Showing posts with label Gloria Grahame. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gloria Grahame. Show all posts

Monday, April 14, 2008

Human Desire (1954)

Posted by JeffMarkam

Though Jean Renoir’s The Human Beast has become the more well known and well respected film, Fritz Lang’s American remake Human Desire is an equally provocative film of fate, passion, and suspense. It lacks the ‘human beast’ of the protagonist of Jean Gabin, now in the form of your average joe of Glenn Ford. Lang instead shifts focus on the twisted relationships between Broderick Crawford and Gloria Grahame.

The story has changed to lower working class New Jersey railroad workers. Glenn Ford plays engineer Jeff Warren, a returning Korean war vet who looks forward to a peaceful life at home. Meanwhile, fellow worker Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford) has been fired due to his violent behavior. He begs his wife Vicki (Gloria Grahame) to talk with a higher up, Owens, whom she once knew as a child to get his job back, but when he finds about her affair with this man, it ends up in murder on a train. It is on this night that both Jeff’s and the Buckley’s lives become bound together as Vicki must distract Jeff in order for her husband to escape the scene of the crime. From that point on, Jeff gets involved in a rough passionate affair with Vicki, whose mind is set on the murder of Carl, who holds incriminating evidence against her on the murder. Lying her way through the seduction, Jeff finally wises up, and unknowingly leaves Vicki to her death at the train.

Though Jeff may be the weakest character of the trio, he takes us back to the disillusioned vets of WWII who cannot adjust to the homefront once again. Though he at first feels optimistic to return to a domestic life and possibly a romance with his best friend’s daughter Ellen (Kathleen Case), the excitement he left behind Vicki brings back into his life through their torrid affair. Ellen, introduced as a buxom brunette, gets plainer and plainer throughout the movie as he gets deeper into the affair with Vicki. The 50’s domestic life just can’t keep up with the excitement.

Gloria Grahame’s performance here is a hit and miss, but remains one of her most memorable roles. Her theatrics are a little too much in certain scenes, especially as she tries to tell Jeff of the murder and the abuse Carl has put her through, but during the scenes with Crawford we can see a deeply sexually frustrated woman who has found herself trapped into a marriage with a man who keeps her as a prized trophy rather than a wife.

Completing the deadly trio is Broderick Crawford, playing a fuse that could snap at any given moment. He brings over the uncontrollable rage of Jean Gabin from the original and gives a menacing performance. He prostitutes his wife to get what he wants, and yet is too stupid to realize she has a big sexual appetite.

Lang fully explores the entire space of the train. The cramped corridors look have become a labyrinth with no way out and compartments have become places of entrapment that lead the characters to their own doomed fate. The loud noise of the train makes two murders go unnoticed, and at one point leaves Jeff alone with his thoughts of the affair, unable to speak to anyone during his daily route.

Burnett Guffey brings out Lang’s deep shadows and expressionistic images on to screen, he would also lense other classic noirs such as The Reckless Moment, My Name is Julia Ross, and In a Lonely Place, and would later win an Oscar for Bonnie and Clyde. Daniele Amfitheatrof provides a menacing score, one of noir’s best, a harder edged version of something of Miklós Rózsa.

It’s hard to garner up respect when Human Desire has to live up to Émile Zola’s source material, Jean Renoir’s original, AND the first Lang-Ford-Grahame pairing of The Big Heat. But this is still a Fritz Lang film, plenty of doom, grittiness, and pure noir abound. Human Desire brings together the gritty realism of The Big Heat and Fury and the German Expressionism of M and Scarlet Street. It is certainly the master’s most underrated and undervalued picture because of what it has to live up to.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sudden Fear (1952)

The Homme Fatale in Sudden Fear by Guy Savage

“See, I’m not the kind of man who can live on his wife’s money.”

We’re twenty-four minutes into the film Sudden Fear when we realize that the main male character, actor Lester Blaine played by Jack Palance is rotten, and it’s this knowledge that acts as a suspense builder in this taut noir film—a tale of greed, adultery and murder. Up to this point, we’ve just suspected Lester’s intentions, but now our doubts are proved correct. Sudden Fear, a woman-in-jeopardy noir with Joan Crawford playing heiress, Myra Hudson—is the tale of a woman who may meet a foul end at the hands of her deceptive, less-than-loving husband, Lester. For a large chunk of the action, Myra is oblivious to her husband’s evil intentions, but since the plot lets the audience in on the threat, we are committed to the suspense from the start. As spectators, we know that Myra is in danger, and so we are riveted to Lester’s devious plan to rid himself of a wife he so obviously loathes.

