Lavishly styled but narratively lax, Dark Streets slides by just enough on its beautiful images and sumptuous soundtrack to be worth seeing. If your favorite thing about film noir is the atmosphere, and your favorite things about musicals are the production numbers, then you might just love Samuels’ dark and moody ode to jazz and corruption in 1930s New Orleans.
It won’t be because of the fascinating plot, though: In what seems to be a nod to Chinatown, the story centers on the struggle for control of one of the city’s utilities (here it’s electricity). Nightclub owner Chaz Davenport (Mann) is also the son of the late owner of the city’s private electric company, although he was left out of the will when his father committed suicide. After a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, Chaz becomes convinced that his father was murdered, and tries to unravel a conspiracy while juggling the affections of nice-girl singer Crystal (Phillips) and femme fatale Madelaine (Miko).
That unraveling happens fairly haphazardly, but in the meantime there are lovely, beautifully shot production numbers that take place in Chaz’s nightclub, and plenty of sharp hard-boiled dialogue. Mann is too bland to succeed as a compelling hero, but Phillips and especially Miko make for alluring and tantalizing seductresses, and Elias Koteas glowers effectively as a possibly villainous cop.
The original songs, featuring performers including Dr. John, Etta James and Natalie Cole, are accomplished and evocative tributes to old-time blues and jazz, and while the movie doesn’t function like a traditional musical (the characters don’t break into song unless they’re onstage), the tunes do at times help to forward the plot and character development. The costumes and set design create a sense of the period that’s also a little off-kilter, and combined with the woozy shooting style give the whole movie a dreamlike feel. Dreams aren’t expected to tie up neatly or completely make sense, and Dark Streets works as long as you don’t expect it to either.