Oh Pre-Code films how I love you. Before most of the famous actresses of the 1930s turned into the sweet loving housewife and mother or the sweet girlfriend they were tough broads in Pre-Code films earlier in the decade. Even the men who would later become the hero and the guy you would take home to your mother were once gangsters or the anti-hero. But as with films after the Code was enforced, the anti-hero guy and girl reform and kind of save the day. At least that is what I got out of City Streets.
Nan Cooley (Sylvia Sidney) is the daughter of Pop Cooley (Guy Kibee) a beer racketeer. Despite being the daughter of a gangster, used to all the luxuries his dirty money can bring her, Nan sees a sweet guy called The Kid (Gary Cooper). Kid works at a shooting game at a park near the beach. While on sitting on the beach, Nan tells Kid, again, that he work for her father and earn decent money instead of working at the game. Kid will not hear of it he does not want to be a racketeer or work for one.
Pop kills a guy named Blackie in an alley. Nan was standing in a doorway near the alley waiting for Pop to come and hand her the gun to throw in the river. She walks calmly away from the scene with her hand and the gun in a sling making it look like she has a broken arm. A police officer catches up to her. He noticed she was near the crime scene and asks what she saw. Nan tries to throw off the officer by saying she saw someone run away from the scene in the opposite direction. Nan and the officer go their separate ways but the officer back tracks and walks after Nan. Nan is brought to the police station. The officers and detectives know that she is not the killer. One detective tells her that if she does not talk she will be put in jail as an accessory. Pop comes in and one of the detectives is excited that he may finally be able to bring Pop to justice. The detective, and even Nan, are surprised that he just hands her over without remorse. Nan is put in jail for being an accessory.
Pop goes to Kid and tells him about Nan. He lies to Kid by saying the cops were the ones who set Nan up with the gun. Pop also likes to Kid that if he helps they can get Nan out of jail sooner. He cons Kid into working for him. Kid goes to visit Nan in jail. She does not know that her boyfriend is now working for her father until he tells her himself. Kid thought it would make her happy that he was now working for her father that was what she had wanted. Her time in jail has given her time to think about how crooked her father is and how horrible he was to her.
Sometime later, Kid comes to pick Nan up from jail. He takes Nan home. She is not happy to see her father at all. Pop throws Nan a party. She does not want to go she tells Kid she wants to run away with him. Nan goes to the party anyway. There she is made to dance with another racketeer called Big Fellow. Big Fellow is very taken with Nan he wants to give her anything she wants. Kid gets jealous and steps in leaving Big Fellow sore. When Kid takes Nan home some guys come looking for him. They are Big Fellow’s guys and they were sent to kill him. Kid manages to disarm the guys waiting for him in the car and has them drive away. Kid has to strike back. Nan begs him not to go she fears he will certainly be killed.
In order to save Kid from getting killed Nan goes to see Big Fellow. She knows he likes her and plays to his lust. Neither one knows Big Fellow’s girlfriend Aggie is outside the door listening to their conversation. She hears Big Fellow tells one of his men to not do anything to Kid and that she (Aggie) does not matter anymore. Aggie opens the door and shoots Big Fellow. She drops the gun and slams the door and bangs on it as if she was concerned for her boyfriend. Some men along with Aggie get into the room. Aggie quickly blames Nan for the shooting. Kid comes to the house. He knows Nan did not kill Big Fellow.
Kid manages to get a few of the guys in the room into his car. He drives like a maniac around cliffs to a remote place. He has the men get out and walk back so they can think about how Nan is not their bosses killer.
I had hoped City Streets would have been better than it was. The story was a bit boring and the ending was very lackluster. There were elements that made it a Pre-Code like Pop Cooley never being brought to justice and Aggie getting away with murdering Big Fellow. Unfortunately it was not one of the better Pre-Codes I have seen. It was interesting, however, to see Gary Cooper play somewhat of a racketeer who did some shady things. I would have liked to have seen more of Sylvia Sidney being a part of her father’s business. City Streets was not terrible. I feel like there was a lot of potential with the story that was not explored such as Kid really being a part of the racketeer business and Nan’s part in her father’s crimes. City Streets is worth seeing at least once.