Run time: 86 min
Genres: Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Writers: John Paxton, Richard Brooks
Stars: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan
A man is found beaten to death, with no usual motive. Young is the detective on the case; Mitchum is a laconic army sergeant assisting in the investigation of G.I. suspects; and Ryan plays a vicious bigot in this landmark film noir, which was nominated for five Academy Awards.
Release Date: 22 July 1947 (USA)
Budget: $250,000 (estimated)
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RKO's "Out Of The Past" (1947) is regarded by many as the finest Noir ever to come out of Hollywood. But CROSSFIRE, made just prior to it the same year, was a fair contender for that coveted title. Produced by Adrain Scott for RKO, the recognized home of Noir, it was magically photographed in beautifully defined black and white by J.Roy Hunt. Written for the screen by John Paxton from a novel by Richard Brooks it was stylishly directed by Edward Dmytryk and was fleshed out with an imaginative cast headed by the three Roberts – Young, Mitchum and Ryan plus Gloria Grahame, Sam Levene and Paul Kelly.
A Jew (Levene) is murdered in a hotel room by anti-Semitic GI Montgomery (Robert Ryan) leading to pipe smoking detective Robert Young investigating three soldiers who are suspects. Interestingly, in the original novel it is a homosexual that is murdered, but in 1947 homosexuality was very much a taboo subject to put on the screen so the murder victim was changed to be Jewish. The change had little effect on the story's impact for it is still a dynamic and potent drama.
CROSSFIRE is not only a fascinating well produced motion picture but it also has a fascinating look to it. Taking place entirely at night the deserted dark wet streets, filmed with a bug-eyed lens, together with the shadow filled interiors make for some of the most startling and vibrantly shot sequences ever seen in pictures. Also, though it is sparsely scored by RKO's resident Noir composer Roy Webb there is a thundering and punchy Main Title and a reflective love theme. Webb must have been saving himself for his masterpiece "Out Of The Past" which would come later that year. Also heard in the night club scenes in CROSSFIRE is the great New Orleans trombonist Kid Ory (1886/1973) And His Creole Jazz Band (uncredited) playing some wonderful jazz numbers. And later in Grahame's apartment Ory can be heard again on the radio playing the marvellous Jelly Roll Morton composition "Whinin' Boy Blues" which lends a persuasive atmosphere to the drab surroundings.
Performances are generally good! Robert Young is excellent in what is probably his best remembered role as the detective. But disappointing and wasted is Robert Mitchum! He doesn't really have very much to do in what amounts to nothing more than being cast in a sombre and subdued role. The acting honours however must go to Robert Ryan's blistering performance as Montgomery the violent Jew hating GI. His sneaky and scary portrayal deservedly earned him an Acadamy Award nomination. Also effective is Sam Levene as Samuels the ill-fated Jew and Gloria Grahame as the girl in the night club who picks up the naive George Cooper. And watch out too for a young Lex Barker in one of his first film appearances.
Not as good as the magnificent "Out Of The Past" that came later that year but still an engrossing and tight little thriller from that once great RKO studio in Hollywood who produced exceptional movies that we can never forget and which now, sadly, Hollywood itself seems to have forgotten.
SPOILERS Not only does this movie boasts three Roberts,but it also possesses all that makes a film noir great:a murky sticky atmosphere, a fine supporting cast , a lot of characters we remember even if they appear on the screen barely fifteen minutes(Gloria Grahame and her husband for instance).The first scene sets the tone:a murder ;we can only see the shadows on the wall.
Edward Dmytryk,whose career would dismally end (the likes of "Shalako") ,was here at the height of his powers:he films his story with a stunning virtuosity and there are unforgettable moments:the scene in the Jew’s apartment seen thru the eyes of the drunken soldier;the way the director films brilliant Robert Ryan ,using dizzying high and low angle shots.He’s arguably the stand-out and his performance is really spooky;the conversation during which you can only see Ryan’s face in a mirror;all these stairs which seem to be death traps.
