Terror Street (1953) is one of many film noir thrillers made in England during the 1950s that imported Hollywood talent for leading roles. This one stars Dan Duryea, a great character actor whose wiry frame, off-balanced grin, nasally voice, and permanently sweaty hair made him the consummate “bad guy” in movies like Scarlet Street, Criss Cross, Too Late for Tears, and One Way Street. Even in westerns like Silver Lode and Winchester ’73 he was the bad guy. And in a western comedy like Along Came Jones—yup, the bad guy. Occasionally he got to play the good guy in a leading role—Black Angel and The Underworld Story are two examples. But whether good or bad, Duryea had an unmistakable and totally unique charisma. His was an effortless and totally convincing hardboiled attitude. Sarcasm and cynicism dripped off his every word. Unlike Robert Ryan, who was always boiling with intensity, Duryea was always cool, calm, and collected, which made him all the more threatening. Even when he played the good guy, he exuded a resolute composure that meant one thing: this guy means business.
Terror Street—or 36 Hours as it was called in England—was one of those movies that gave Duryea the opportunity to play the hero. Here he’s a US air force pilot who sneaks abroad a plane and goes AWOL to visit his wife in London. When he arrives, he waits in her apartment for her to come home. As soon as she walks in the door, however, someone strikes him on the back of the head and he blacks out. Waking up, he finds his wife dead and the gun in his hands. Now wanted for murder, Duryea must elude the police while piecing together his wife’s mysterious secret life in London that involves customs officers, smugglers, and blackmail.
The plot might seem routine, but in the hands of veteran pulpster and mystery novelist Steve Fisher (I Wake Up Screaming), the script becomes a well-oiled, fast-moving and expertly timed thriller. The small ensemble cast is excellent, but it is really Duryea’s performance that carries the movie. It’s nice to see him taking a turn as the wrong man (as opposed to the man who does wrong). But regardless of what side of the law he was on, Duryea was just a natural for crime movies.