Sudden Fear based on a novel by Edna Sherry, brought Crawford her third and final Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Directed by David Miller this 1952 film was the first picture Crawford made for RKO after asking to be released from her Warner Bros. contract. Crawford hated her last Warner Brothers film--This Woman is Dangerous. The film cast her in a rather spongy, implausible role as a female gangster who loses her eyesight and then turns soft and weepy when faced with a possible future as a happy little housewife. For noir fans, Sudden Fear showcases Crawford in one of her most powerful roles.

When Sudden Fear begins, wealthy playwright Myra Hudson is in New York casting for her new play. Lester Blaine lands the part of the leading man, but during rehearsals, Myra finds him lacking as a romantic hero. She abruptly, publicly, and rather callously fires him on the spot. Myra’s advisors think she’s making a mistake, but since Myra always gets her way, a disgruntled and bitter Lester exits the stage.

Myra’s play is a raging success, and she’s due to return home to San Francisco by train. Is it coincidence that Lester Blaine just happens to turn up as a passenger on the same train? Myra seems to think so, but in light of Lester’s humiliation, somehow, his statement that he has no hard feelings towards Myra just doesn’t feel right. On the train journey to San Francisco, Lester entertains and woos Myra, and by the time they reach their destination, Myra is in love. Lester seems to be the perfect lover, and he certainly has perfected the symptoms of an enamored man. He’s attentive, sensitive and gentle, and Myra, who’s smitten by the romance, seems oblivious to the differences in their ages and social status.

Myra may be swept along with Lester Blaine’s smooth style, but for audience members, that niggling doubt remains. At this point, however, Lester’s game may be mean-spirited revenge, or perhaps he’s a pathetic loser after her money. But one brilliantly constructed scene clarifies Lester’s manipulation and Myra’s vulnerability. Lester fails to show up for an evening at Myra’s splendid home, and Myra ditches her guests to seek out her missing beau. While she dashes to his hotel, we see Lester pacing back and forth, waiting only for Myra’s arrival to begin a performance that involves his pride, a suitcase and a one-way trip back to New York. It’s with this scene and its clever camera shots that Lester is revealed as the center of power in the relationship, less-than-sincere and dangerously manipulative in his professions of love.

After we become aware of Lester’s true intentions, the suspense moves away from the question of what Lester is capable of to when and how Myra will have an “accident.” The plot plays with scenes at Myra’s gorgeous coastal cliff top home. The steep stairway to the ocean, carved into rock offers the perfect location for a nasty accident. Since the audience knows that Lester has evil intentions towards his wealthy wife, we are riveted to Myra’s nimble walk (in high heels) down the rocky staircase. We can wince all we want at the spectacle of Myra’s potential danger, but we are powerless to warn her.

Another clever device used as a suspense builder by the film is the use of Myra’s recording machine. The plot reveals this nifty little piece of technology early in the film—along with a demonstration of its abilities. The machine is a crucial part of the plot, but as it turns out, machinery may be relied on for its usefulness, but it’s still subject to the vagaries of human emotion.

The plot thickens when tarty, brash Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame, one of my all-time favorite noir stars) arrives on the scene as Lester’s vicious love interest. Irene hasn’t been invited to San Francisco, but she wheedles her way into Myra’s exclusive set nonetheless. Greedy and amoral, she accelerates Lester’s desire for wealth, and together they make a lethal combination of lust, violence and murderous design. Clever camera shots of reflected images in mirrors reveal the main characters’ true emotions—Myra’s lawyer’s distrust of Lester, Irene planning murder, Lester’s mask of loving, doting husband suspended, and Myra horrified by just how far she’ll go.

The film’s plot is as well rounded as a Greek tragedy, with just desserts for those who concoct evil ends for others. But it’s the delivery of those just desserts that makes for riveting viewing. The city of San Francisco assumes a spectacular role in Sudden Fear. The film includes great shots of the city, and it’s played here as both an ambivalent setting for nefarious actions, and also as a rat’s maze in the frenzied, final action-packed scenes. The city’s inanimate beauty serves to highlight urban indifference to its inhabitants’ actions.

