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City Across the River is a 1949 American film noir crime film directed by Maxwell Shane and starring Stephen McNally, Thelma Ritter, Sue England, Barbara Whiting, Luis Van Rooten and Jeff Corey. The screenplay is based on the novel The Amboy Dukes by Irving Shulman.[2]

City Across the River
City across the river poster small.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMaxwell Shane
Produced byMaxwell Shane
Screenplay byMaxwell Shane
Dennis J. Cooper
Based onthe novel The Amboy Dukes
by Irving Shulman
StarringStephen McNally
Thelma Ritter
Sue England
Luis Van Rooten
Jeff Corey
Music byWalter Scharf
CinematographyMaury Gertsman
Edited byTed J. Kent
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • April 7, 1949 (1949-04-07) (New York City)
  • July 4, 1949 (1949-07-04) (United States)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.5 million[1]

The film is notable as the credited screen debut of Tony Curtis (billed onscreen as "Anthony Curtis").


Two members of a tough Brooklyn street gang accidentally kill one of their teachers.

Frank Cusack is a leading member of the Amboy Dukes teenage gang based in a slum-ridden area of Brooklyn. His activities with the gang ultimately lead from vandalism and hooliganism to complicity in the murder of a school teacher. His hopes—and those of his parents—for an escape from the bleakness of slum life are dashed by his willingness to accept the gang code of not informing to the police.


The film lacks big stars and consists mainly of unrecognizable actors, possibly making it more convincing. Most importantly, the film emphasizes the terrible consequences of the son's thoughtless actions for his parents and sister.

The parents, especially the mother (Thelma Ritter), are shown as decent, thoughtful working-class people devoting their efforts to provide their children with an education that will enable both siblings to rise out of the tenements. It is a tragic irony that these efforts mean their supervision and guidance of Frank is neglected.

Although the film does suggest that lack of parental supervision is a reason for juvenile delinquency, it squarely pins the blame on living conditions as the chief cause: squalid and unhygienic surroundings, run-down tenements, cramped living space, overcrowding. The moods of frustration and hopelessness created by such an environment, the movie insists, are the reasons behind juvenile delinquency. City Across the River highlights the parents' efforts to obtain a good education for their children as a way of uplifting the next generation from a sordid and dangerous environment.



Critical responseEdit

Thomas M. Pryor, film critic for the New York Times, gave the film a positive review: "Despite its limited view, City Across the River is nevertheless an honest and tempered reflection of life. It is rich in character delineation, especially in minor roles, and there is a coarse, natural tang to much of the writing by Director-Producer Maxwell Shane and his co-scenarist, Dennis Cooper. Most of the players are comparatively unfamiliar, with the exception of Stephen McNally, who plays the role of a community center director in the neighborhood, and this gives the film an added degree of realism."[3]

Variety magazine praised the film: "Out of Irving Shulman’s grim novel, The Amboy Dukes, Maxwell Shane has whipped together a hardhitting and honest film on juvenile delinquency ... The plot threads are smoothly woven into the social fabric ... The performances by all members of the cast are marked by Shane's accent on naturalness."[4]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz questioned the honesty of the screenplay: "This is a much softened version of Irving Schulman's The Amboy Dukes, a book about a rough gang of teenagers in the postwar [sic] period of Brooklyn ... This is a tired and clichéd film with its main selling point all the good location shots of the city. Tony Curtis made his film debut, taking a small part as one of the Amboy Dukes. All the gang members are stock characters and the predictable story sheds little insight about juvenile delinquency, offering only an outsider's look into the grimness of street life ... This film missed what teenage life was like in the city slums by a country mile and instead threw together a cliché-ridden story. The book was a popular hard-hitting novel. This film lost everything about the novel that was essential, and the robotic acting didn't help."[5]


  1. ^ "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59.
  2. ^ City Across the River at the American Film Institute Catalog  .
  3. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. The New York Times, film review, April 8, 1949. Accessed: July 31, 2013.
  4. ^ Variety. Staff film review, 1949. Accessed: July 31, 2013.
  5. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, July 8, 2000. Accessed: July 31, 2013.

External linksEdit