“13 West Street” is an example of the juvenile delinquency movie of the later 50’s and early 60’s, which purports to caution against the roving teen and his natural inclination to violent antisocial behavior, while thoroughly frustrating the available arms of law enforcement, adult authority and, in this case, the hapless victims of such mayhem. With such homegrown menace terrorizing the suburbs of Everytown U.S.A. was it any wonder that the threat of something slightly more sophisticated as Soviet missiles pointed at your neighborhood Dairy Queen might generate a slightly elevated sense of paranoia? Further still, films like “13 West Street” proffer the anxiety generating threat of dangerous youthful hoods not emanating from areas of poverty and presumed social corruption (the wife of a victim is explicitly surprised to find that the gang fails to come from “black leather jackets, Levis, the slums…you know, the underprivileged”) and instead from “nice homes.” However, more importantly, though a minor feature of second-tier status, “13 West Street” (based on the novel The Tiger Among Us by Leigh Brackett) actually moves beyond the seduction of easy criminality on unlikely teens alone by demonstrating the possible corruptive influence of unjust victimization upon an average citizen, thus anticipating by a decade the more literal wave of films advancing the attraction of vigilantism as a curative against what are perceived as weaknesses in American justice.
The film rather unflinchingly shows aerospace engineer Walter Sherill (Alan Ladd), a victim of a random savage assault by five passing teens, degenerate within the boundaries of a rather obsessive personality (admirable when focused on his work, though with subtly placed hints that this has led to a childless distance in his marriage despite the outward appearance of domestic contentment) that cannot see beyond a blind quest for a vengeance, a search which descends reckless endangerment to his devoted wife Tracey (Dolores Dorn, typically coiffed in an extension of Eisenhower Era fantasy domesticity, looking as though ready to attend a cocktail party while dusting the drapes) and himself, not to mention fouling up the legitimate investigations of Juvenile Division Detective Sergeant Pete Koleski (Rod Steiger) whose quiet, observant manner is impatiently mistaken by Sherill for professional complacency.
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