Friday, May 30th, 2008


Year: 1947

Director: Edward Dmytryck

Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame

Crossfire starts with a fight seen only in shadows on the wall. A man is killed but you don’t know who, and you don’t know who the murderer is. Crossfire is filmed as a fairly standard murder mystery, someone is murdered and the wrong person is blamed. As the investigation continues the real killer is eventually identified and caught. Seems pretty standard, right? As the story unfolds you will see that the real story here is one of bigotry and religious intolerance. A topic that was never attempted before (Gentleman’s Agreement was released later the same year).

Captain Finlay, (Robert Young) is investigating the murder of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) a Jew who met up with the wrong people. The suspects are soldiers just returned from the war. Among them are Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and George Cooper. As the story unfolds with each soldier telling his version of the story it slowly becomes clear as to who the killer is. But that is not the point as you will know by now.

The film was done on a low budget because no one felt there was an audience for this kind of picture. In the end, the film not only made money but was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, (Edward Dmytryk), Best Supporting Actor (Robert Ryan) and Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame).

Dmytryk has said that he used the film noir style because it was cheap and they had no budget, and noir required less lighting. True story or not, the use of low lighting, dark streets, cheap hotels and shadows created a noir classic.

Robert Young holds his own amongst some heavyweight company, but its Robert Ryan who provides a classic performance as the sadistic bigot Montgomery. Ryan, of course would go on to play a long assorted list of vicious characters in his career. Interesting enough Robert Mitchum is given a supporting role in this film even though by now he was a star. Crossfire was produced by RKO Pictures who Mitchum was under contract to and probably was forced to do the film, even if the role was not the lead. Gloria Grahame is on screen for only six to eight minutes but gives a tremendous performance as a dance hall girl, who spends time with Mitchell (George Cooper) the soldier who is at first incorrectly identified as the killer. From what I have read, Grahame, who has an abusive husband on screen, was going through a similar situation in real life and that may have led to some added authenticity that otherwise might have been missing.
Either way she is fantastic as usual. In the short, that accompanies the film on the DVD, it’s mentioned that Dmytryk used different lens when filming Robert Ryan. In the beginning, he used a standard 50mm lens showing Ryan’s character as normal. Later on he used a 40mm and still later, a 35mm and finally a 25mm on Ryan so he could reflect the distorted craziness of Ryan’s character, Montgomery. Crossfire is a film not to be missed.

By John Greco

Year: 1950

Director: Otto Preminger

Cast: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Karl Malden, Gary Merrill

Detective Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) is a cop loaded with demons. He hates criminals because his father had been one. Dixon is a brutal cop who does not have to follow the rules. A predecessor to Dirty Harry, Dixon sees the law as too soft on criminals.

Set in New York, the film is a dark look at Dixon’s obsessive pursuit of gangster Tommy Scalise, a former associate of his father. Preminger portrays Dixon as a loner, haunted by the past without a moral compass. While in pursuit of Scalise, Dixon accidently kills Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) and covers it up causing Paine’s former father in law to be arrested for the crime. He begins a relationship with Morgan (Gene Tierney), a fashion model and Paine’s ex-wife which will eventually will make Dixon confess to his crime.

Preminger, like Fritz Lang, was a student of German Expressionism which begat Film Noir. From the mid 1940’s to the early 1950’s Preminger produced a series of noir classics starting with Laura, Fallen Angel, Whirlpool, Angel Face and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Working with cinematographer Joseph LaShelle in Where the Sidewalks End, they created a claustrophobic bleak seedy post world war two vision of 1950’s America.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney who both starred in Preminger’s Laura some six years earlier are solid in their roles. Andrews plays Dixon as a tight lipped, full of rage, ready to explode detective whose only outlet is to take it out on the gangster scum controlling the grimy streets. Tierney is also very good as Morgan showing off a kind gentle nature almost the opposite of everyone else in the film. The cast also includes Gary Merrill, as Scalise, Karl Malden as Detective Lt. Thomas and Neville Brand as one of Scalise’s hood. The only false note is the somewhat happy ending that truly breaks the mood. Otherwise, this is one of the darkest grittiest film noirs you’ll ever see.

By John Greco