Cast & Crew
Late one night in Los Angeles, Sgt. Fred Matthews and Officer Lynn Donahue of the Sheriff's Narcotics Detail arrest pusher Jerome Lake, who is carrying two pounds of uncut heroin. Before they can take him in, however, they are ambushed by gangsters Mitch Swadurski and Lenny Potter, who kill Matthews and wound Donahue, then shoot and kill Lake after he tosses the briefcase containing the heroin into the underbrush. Unable to recover the drugs before other police cars arrive, the criminals retreat, and the next day, the case is found by eighteen-year-old Julian "Ves" Vespucci as he delivers groceries from his father's store. Ves takes the case to the back room of his father's store, where he and his pals, would-be artist Jim Bowers and bodybuilder Nick Raymond, hang out. Because the case contains samples of women's cosmetics, and the canister containing the heroin is labeled face powder, the young men assume that the powder is worthless and throw the can away, although Jim keeps some of the cosmetics for his girl friend Kathy. The boys pawn the briefcase at the shop owned by Samuel Alber, and the next day, Jim takes the samples to Kathy and proposes to her. Kathy demurs, telling him that she wants things to be "nice" when she gets married and is afraid that he will be unable to support them. Jim then sees a newspaper headline about the missing narcotics and rushes to tell Nick and Ves. Ves had already tossed the cannister in a dumpster, which has since been picked up by a garbage truck, and so the young men race to the city dump. After a frantic search, they find the cannister and return to the store, where they debate the ethics of trying to sell the heroin. Although Jim is nervous, Nick convinces him and Ves that the potential profits are worth "talking to someone" about, and takes them to meet Danny, a heroin addict. Meanwhile, unknown to the boys, both the police and the mob are searching for the drugs, using every contact they have in the underworld and on the streets. Danny is thrilled by the small "test" packet of heroin brought to him by the boys and agrees to sell it for them, especially when they tell him that they can supply him with as much as he can sell. The police grow increasingly frustrated by the lack of information on the street, and officer Stan speculates with Capt. Richard R. Allen that a new mob is attempting to move in and might have the drugs. Meanwhile, the three friends are awed by the money that Danny gets for the heroin, and while Nick and Ves spend the next day window shopping, Jim buys a bracelet for Kathy. When he gives it to her, however, and explains where he got the money, Jim is surprised by Kathy's vehement rejection of the bracelet. She upbraids him for profiting from other people's weakness, although he protests that he is not forcing anyone to take the drugs. Insisting that she does not want to begin their life together with dishonesty, Kathy storms away. Jim then goes to Danny's to make a delivery and asks him what taking heroin is like. Danny relates that he first sampled the drug "for fun" with his friends but then quickly got addicted. In harrowing detail, Danny describes having kicked the drug "cold turkey" after being arrested, then relates that he has gone through withdrawal three times because he keeps succumbing to his addiction. Deeply moved by Danny's story, Jim grows even more reluctant to continue selling the heroin. Meanwhile, the police obtain their first break when Alber contacts them about the briefcase he bought from the boys. Although Alber did not record the young men's names, he recalls that one was named Nick and worked in a garage. While the police are following the lead, Lenny and Mitch learn from a local pusher that Danny has been selling small but steady amounts of heroin. At the store, Jim is confronting Ves and Nick, telling them that he wants out of their scheme completely, even though they offer to keep giving him his share of the proceeds. Jim wants to give the drugs to the police but acquiesces when his friends protest. After the boys leave for the local bowling alley, Danny is brutally questioned by Lenny and Mitch at his shack. Later that night, Nick leaves the bowling alley to collect the day's earnings from Danny, and he, too, is beaten by the gangsters. When Nick's date becomes impatient, Ves goes to Danny's and is also captured by Mitch and Lenny, who force him to call Jim. Although Ves begs Jim to bring the rest of the drugs to Danny's, Jim insists that he is going to turn them over to the police. Mitch and Lenny then take Ves to the store, arriving just after Jim has retrieved the canister. Ves shouts a warning to Jim to run, and the gangsters pursue him. As Ves then telephones the police, Jim climbs a tower in a power plant. When Lenny cannot reach Jim from one angle, Mitch begins to climb after Jim, but the young man pours the heroin onto Mitch's upturned face. The police soon arrive and capture Lenny, then shoot Mitch, who falls to his death. After Jim climbs down, he is told by Ves that Nick is in the hospital. The two young men are then arrested and led off to face the consequences of their greed.
A. J. Fenady
Andrew J. Fenady
Andrew J. Fenady
Lt. Bud Fontaine
Sgt. Edward Vega
Stakeout on Dope Street
It's time to correct fifty years of bad information. Stakeout on Dope Street (1958) is not a film by Roger Corman, who was not its executive producer and who did not give first-time feature director Irvin Kershner his big break. The project originated with Kershner and his producer/scenarist Andrew J. Fenady. From 1953 on, both were drawing paychecks from the KTTV series Confidential File, which ran on Channel 11 in Los Angeles until 1958. Hosted by dour Los Angeles Mirror columnist Paul Coates, the news magazine was the Hard Copy of its day and split its 30-minute format between documentary footage and related interviews. Conceived by Coates as a vehicle for racket busting, the program widened its scope to encompass the seedier side of the Hollywood dream. One installment took cameras onto San Quentin's Death Row while another delved into the world of illegal gambling and still another followed a junkie's progress through his agonized withdrawal from heroin. Kershner and Fenady decided to expand upon the latter in the form of a feature film. Unable to raise sufficient capital to start, the team tapped Roger Corman to invest. Corman threw $10,000 into the kitty, roughly half the folding cash that made up Stakeout on Dope Street's budget. (Donated processing fees brought the final nut up to $30,000.) Though his name appeared nowhere in the credits, Corman's investment repaid him handsomely when the finished film was sold to Warner Brothers for $250,000.