Sudden Fear gives Crawford a terrific role and gives her the chance to act her heart out. Here she’s the tough, cold businesswoman who melts with Lester’s continued interest. Weakened by emotion and threatened by violence, she spends one hysterical terror-filled night in the shifting shadows of her bedroom before going on the offensive in the no-one-fucks-with-Joan role fans love so much. The fact that Myra is a successful playwright is artfully weaved into the story when she imagines she can write her way out of a real-life problem just as she would write a script for one of her plays. Myra’s attempt to script her own life is seen in a series of imagined flashforward sequences. Unfortunately, since she is dealing with real people and not fictional characters, there’s an element of unpredictability that even Myra can’t anticipate. Just as the timing in a play must be precision perfect, Myra’s scheme also relies on split second sequencing. The film uses the ticking of a clock to emphasize the crucial timing involved in Myra’s plan. The clock ticks away like a metronome with the action and nerve-wracking suspense building to a frenzied, orgasmic, and deadly conclusion.

Friday, August 03, 2007

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Editor's note: The following is from Barry Gifford's book, Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir.I asked Mr. Gifford if he'd like to add anything to introduce his piece on In a Lonely Place. He simply replied, "Nobody comes out of this one unscathed, nobody looks good in the end, thereby making it a perfect noir."

By Barry Gifford

This is an important movie in many ways. As a Hollywood story it rivals Horace McCoy's novel, I Should Have Stayed at Homefor pure L.A. angst. That book, by the way, is probably the best Hollywood dream-factory novel ever written, better than West's Day of the Locust, or certainly Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon; and different and more honest than Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? A shame it's out of print. (editor's note: It's back in print) Anyhow, Nick Ray's ability to present case histories of men and women unable to integrate themselves or remain sane in so-called civilized society is non pareil, and In a Lonely Place is a masterful study of man's inhumanity to himself, among others.

Bogart plays a screenwriter who hasn't had a hit movie for a few years, largely because he refuses to work on projects he has no feel for. He doesn't respect the producers who beg him for scripts, but he has a faithful agent, played with great sincerity by Art Smith, who keeps after him to work on a movie. Bogey's problem is that he can be a mean drunk even when he's not drinking; he has a violent temper, a raging superiority complex, and is basically a misanthrope. He often doesn't answer the phone when it rings, sleeps late, gets into fights frequently: an adult problem child with talent not unlike James Dean's Jim Stark character as shaped by Ray in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause. Bogey is lonely on purpose, but he craves female companionship, and does have real sympathy and affection for the old alcoholic actor played by Robert Warwick, for whom Bogey is always a soft touch. But other than his agent and the washed-up “thespian,” as he calls Warwick, Bogey has no friends. One other exception is his old army pal, Frank Lovejoy, who's now a cop on the Beverly Hills force. When a hatcheck girl Bogey's taken home but dismissed early turns up dead, Bogey is murder suspect number one, but Lovejoy defends him to his captain, insisting that Bogey couldn't have killed her.

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Enter Gloria Grahame, a neighbor of Bogey's who's had her eye on him. “I like his face,” she tells the police captain as she relates how she saw the girl leave Bogey's apartment alone. Bogey seems in the clear on the murder, but the captain is disturbed by Bogey's record of violent outbursts, frequent arrests for assault, and disturbing the peace; he thinks Bogey did it despite what Lovejoy says. Grahame and Bogey fall in love and he begins working on a new script, staying at it day and night and seeming to come out of his prolonged malaise. He's not drinking or fighting for a while and asks Grahame to marry him. But following an irrational show of temper and assault of a college kid over a minor traffic accident (that was Bogey's fault, though he won't admit it) Grahame gets scared; she thinks that maybe Bogey did murder the hatcheck girl after all. Of course she can't confront him with this fear because she thinks he might turn on her; and, of course, that happens anyway. It turns out that he's innocent, that the girl's milquetoast boyfriend murdered her in a jealous rage, but it's too late now for Bogey and Grahame. When he finds her about to skip town on him on the day of their engagement, he flies into a blind fit and starts strangling her. Bogey's brought out of it by the telephone call from cops clearing him, but he's blown the scene with Gloria. His script is a success, he's back on top professionally, but his life is shot. Grahame gave him something to really live for and now that the opportunity is shattered Bogey is absolutely, irrevocably alone, without much chance that he'll even try for any kind of happiness again.

