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