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl who also shot Among the Living (1941), The Glass Key (1942), and one of my favorite comedies from the 1940s, Murder, He Says (1945). In fact you could probably trace several visual amnesia tropes back to this film, largely due to Sparkuhl’s excellent work.
It’s too bad director Jack Hively isn’t nearly as imaginative as Sparkuhl. Meredith makes a nice “lost and helpless” noir protagonist, but he and the rest of the cast can’t carry the film.
Hively’s handling of Meredith’s fine performance is static and lifeless, rarely taking the opportunity to visually reflect Frank’s confusion and instability. The lack of noir atmosphere, especially when shooting interiors, creates little tension.
And the rest of the cast is quite good. I’m always glad to see Claire Trevor in any film. Sheldon Leonard is Sheldon Leonard… or is he?
Street of Chance is far from the worst entry in the Dark Side of Cinema series. If nothing else, it is clearly film noir, whereas some of the titles in the series have questionable noir status at best. If you own the Kino Lorber Dark Side of Cinema Vol. VIII set, you already have this one. The film also played on the Noir City festival circuit last year. Although the disc contains a few areas that have been well-worn, the 2K restoration mostly looks good.
Bottom line: Enjoyable.