And that's how the movie ends, on as down a note as possible, except that at least Bogey is innocent of the killing. Visually the movie is often shakily angled (Burnett Guffey was the director of photography), and the road shots are calculated to give the viewer the sensation that he is in the madly careening automobile. Everything is directed toward a feeling of hopelessness; even the friendliness exhibited toward Bogey by Bogey's agent, by Lovejoy and his wife Jeff Donnell, by the restaurant owner Paul, is made pathetic by his intransigence. If ever there were a case of someone being his own worst enemy, this is it, and Nick Ray captured it perfectly. The dialogue is waspish and witty, and Gloria Grahame has perhaps her best role - at least she's not the cheap slut she was usually cast as - and Bogey's disturbed screenwriter presages his Captain Queeg performance. He had a way of frowning that was almost comic, an expression more of confusion than distaste.

This is an unsensationally depicted indictment of Hollywood, in sharp contrast to, say, Robert Aldrich's more hysterical treatment (The Big Knife, 1955). It's very ugly, really. Bogey's “likable” face gets plenty unlikeable in a hurry.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Big Heat (1953)

By Eddie Muller

Since I wrote the following words in 1998 I've seen The Big Heat maybe 5 more times. That makes it probably fourteen or fifteen viewings, total. Astoundingly, it never disappoints. I might now, from a thematic standpoint, question its noir credentials -- are "vengeful cop" movies really noir? -- but no one can question its greatness. This and Scarlet Street stand as Lang's finest Hollywood films, in my opinion.

Editor's note: The following is from Eddie Muller's book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir

The Big Heat
(Columbia, 1953) is the ultimate angry cop noir, its tale of vengeance rendered with almost tantalizing perfection. Uptown critics dismissed it at the time as just another crime potboiler, signifying Fritz Lang's demise as an A-list director. They missed the cold brilliance that electrified genre conventions, and the exhilarating union of brooding Germanic fatalism and Wild West ass-kicking.

Seconds after the fade-in, corrupt cop Tom Duncan blows his brains out. His suicide not exposes the death-grip gangster Mike Lagana (Alex Scourby) has on the city's power elite. Duncan's wife finds the body and stashes the note, safekeeping it to blackmail Lagana and keep herself in a style she never enjoyed as a cop's wife. Sgt. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford), a blue-collar bulldog, gets suspicious and turns up Duncan's mistress, Lucy Chapman, a B-girl who knows where the bodies are buried. Next thing Bannion knows, Lucy's one of those bodies.

Despite warnings from his bosses to back off, Bannion barges into Lagana's palatial mansion. There's art, servants, music: it sickens Bannion. “Cops have homes, too. Only sometimes there isn't enough money to pay the rent, because an honest cop gets hounded off the force by you thievin' cockroaches for tryin' to do an honest job.” He personally vows to bring the big heat down on Lagana.

Insulted, Lagana returns to his roots: His thug plants a bomb in Bannion's car, which kills the cop's wife, Katie. When his boss doesn't pursue Lagana, Bannion flips off his badge and loads up his .38; “That doesn't belong to the department,” he seethes. “I bought it.”

Locked and loaded, The Big Heat gallops into the concrete frontier: there are showdowns in saloons, rustlers biding time with endless hands of poker, a robber baron devouring territory while tin stars look the other way. And most critically, there's the whore with the heart of gold.

Debbie marsh (Gloria Grahame) is the moll of Lagana's troglodyte torpedo, Vince Stone (Lee Marvin). She's a sexy, smart-mouthed material woman, hopelessly lost amid the macho posturing and power plays. After Vince, in a jealous rage, scars her face with a pot of boiling coffee, Debbie throws in her lot with the honest cop. Bannion, true to his moral superiority, never gives in to his murderous temptations. But Debbie, already in the gutter, redeems herself by laying waste to their tormentors. First she blows the lid off Lagana's empire by blasting Mrs. Duncan - allowing Bannion to retrieve the incriminating suicide note. Feeling her oats, Debbie settles up with Vince, administering her own hot java facial.

Debbie dies in the climatic shoot-out. As she longingly looks to Bannion for love and approval, he eulogizes his dead wife. In the epilogue, Bannion is back on the force, frontier marshal in Metropolis, waiting for the next Lagana to ride into town.

