AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Mystery Street
Alternate Title: Murder at Harvard
Director: John Sturges (Dir)
Release Date:   28 Jul 1950
Production Date:   late Oct--mid-Dec 1949
Duration (in mins):   92-94
Duration (in feet):   8,341
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Cast:   Ricardo Montalban (Peter Moralas)  
    Sally Forrest (Grace Shanway)  
    Bruce Bennett (Dr. McAdoo)  
    Elsa Lanchester (Mrs. Smerrling)  
    Marshall Thompson (Henry Shanway)  
    Jan Sterling (Vivian Heldon)  
    Edmon Ryan (James Joshua Harkley)  
    Betsy Blair (Jackie Elcott)  
    Wally Maher (Tim Sharkey)  
    Ralph Dumke (A tattooist)  
    Willard Waterman (A mortician)  
    Walter Burke (An ornithologist)  
    Don Shelton (A district attorney)  
    Bradford Hatton (A bartender)  
    Douglas Carter (Counterman)  
    William Leicester (Doctor)  
    Arthur Loew Jr. (Sailor)  
    Sherry Hall (Clerk)  
    Charles Wagenheim (Clerk)  
    Jim Hayward (Constable Fischer)  
    Eula Guy (Mrs. Fischer)  
    Virginia Mullen (Neighbor)  
    King Donovan (Reporter)  
    Ralph Brooks (Reporter)  
    George Cooper (Reporter)  
    George Sherwood (Reporter)  
    John Crawford (Reporter)  
    Fred E. Sherman (Photographer)  
    Allen O'Locklin (Photographer)  
    Melvin H. Moore (Oyster shucker)  
    Ned Glass (Dr. Levy)  
    Matt Moore (Dr. Rockton)  
    Maurice Samuels (Tailor)  
    John Maxwell (Kilrain)  
    Robert Foulk (O'Hara)  
    Louise Lorimer (Mrs. Shanway)  
    Napoleon Whiting (Red Cap)  
    Jack Shea (Policeman)  
    Robert Strong (Policeman)  
    Mary Jane Smith (Daughter)  
    Juanita Quigley (Daughter)  
    Lucille Curtis (Mrs. Harkley)  
    David McMahon (Garrity)  
    Mike Pat Donovan (Porter)  
    Frank Overton (Guard)  
    Bert Davidson (Dr. Thorpe)  
    May McAvoy (Nurse)  
    Mack Chandler (Doorman)  
    Elsie Baker (Elderly lady)  
    Ralph Montgomery (Waiter)  
    Jimmy Frasher (High school boy)  
    Ernesto Morelli (Portuguese fisherman)  
    George Brand (Man in bedroom)  
    Fred Santley (Pawnbroker)  
    Perry Ivins (Alienist)  
    Peter Thompson (Law student)  

