Stakeout on Dope Street (1958) DVD Review: Kershner. Corman. Coleman. Oh, My!

Best known by today’s various subcultures for bringing us that which is often cited as the best Star Wars film of the entire expanding film universe (The Empire Strikes Back, in case you missed that one), the late Irvin Kershner started out directing episodes of another nature ‒ television shows completely forgotten by history ‒ before landing his first big screen gig with Stakeout on Dope Street. No doubt inspired by another television series (and one which has withstood the test of time), Dragnet, this late ’50s crime drama from an uncredited Roger Corman centers on three teenaged boys who wind up in a heap of trouble.

After a gritty opening, in which several police detectives are gunned down while confiscating a substantial stash of pure, uncut heroin, a trio of otherwise good boys (Yale Wexler, Steven Marlo, and Corman regular Jonathan Haze), wind up in possession of the horse. Smelling easy money, the dimwitted lads foolishly decided to consult a local junkie as to how they can go about cutting and selling the junk ‒ only to discover there are parties interested in the powdered misery other than the police. Boasting that unmistakable Corman touch to it, Kershner’s debut as director was also his one and only (credited) work as a screenwriter, sharing credit for the film’s story with Andrew J. Fenady, who also served as the film’s (credited) producer.

Stakeout on Dope Street also boasts impressive early efforts from the late Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler (older brother of our lead actor, and who hides behind a pseudonym); composer Richard Markowitz, and future television starlet Abby Dalton (when she was still a part of Corman’s entourage). The most shocking name of all, however, was seeing Coleman Francis listed in the cast: Francis directed three movies in his life (with producer Anthony Cardoza, of Smokey and the Hotwire Gang infamy), which were all just special enough to be broadcast on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (there’s even a small part by one of Francis’ Red Zone Cuba‘s co-stars, Harold Saunders, to keep a disbelieving eye out for).

If you’re a lover of B-grade cinematic outings as well as “real” movies, this one movie alone should enable you to win a few rounds of Six Degrees of Separation. Preserved for future generations of intrigued moviegoers, Stakeout on Dope Street makes its official home video debut from the Warner Archive Collection in a lovely matted 1.78:1 widescreen print, which shows off Haskell Wexler’s as-yet-undiscovered talent all the more. No special features are found here, but when you stop to realize this is your one and only chance to see a movie connecting Roger Corman, Irvin Kershner, Coleman Francis, you simply don’t look a B movie gift horse such as this in the mouth. Recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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