The film's power is mainly due to the talents of two men: screenwriter Sydney Boehm, a former crime reporter responsible for more crackerjack noir scripts than anyone else, and Lang, whose work is almost synonymous with noir. His early German films, Metropolis and M, etched the first blueprints of Dark City: omnipotent external forces dictating the fate of innocent people, and uncontrollable internal urges leading to self-destruction.

Lang himself fostered the legend that he had stared the demon in the face in 1933, when Hitler and Goebbles anointed him as the “man who will give us the big Nazi pictures.” He claimed o have immediately fled Germany, his riches later repatriated by the Reich. Later research revealed Lang to be a master of embellishment: he had, in truth, displayed little resistance to the Nazis during their rise to power. It was the promise of Hollywood opportunity - mixed with a nagging fear that the Nazis would betray him due to his mother's Jewish heritage - that lead Lang to surrender his preeminence in the German film industry. Ensconced on Hollywood production lines, Lang became the movie industry's official Minister of Fear, almost gleefully dusting his studio confections with the doom he felt was at the heart of the universe.

With The Big Heat, Lang shook off several desultory years, inspired by the crisp geometry of Boehm's script - and perhaps by its ferocious outrage. Accounting for the film's popularity, Lang said, uncharacteristically, that “Deep down... in ever human being is the desire that good shall conquer evil. Could it be that people see in [Bannion] a symbol of hope in these days of taxes, insecurity, and the H-bomb?”

Only Fritz Lang could extract equal dread from government taxation and nuclear annihilation.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Macao (1952)

Posted by Kristina

I remember a few years back Macao was scheduled for the Film Noir Festival at the Egyptian. Eddie Muller was the host and he told the audience he had called Jane Russell that day and told her the Egyptian was showing Macao. Her response was “Why”?

Her less than enthusiastic response is easily understood once learning about the making of the troubled RKO production. I can understand why she’d probably just want to forget the experience. The audience though sees the film differently, not having participated in the taxing production and can accept the film as a good example of the film noir genre, with the most interesting parts being the story of the production and the opening scenes of the film.

Macao’s production began after the success of the first Mitchum/Russell flick, His Kind of Woman, a better film than Macao in my opinion. Howard Hughes hired Josef von Sternberg (who helped Dietrich rocket to fame) to direct Macao, despite the fact Sternberg hadn’t done anything recently. Perhaps Hughes was hoping to recreate the atmosphere of Shanghai Gesture which Sternberg had directed, but more likely it was to propel Jane Russell’s star higher in Hollywood. Sternberg had all the right ingredients to start with: the very capable writing team of Stanley Rubin and Bernard C. Schoenfeld and a terrific array of noir actors including Mitchum, Russell, Gloria Grahame, Thomas Gomez, Brad Dexter and William Bendix. Unfortunately for the crew and the studio, Sternberg didn’t play well with others and made the set quite unpleasant. A showdown ensued between Mitchum and Sternberg and the director lost. He was replaced by Nicholas Ray after most of the movie (if not all of the movie, depending on which source you read) had already been filmed. Nicholas Ray and various members of the crew added dialogue and scenes and they shot over most of the scenes, but some of the remnants of Sternberg’s product are hinted at times through the use of unusual camera angles and lighting. Scenes of Gloria Grahame behind beaded curtains, Dexter spying behind shuttered windows, and Mitchum & Bendix shrouded by fish nets add to the veiled mystery of Macao and were probably filmed by Sternberg. The final product is a good, but not great, film featuring typical noir characters - a crime boss (Dexter), his mistress (Grahame), an ex-serviceman on the run from the law (Mitchum), a bad girl with a heart of gold (Russell), an undercover cop (Bendix), a crooked policeman (Gomez), and a odd assortment of various characters.

The opening of the story draws the audience immediately into the action and into a romance between Mitchum and Russell. The pace is pretty tight in the 81 minute movie and besides a tidy plot we are treated to some snappy dialogue including a great closing line (how’d that get by the 1952 censors?) and 3 songs by Jane. The story opens with a chase on a dock. The man being chased is a New York cop & is killed. We see that Vincent Halloran (Dexter) is involved in the murder.