Summary: Vivian Heldon, a "B-girl" at the Grass Skirt café in Boston, lives in a boardinghouse operated by Mrs. Smerrling. Desperate for rent money, Vivian telephones James Joshua Harkley, a married man with whom she had an affair, and demands that he meet her at the Grass Skirt. While waiting for Harkley, Vivian meets Henry Shanway, a drunk and despondent young man whose wife has just lost their baby in childbirth. When Harkley fails to show up, Vivian offers to drive Henry home and steals his car. She then arranges a meeting with Harkley at Lakeman's Hollow, on Cape Cod. When Vivian demands money from Harkley, he shoots her and tries to cover up the murder by sending her car into a pond. Three months later, the skeletal remains of Vivian's body are found on a Cape Cod beach. Police Lieutenant Peter Moralas and his associate, Detective Tim Sharkey, begin an investigation into the murder by visiting the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University. There they meet forensics expert Dr. McAdoo, who determines that the victim was a female in her mid-twenties who died sometime in late May. While searching through photographs of all the missing persons in the area, Peter and Tim discover Vivian's photograph, and realize that her facial features match the contours of the victim's skull. To learn more about Vivian's disappearance, Peter visits Mrs. Smerrling's boardinghouse, where they find items in Vivian's suitcase that clearly establish her as the murder victim. When Mrs. Smerrling learns that Vivian was murdered near Hyannis, she tracks down Harkley through a Hyannis telephone number scrawled on the wall near the hallway telephone. Mrs. Smerrling then visits Harkley and makes an unsuccessful attempt to extort money from him in exchange for her silence. Before leaving, however, Mrs. Smerrling manages to secretly steal Harkley's gun. Meanwhile, Peter visits a number of Vivian's former associates, including a bartender, a mortician and a physician. Peter later visits Henry when it is determined that he owned the car in which Vivian was last seen. Henry denies any association with Vivian, but a tattoo artist friend of Vivian's later identifies Henry as the man who escorted Vivian home from the Grass Skirt on the night she was killed. Peter charges Henry with the strangulation murder of Vivian, but complications arise in the case when McAdoo determines that Vivian died of a gunshot wound. Realizing that his case against Henry can only proceed if the pistol used to kill Vivian is found, Peter begins questioning other people who may have associated with Vivian. A check of the boardinghouse telephone bill leads Peter to Harkley, who denies having known Vivian and watches nervously as Peter searches his office. Later, Harkley visits Mrs. Smerrling, accuses her of stealing his pistol and offers her $500 in exchange for the gun. When Mrs. Smerrling demands $20,000, Harkley forces her to tell him where it is hidden and then knocks her unconscious with a candlestick. Moments later, Peter arrives at the boardinghouse and sees a man fleeing, but he is unable to catch him. A breakthrough in the case comes when Peter finds a train station baggage check receipt hidden in Mrs. Smerrling's bird cage. Peter and Tim race to the train station, and arrive in time to catch Harkley trying to flee with Mrs. Smerrling's suitcase. Harkley is then arrested and charged with Vivian's murder, and Henry is cleared of any wrongdoing. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: John Sturges (Dir)
  Sid Sidman (Asst dir)
Producer: Frank E. Taylor (Prod)
Writer: Sydney Boehm (Scr)
  Richard Brooks (Scr)
  Leonard Spigelgass (Story)
Photography: John Alton A.S.C. (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Gabriel Scognamillo (Art dir)
Film Editor: Ferris Webster (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
  Ralph S. Hurst (Assoc)
Music: Rudolph G. Kopp (Mus)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec supv)
Make Up: Sydney Guilaroff (Hair styles des by)
  Jack Dawn (Makeup created by)
Production Misc: Charles Hunt (Unit prod mgr)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 16/5/1950 dd/mm/yyyy LP111 Yes

PCA NO: 14285
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Drama
  Drama
Sub-Genre: Crime
  Suspense
 
Subjects (Major): Boardinghouse mistresses
  False arrests
  Forensic pathology
  Investigations
  Murder
  Police detectives
 
Subjects (Minor): Automobile theft
  Blackmail
  Boston (MA)
  Cafés
  Cape Cod (MA)
  Chases
  Drunkenness
  Grief
  Harvard University
  Hyannis (MA)
  Jails
  Latino
  Mistresses
  Ornithologists
  Pistols
  Reporters
  Roommates
  Shipbuilders
  Skeletons
  Train stations
  Undertakers and undertaking
  Waitresses

Note:        The working title of this film was Murder at Harvard . The following written acknowledgment appears in the onscreen credits: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wishes to thank the president and fellows of Harvard College for their generous cooperation in the making of this motion picture." The film marked the initial production effort of Frank Taylor, a former literary editor at Random House. An Aug 1949 HR news item announced that Joseph Losey was originally set to direct the film. A 4 Oct 1949 DV news item notes that Harold Kress was to direct the picture. Some filming took place in Boston, MA, and at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, MA. Although an Oct 1949 DV news item notes that Johnny Indrisano was to appear, his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story.
       The end title of this film bears a legend that was common on many M-G-M films of the period: "Made in Hollywood, U.S.A. by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer." However, M-G-M was located in Culver City, CA, not in in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   20 May 1950.   
Daily Variety   4 Oct 49   p. 4.
Daily Variety   19 Oct 49   p. 11.
Daily Variety   4 Nov 49   p. 2.
Daily Variety   17 May 50   p. 3.
Film Daily   1 Jun 50   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Jan 49   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Aug 49   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Oct 49   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Dec 49   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   17 May 50   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   20 May 50   p. 302.
New York Times   28 Jul 50   p. 12.
Variety   17 May 50   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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