Street of No Return (1989)

streetofnoreturn_8Starring Keith Carradine, Valentina Vargas, Bill Duke, Andréa Ferréol, Bernard Fresson, Marc de Jonge, Rebecca Potok, Jacques Martial, Sérgio Godinho, António Rosário, Dominique Hulin, Gordon Heath, Joe Abdo

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Low.


Street of No Return is Sam Fuller’s final theatrical film, but unfortunately, in terms of quality, it’s closer to Thieves After Dark than his previous work. But where Thieves After Dark is just plain bad, there are shreds of potential throughout Street of No Return. The story itself isn’t half bad, but what sinks the film from being the exciting, pulpy revenge story that it’s trying to be is that it’s edited like an arthouse film. In A Third Face, Sam Fuller relates that after he turned in the finished film to his producer, Jacques Bral, Bral then spent the next year completely re-editing the film however he saw fit. Who’s to say how Fuller’s cut would’ve differed, but in its released state it’s fair to say that Street of No Return is something of a shambles. Perhaps this has something to do with there being 13 credited people for editing, along with Sam Fuller as “Editing Supervisor.” Sheesh!

I don’t mind a film that obscures its story, allowing it to slowly unfold over the course of the film, but for a film like this with such a straightforward story it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The film opens with an incredibly striking shot of a man getting struck in the face with a hammer, the first hit in a massive race riot on the city streets. Across the way, a wild-haired homeless drunk (Keith Carradine) stares at the liquor store on the other side of the riot. His desire for hooch is strong, but he’s not stupid. He waits until everyone’s cleared out.

streetofnoreturn_1While desperately trying to reach the only unbroken bottle of whiskey on a top shelf, the man spots a red-haired woman that he recognizes from his pre-bum life. He silently follows her back to her home, and then catches a glimpse of a dark-haired woman that triggers a nearly 30-minute flashback sequence that (sort of) informs us of who these people are and how they came to be where they are (sort of). I say “sort of” because the film is never very direct (which is ironic in a Fuller film), but it does get its general point across. Slowly, and not very well, but I guess it could’ve been worse. At least there is a story in this one!

Due to the issues with the editing, and the general feeling of potential hanging around the fringes of the story, Street of No Return feels a lot like Shark!. Clearly for Sam Fuller fans, this isn’t the kind of thing you want to hear, but it’s the truth. I don’t think editing would solve all the problems, as there are inherent issues related to the lack of an adequate budget, but I do think that a lot of the film’s arthouse style could be pulped up to match the story and it would result in a much more entertaining and Fuller-esque picture. Here is yet another instance where I wish I could get ahold of Fuller’s original script to uncover what his true intentions for the film were.

streetofnoreturn_6Through all the editing haze, the good news is that Street of No Return has a lot more vitality than Thieves After Dark did. Neither film contains anything close to the raw power exhibited in White Dog, but Street of No Return gets a lot closer. The film is filled with nicely composed, cinematic images, something that Thieves After Dark had very little of. The excellent composition here is even more impressive given the fact that the film was made completely on-location in Portugal, with Fuller drawing inspiration and making the most out of what was available to the low-budget production.

Many of the film’s individual scenes are exciting and interesting unto themselves, but they don’t really add up to a movie that draws you in and makes you care. Keith Carradine does the best with what he’s given, but some of the writing feels at odds with his character. I mean, if I were taken in by the police for a murder I didn’t commit, even if I could only talk in a raised whisper, I think I’d try to explain myself instead of just going along with the cops without much of a fight.

Street of No Return is another late-period San Fuller film strictly for the hardcore completionist Sam Fuller fans. All others should spend their time on another street.

6 comments to Street of No Return (1989)

  • Many a film has been laid low by a hack job in the editing room. I take it there’s no director’s cut of this for you to check out?

    • I wish! As far as us laypeople are concerned, no director’s cut exists. I have hopes that somewhere in Sam Fuller’s office there lies a director’s cut of the film, free of all tampering, and that someday it’ll see the light of day, but I’m not holding my breath. Film fans already got one posthumous restoration of Fuller’s director’s vision in the fantastic 2004 version of 1980’s The Big Red One, so I’d be surprised if we were lucky enough to get more.

  • Phil

    I’m a little late, but Congrats on finishing up the Fuller directed films.

    Unfortunately after White Dog it gets frustrating for the last two. I didn’t remember/realize Street of No Return was re-cut altering Fuller’s vision. That’s a shame and yet makes sense why this film feels disjointed similar to Shark! as you said but not quiet as extreme

    • Thanks! Still have a couple of reviews to go, but it does feel good to be done with his theatrical releases. I think I procrastinated finishing the series because I knew that these last few films would be disappointing. I just get so sad for Fuller while watching them, wishing he could have gotten better deals and more respect. At least he was able to make as many movies as he did!

      I actually liked Shark better than this one. It felt more coherent to me, not much more but I was definitely more engaged with it. Street of No Return definitely has better shots, though.

      In other news: Olive has said that Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street will be coming from them sometime 2013/2014 and it will be the longer Fuller-preferred version that was only shown a few times during its limited American release. It was thought lost, but recently rediscovered at his home. They didn’t say if it would also have the TV version.

      • Phil

        Thanks for that excellent news about Olive releasing Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street. I will continue to hold out watching it until that release. Lets hope its more like Fall 2013. Now can we please get Run of the Arrow too?!

        • If it’s 2013, it’ll be Nov or Dec, as they have stuff announced through Oct already. I’m thinking it’ll be 2014 unfortunately, but we’ll see. Run of the Arrow is a Warner title and I’m shocked they haven’t put it out yet. It’s on their Warner Archive streaming service, so maybe it’ll get a DVD release at some point.

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