Cut to Julie Benton (Russell) aboard a ferry. She’s broke and has hooked up with a seedy salesman so she can get to Macao. The salesman gets a little rough, even for Julie, and she throws her shoe at him, but it goes out the window and hits Nick Cochran (Mitchum) instead. Nick comes into the room and busts up the party. Cochran helps himself to a kiss from Julie and Julie lifts Nick’s wallet. They land in Macao, Julie and another passenger, Lawrence C. Trumble (self-proclaimed businessman of coconut oil, pearl buttons, fertilizer, and nylon stockings) gain entry but Cochran is without wallet and passport, so he has to check in with the local police, Lt Sebastian (Gomez). Sebastian allows Cochran into Macao for the time being.

Sebastian is on Halloran’s payroll and tells him that Cochran must be the cop sent in to finish the dead officer’s work of bringing Halloran to justice since Cochran has no identification papers. Halloran’s casino, The Quick Reward, attracts the characters from the boat - Julie gets a job singing there, Trumble gambles, Cochran tries to find work there. Also at the Quick Reward is Halloran’s girl, Margie (Grahame).

The major characters are now in place and the story moves steadily forward. I want to leave some mystery for those who haven’t seen the film yet, even though it is easily figured out, so that’s all of the story I’ll give.

The actors are good, but Grahame is somewhat underused. We see her but she doesn’t get enough dialogue and that is interesting too because Nicholas Ray was the clean up director and added extra scenes. Dexter is great as the crooked casino owner with the hots for Julie. He speaks in a soft voice and often with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Bendix gets to go a bit against type in this movie, playing a relatively calm character. Male audiences will enjoy Russell’s gowns, er that is cleavage, and take a look for that lame dress rumored to weigh 26 pounds. Women will enjoy Mitchum’s charms.

Macao is a worthy entry in the noir genre, but some more mention must be made of Howard Hughes involvement in the film. His obsession with Russell's wardrobe and tactics he used while running RKO directly affected the quality of films made during his regin at RKO. The days of RKO noir films like Crossfire, Out of the Past, and They Live by Night were over by 1952. Hughes had script and star approval for all features by 1951 and the creative talents of the studio were not usually permitted to make decisions. So, RKO's noir products of this era turned out to be the type and quality of films like Clash by Night, Beware, My Lovely, Angel Face, and the exception to this list of lesser film noirs - The Narrow Margin (the best of the bunch from this period, Hughes must have left his one alone). So, all said, Macao turned out pretty well considering the chaotic production, switch of directors, and meddlesome tactics of Hughes.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Crossfire (1947)

CROSSFIRE (1947, RKO Radio Pictures)
Posted by Don Malcolm
SYNOPSIS (spoilers):

Samuels (Sam Levene), a Jewish man honorably discharged after an injury during WW II, is found murdered in his Washington, DC apartment. Suspicion falls on one of three men who were visiting him, Mitchell (George Cooper), who is clearly suffering from the effects of the war and whose wallet was found at the scene.

Police detective Finlay (Robert Young) listens to the account given by one of the other men in the apartment [flashback #1], Montgomery (Robert Ryan) and enlists the help of Mitchell’s NCO, Sgt. Keeley (Robert Mitchum) in finding Mitchell, who is missing. Keeley has been independently trying to help Mitchell—arranging to have Mitchell’s wife (Jacqueline White) fly to Washington for a long-overdue reunion. Keeley succeeds in keeping Mitchell from falling into police custody until he can hear Mitchell’s account of his movements and whereabouts [flashback #2].

Mitchell’s account indicates that despite his troubled state, he is not the murderer of Samuels. It becomes clear that the killer is, in fact, Montgomery, who is now attempting to shore up the testimony of the third man in the apartment, Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie). When it becomes clear to Montgomery that Bowers will not make a credible witness, he kills him and attempts to make it look like a suicide.

Finlay becomes aware of Keeley’s delaying tactics and forces him to reveal where Mitchell has been hidden (an all-night movie theatre). He agrees to let Mitchell’s wife see him before he is taken into custody, and this leads them to the apartment of “hostess” Ginny Tremaine (Gloria Grahame), who had earlier taken pity on Mitchell after meeting him at the bar where she worked and given him the key to her place so that he could sleep. Ginny is alternately belligerent and tender in her account of what happened, but Finlay concludes that her account of the evening—and the testimony of her curious companion (Paul Kelly)—will not suffice as a credible alibi for Mitchell.