Born in Philadelphia in 1923, Irvin Kershner was a musical prodigy who later studied painting with the German abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman. Discouraged by his lack of achievement in fine art, Kershner came west to study photography and find work as a cinematographer. Stonewalled by nepotism, Kershner turned instead to directing. Documentaries he shot for the US Information Service won him a fan in Haskell Wexler, another Hollywood hopeful who had lucked into an apprenticeship with master cinematographer James Wong Howe. The Chicago-born Wexler also had a background in documentaries and filmed what is believed to be the first helicopter shot for Joshua Logan's Picnic (1955). Wanting to work on the non-union Stakeout on Dope Street but fearful of industry reprisals, Wexler took the pseudonymous credit "Mark Jeffrey," from the names of his sons. Wexler's kid brother Yale also got into the act, cast as one of the three male leads. Yale Wexler had just played a prominent supporting role in the military drama Time Limit (1957), the only film directed by Karl Malden. Based on the strength of their work in the Hawaii-set crime caper Naked Paradise (1957), Roger Corman troupers Dick Miller and Jonathon Haze were drafted to play Wexler's buddies but dissatisfaction with Fenady's script drove Miller away. As a replacement, Kershner brought in a friend of Yale Wexler's, Moe Miller. With a name change to Steven Marlo, the ruggedly handsome actor worked frequently with Andrew Fenady as a producer; under pounds of deforming latex, he was the mute hunchback Karkov in Terror in the Wax Museum (1973), directed by Fenady's brother Georg.
Cloaked in noirish shadows and played out in a series of narrow alleys, back rooms and drab public spaces with a score heavy on jazz brass, Stakeout on Dope Street is every inch an urban drama the only thing missing is the requisite bongo-beat switchblade melee. Yet the script could easily have been a retooled western scenario, with three cowboys stumbling across stolen money rather than a teen trio who dumb-lucks into two lbs. of uncut heroin. One senses the shadow of John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) as the friends fall out over their precious find and of Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946) as two syndicate thugs close in on their lost asset. The documentary format betrays a debt also to Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948) and to Night and the City (1950) as the hunted Carl scrambles for sanctuary through a labyrinth of locked doors.
The use of various down-at-heel Los Angeles locations (including Chavez Ravine, bulldozed a year later to make room for Dodger Stadium) gives the film a vitality beyond the scope of its limited budget. The dialogue strains for street cred ("Some kid starts out with a joy pop, looking for new kicks, and he greases the skids to the morgue") and the film is overall uneven but Stakeout on Dope Street's asides and longueurs are more entertaining than its A-plot. Near the hour mark, the documentary format yields to an expressionist eight minute monologue by Allen Kramer (as the junkie helping the boys unload the dope), who relates the horrors of drug addiction and withdrawal. It's fun seeing future Hollywood Squares box holder Abby Dalton (as Wexler's goody-goody girlfriend) and Herschel Bernardi (as an underworld boss in an ill-fitting suit) in smaller supporting roles.
Producer: Andrew J. Fenady, Roger Corman
Director: Irvin Kershner
Screenplay: Andrew J. Fenady, Irvin Kershner, Tom McGrath, Irwin Schwartz
Cinematography: Mark Jeffrey, Haskell Wexler
Film Editing: Melvin Sloan
Art Direction: James R. Connell, Gene Petersen
Music: Richard Markowitz
Cast: Yale Wexler (Jim), Jonathan Haze (Ves), Steven Marlo (Nick), Abby Dalton (Kathy), Allen Kramer (Danny), Herman Rudin (Mitch).
by Richard Harland Smith
Irvin Kershner interview, Shock Cinema No. 24
Jonathon Haze interview, Psychotronic Video No. 27
A. J. Fenady interview by Kenneth Plume, IGN Film Force Unsung Heroes of the Horrors: Jonathon Haze by Barry Brown
Stakeout on Dope Street
The working title of this film was "H" for Heroin. The opening and ending cast credits differ very slightly in order. In the opening cast credits, actor Jonathan Haze's first name is spelled "Jonathon," while in the ending credits, his name is misspelled "Johnathon." The sequence in which the police capture and then lose the briefcase containing the heroin occurs before the opening credits. The sequence of "Danny" describing his "cold turkey" withdrawal experiences to "Jim Bowers" is shown as a flashback, with Danny narrating the footage. Voice-over narration by producer-writer-actor Andrew J. Fenady, as his character "Stan," is heard intermittently throughout the film, which is presented in a documentary-like fashion. Fenady is billed as "A. J. Fenady" in the cast credits.
According to information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the picture was made in cooperation with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, and two members of the Sheriff's Narcotics Detail served as technical advisors on the picture. IStakeout on Dope Street marked Fenady's first feature film as a writer and producer. As noted in the Daily Variety review, the picture "was produced as an independent, speculative venture and then sold to Warner Bros. in its completed form." The picture marked the first feature film of noted cinematographer Haskell Wexler, the brother of actor Yale Wexler.
After making Stakeout on Dope Street, actor Morris Miller changed his name to Steven Marlo. Reviews of the picture, which were mostly positive, praised the filmmakers' use of actual locations in Los Angeles for the majority of the shooting, which added to the documentary feel of the film. The Hollywood Reporter critic asserted that the location shooting gave the picture "the feeling of unstaged reality usually seen only in European pictures."
Released in United States Spring May 1958
Feature directorial debut for Irvin Kershner who went on to direct "The Empire Strikes Back."
Released in United States Spring May 1958