Routine. Mediocre. Lackluster. Those are just some of the words that come to mind when describing 13 WEST STREET (1962). This low budget, B movie starred Alan Ladd in his last leading film role. He died at age 50 in 1964. His production company, Ladd Enterprises, produced this film so Ladd had no to blame but himself for the film's failure.
The premise is a good one. Aerospace engineer Walt Sherill (Ladd), is attacked by a group of young thugs one night. But they're not your ordinary gang of toughs. These boys are all clean cut and well dressed, rich kids out for kicks and violent thrills.
Sherill and his wife Tracey (Dolores Dorn), co-operate with police detective Sergeant Koleski (Rod Steiger) but the investigation proceeds at a snail's pace while the punks continue to terrorize and harass the Sherills. Walt hires a private detective, Finney (Stanley Adams) to keep tabs on the gang and in the last act, Sherill decides to take justice into his own hands by attacking the gang leader, Chuck (Michael Callan).
Although the film pre-figures other average-guys-turned-vigilante-killers films such as STRAW DOGS (1971) and DEATH WISH (1974), 13 WEST STREET never really achieves any real level of tension or suspense. Director Philip Leacock, who had a long career in episodic television, shows little imagination in his storytelling. Everything is shot in a flat cinematic style in a series of not-quite-convincing studio sets. It looks and feels like a stand-alone episode of an early '60s anthology television series than it does a feature film.
Ladd has one expression throughout the entire film: he looks severely constipated. Rod Steiger, while not as over-the-top as he could sometimes be, nonetheless steals every scene with some little bit of business either with his hands, his voice or his eyes. He's this close to mugging. The actors playing the thugs, especially Callan, are far too old to be convincing as high school students. But bonus points for the blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance of veteran character actor Olan Soule as a fellow engineer and a small scene with Ted Knight as a high school principal.
What's most interesting about 13 WEST STREET is that the screenplay was adapted from the novel THE TIGER AMONG US by science fiction author and screenwriter Leigh Brackett. Brackett worked on THE BIG SLEEP (1946), RIO BRAVO (1959), EL DORADO (1967) and others, with her final screenwriting credit on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). They should have kept her original title because THE TIGER AMONG US is certainly more evocative than the tepid 13 WEST STREET.
13 WEST STREET was pitched as a hard hitting adult drama. Maybe for it's day it was strong stuff but it has not held up well over the years. It's a dull, lifeless film that, with very little effort, could have been turned into something better.