As night turns into early morning, news reaches Finlay that Bowers is dead, and he realizes that Montgomery is the killer, recognizing at last that the crime is based on hatred and prejudice. Finlay has Keeley bring in another member of Montgomery’s unit, Leroy (William Phipps), a Southerner who, like Bowers, had been subjected to Montgomery’s bullying. Finlay convinces Leroy to assist in creating a ruse that will trap Montgomery into indirectly revealing that he is the murderer of Bowers (and hence the murderer of Samuels as well).

The ruse works: Montgomery returns to the scene of Bowers’ murder despite the fact that the address written down (purportedly by Leroy, but in actuality written down by Finlay) is not correct. Montgomery attempts to escape, but as he is fleeing down the street, Finlay shoots him.


“We’re too used to fighting. But we just don’t know what to fight. You can feel the tension in the air. A whole lot of fight and hate that doesn’t know where to go.”

--Samuels (Sam Levene) to Mitchell (George Cooper)

“Ignorant men always laugh at things that are different—things that they don’t understand. They’re afraid of things they don’t understand—they end up hating them.”

--Finlay (Robert Young) to Leroy (William Phipps)


Crossfire initiated two important trends in film noir: first, it ushered in a short-lived “social message” sub-genre of noir that produced some of the cycle’s best films, and second, it launched the career of noir giant Robert Ryan, whose range and ability in portraying flawed characters may be unsurpassed in the history of film.

Ryan’s performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but the brief ascent of noir into the mainstream world during 1947 probably worked against his chances of winning. (Two other noir films snagged Best Supporting Actor nominations in 1947: Kiss of Death with Richard Widmark, and Ride The Pink Horse with Thomas Gomez.) The resulting split vote threw the award to Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street.

Crossfire also launched the noir career of Gloria Grahame, who makes the most of her brief screen time as Ginny Tremaine, giving us a glimpse of the depth she would later display in The Big Heat and In A Lonely Place.

The “tension in the air” referred to by the murder victim Samuels was masterfully evoked by director Edward Dmytryk and cinematographer J. Roy Hunt. Noir scholar James Naremore, discussing the film in More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts,gives us a more specific description of the production elements:

The picture was shot completely in the studio in a mere twenty-four days, and out of necessity it mixed the conventions of realistic photography (sharp resolution, elaborate depth of field, and plausibly motivated sources of light) with minimalist or black-art devices that eliminated the need for extras or costly sets. The result is a visibly artful and oneiric film, charged with sexual implication or “repressed” meaning, which invites the audience to explore the relationships between movies and dreams.

The source material for Crossfire was a novel, The Brick Foxhole, by Richard Brooks, in which the murder victim is not Jewish, but is instead a homosexual. In the novel, there is more emphasis on the primal struggle between Keeley and Montgomery (whose name in the novel is Monty Crawford). John Paxton’s adaptation eliminates this confrontation, and substitutes the low-key tenacity of philosophical cop Finlay. The resulting cat-and-mouse game between Finlay (extremely well-played by Robert Young) and Montgomery becomes the film’s essential fulcrum.

As noted by Naremore and others, the scene where murder suspect Mitchell first encounters murder victim Samuels (another fine performance from noir veteran Sam Levene) has a certain sexual ambiguity to it. The camaraderie among men that is displayed throughout Crossfire has a consistently pointed tone, and it is never portrayed as exactly “normal.” Having won a war against dark forces, the men returning to their homeland encountered a changed landscape: Crossfire depicts the deep-seated nature of that disorientation and its potential for damage (Mitchell’s emotional distress) and violence (Montgomery’s unprovoked attacks).

The most interesting manifestation of this “confused state of affairs” is embodied in Paul Kelly’s character. When he interrupts Mitchell’s sleep at Ginny’s apartment, he first identifies himself as Ginny’s husband, but he tells several different versions of the story, and finally disowns all of what he says. He is still there when Finlay and Mitchell’s wife arrive to talk with Ginny and try to establish an alibi for Mitchell, and his entrance into that scene is structured similarly with his earlier appearance. Appearing out of nowhere, his confounding presence is the embodiment of the social miasma that is affecting the world as a whole, the slippery slope leading to an abyss of uncertainty, where people hate what they don’t understand, and lash out at it, rather than conquering their fears.