It seems that these soldiers can only survive in the dark:in the nightclubs,in Grahame’s seedy apartment,in a movie theater.They are just about at breaking point,as if they had come from hell to wind up in another one.But one should notice that ,at least in the first half of the movie,their camaraderie,their solidarity remain intact:brothers in arms indeed;the police are the enemy.
Robert Young’s cop is a thousand miles above your usual detective routine:the scenarists achieves the feat of including his own story (actually his grandfather)in this murder mystery.He really pleads for the right to difference:today the Jews,tomorrow the hillbillies from Tennessee ,then the guys with striped ties…His words have a contemporary feel:it’s because they don’t know the Jews,the fags (check the novel)that some people use them as scapegoats.
Robert Ryan’s portrayal is one of the most frightening of all the film noir genre.It’s interesting to compare his part with the one he plays in Robert Wise’s "odds against tomorrow"(1959).In both movies ,his character is a racist or anti-Semite;in both movies no explanation.Ryan was known for his very liberal ideas,what a clever actor he was!
Definitely a "must see" for all fans of film noir.
Thanks to a fine script and crisp, razor sharp direction, a top cast comes together and works like a well oiled clock to produce a crackerjack psychological thriller. Wonderful characterizations articulate the movie's powerful message about the dangers of racial and religious intolerance.
It's difficult and almost unjust to single out any one, particular performance because there isn't a weak link in the entire company. But Robert Ryan as the hateful and violent white supremacist is truly spine chilling.
Making this film in the 1940s would have taken a lot of courage. Now,all these years later, at a time when contemporary movies are dominated by a ridiculous over abundance of foul language, bare breasts, crummy acting and deafening soundtracks, it's refreshing to get back to the basics of quality film making with a viewing treat like "Crossfire".
Another low budget gem from the Hollywood archives .
Taut and organically gripping, Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire is a distinctive suspense thriller, an unlikely "message" movie using the look and devices of the noir cycle.
Bivouacked in Washington, DC, a company of soldiers cope with their restlessness by hanging out in bars. Three of them end up at a stranger’s apartment where Robert Ryan, drunk and belligerent, beats their host (Sam Levene) to death because he happens to be Jewish. Police detective Robert Young investigates with the help of Robert Mitchum, who’s assigned to Ryan’s outfit. Suspicion falls on the second of the three (George Cooper), who has vanished. Ryan slays the third buddy (Steve Brodie) to insure his silence before Young closes in.
Abetted by a superior script by John Paxton, Dmytryk draws precise performances from his three starring Bobs. Ryan, naturally, does his prototypical Angry White Male (and to the hilt), while Mitchum underplays with his characteristic alert nonchalance (his role, however, is not central); Young may never have been better. Gloria Grahame gives her first fully-fledged rendition of the smart-mouthed, vulnerable tramp, and, as a sad sack who’s leeched into her life, Paul Kelly haunts us in a small, peripheral role that he makes memorable.
The politically engaged Dmytryk perhaps inevitably succumbs to sermonizing, but it’s pretty much confined to Young’s reminiscence of how his Irish grandfather died at the hands of bigots a century earlier (thus, incidentally, stretching chronology to the limit). At least there’s no attempt to render an explanation, however glib, of why Ryan hates Jews (and hillbillies and…).
Curiously, Crossfire survives even the major change wrought upon it — the novel it’s based on (Richard Brooks’ The Brick Foxhole) dealt with a gay-bashing murder. But homosexuality in 1947 was still Beyond The Pale. News of the Holocaust had, however, begun to emerge from the ashes of Europe, so Hollywood felt emboldened to register its protest against anti-Semitism (the studios always quaked at the prospect of offending any potential ticket buyer).
But while the change from homophobia to anti-Semitism works in general, the specifics don’t fit so smoothly. The victim’s chatting up a lonesome, drunk young soldier then inviting him back home looks odd, even though (or especially since) there’s a girlfriend in tow. It raises the question whether this scenario was retained inadvertently or left in as a discreet tip-off to the original engine generating Ryan’s murderous rage.