Crossfire is available as part of the just-released Classic Noir Volume 2 box set, along with Born To Kill, The Narrow Margin, Dillinger, and Clash By Night. Its message may seem pat and self-evident given what has happened in the world in the nearly sixty years since its release; one makes such an assumption at one’s own risk, however.


Director: Edward Dmytryk
NOIR PEDIGREE: Murder, My Sweet (1944); Cornered (1945); Obsession (1949-UK); Give Us This Day (1949-UK); The Sniper (1952)

Screenplay: John Paxton (adapted from novel The Brick Foxhole)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Murder, My Sweet (1944); Cornered (1945); Crack-Up (1946); Fourteen Hours (1951); The Cobweb (1955); Pickup Alley (1957)

Cinematographer: J. Roy Hunt
NOIR PEDIGREE: I Walked With A Zombie (1943); A Game of Death (1945); The Brighton Strangler (1945); The Devil Thumbs A Ride (1947); Race Street (1948); Kill Or Be Killed (1950); The Lawless (1950)


Robert Mitchum (Sgt. Peter Keeley)
NOIR PEDIGREE: When Strangers Marry (1944); Undercurrent (1946); The Locket (1946); Pursued (1947); Out Of The Past (1947); Blood On The Moon (1948); The Big Steal (1949); Where Danger Lives (1950); My Foridden Past (1951); The Racket (1951); His Kind of Woman (1951); Macao (1952); Angel Face (1952); River Of No Return (1954); The Night of the Hunter (1955); Cape Fear (1962); Farewell, My Lovely (1975); The Big Sleep (1978)

Robert Ryan (Montgomery)
NOIR PEDIGREE: The Woman on the Beach (1947); Berlin Express (1948); Act of Violence (1948); Caught (1949); The Set-Up (1949); The Woman On Pier 13 (1949); The Secret Fury (1950); Born To Be Bad (1950); The Racket (1951); On Dangerous Ground (1952); Clash By Night (1952); Beware, My Lovely (1952); The Naked Spur (1953); Bad Day at Black Rock (1955); House of Bamboo (1955); Back From Eternity (1956); Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Robert Young (Captain Finlay)
NOIR PEDIGREE: They Won’t Believe Me (1947); The Second Woman (1951)


Gloria Grahame (Ginny Tremaine)
NOIR PEDIGREE: A Woman’s Secret (1949); Roughshod (1949); In A Lonely Place (1950); Macao (1952); The Big Heat (1953); Man On A Tightrope (1953); The Glass Wall (1953); Human Desire (1954); Naked Alibi (1954); The Good Die Young (1954); The Cobweb (1955); Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Paul Kelly (Mr. Tremaine)
NOIR PEDIGREE: The Glass Alibi (1946); Deadline For Murder (1946); Strange Journey (1946); Fear in the Night (1947); Thelma Jordon (1950); The Secret Fury (1950); Side Street (1950); Guilty of Treason (1950); Split Second (1953)

Steve Brodie (Floyd Bowers)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Desperate (1947); Out of the Past (1947); Station West (1948); Bodyguard (1948); Armored Car Robbery (1950); Winchester ’73 (1950); Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950); M (1951); Two Dollar Bettor (1951); The Crooked Circle (1957), Arson For Hire (1959)

Sam Levene (Joseph Samuels)
NOIR PEDIGREE: The Killers (1946); Boomerang! (1947); Brute Force (1947); Guilty Bystander (1950); Dial 1119 (1950); Sweet Smell of Success (1957); Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957)

George Cooper (Cpl. Arthur Mitchell)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Blood On The Moon (1948); Roughshod (1949); Mystery Street (1950)

William Phipps (Leroy)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Station West (1948); Scene of the Crime (1949); They Live By Night (1949); The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1950); Five (1951); No Questions Asked (1951); Loan Shark (1952); The Blue Gardenia (1953); Riot In Cell Block 11 (1954); The Boss (1956); The Brothers Rico (1957)

Jacqueline White (Mary Mitchell)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Mystery In Mexico (1948); The Capture (1950); The Narrow Margin (1952)

Marlo Dwyer (Miss Lewis)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Follow Me Quietly (1949); The Woman On Pier 13 (1949); Caged (1950); Walk Softly, Stranger (1950); Missing Women (1951); The Sniper (1952)