Release Date: July 22nd, 1947 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Edward Dmytryk Actors: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Sam Levene, Jacqueline White, Lex Barker, Paul Kelly
iving up to the look and themes of great film noir, “Crossfire” begins with a silhouette fight that ends in darkness – with a shattered lamp and a badly beaten dead body. The questioning begins immediately, with pipe-smoking homicide captain Finlay (Robert Young) piecing together a scenario involving four men who met a fifth in a bar. Montgomery (Robert Ryan), Mitchell (George Cooper), Leroy (William Phipps), and Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie) are all soldiers that converse with random Jewish civilian Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) in a pub. Leroy leaves after he spills a drink on a lady and Mitch departs when he’s feeling poorly. Monty and Floyd follow shortly afterwards, although not before revealing some racial tension, which marks them as suspicious. When Samuels winds up murdered in his apartment, Mitchell becomes the prime suspect; Floyd is also missing in action, and Montgomery seems to be covering something up. As if there weren’t enough people involved already, Sergeant Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum, whose presence signifies perhaps the only movie with three Roberts sharing the lead) is summoned by the detective to shed some light on the soldiers.
A series of flashbacks do the trick, enlightening the audience as to the various men’s maneuvers and states of mind. Samuels is a bit of a psychologist (explaining the predominant themes of racial and social intolerance), Mitchell is an aspiring artist, and the two decide to go to dinner, joined by Samuels’ girl. Instead, Mitchell drunkenly finds himself sitting across from blonde beauty Virginia “Ginny” Tremaine (Gloria Grahame) at a dancehall and later back at her apartment, waiting alone. A strange man who talks in grating doublespeak, divulging nothing and confusing aplenty, meets him there. Keeley’s work is cut out for him, trying to sort out a mess of half-remembered stories and nervous lies. “I don’t know,” responds Keeley. “Well then guess,” counters Finlay.
A certain amount of detective contemplation transpires, filling up screen time and spelling out everything the audience might guess at. The verbal exposé becomes rather tedious. Keeley takes the role of the ignorant viewer who must have each clue pointed out to him by the over-explanatory Finlay, despite the fact that he’s never represented as blunt. Motive hunting is the key to the murder, but evidence is scarce; ears for reasoning are not. Midway, it becomes clear that the mystery isn’t meant to be secretive – it’s the pinning of the crime that needs attention. The entrapment is where the real suspense awaits.
The final twist is unique and interesting, but it doesn’t quite feel like it justifies the film’s existence. It’s as if an entire feature was manufactured around a good punch line, but the substance surrounding the clincher just isn’t built up enough. The story is based on a Richard Brooks novel, which originally dealt with a homosexual man beaten to death by his fellow marines. The production code of the ‘40s would have never allowed such subject matter, so director Edward Dmytryk replaced it with anti-Semitism instead, which was inserted into a film noir environment to sway audiences that might not want to watch a straight drama. Ironically, while “Crossfire” was a huge commercial and critical success (getting nominated for the Academy’s Best Picture Award), it opened the doors for related intolerance-themed movies like “Gentleman’s Agreement,” which took the Oscar away for Best Picture during the same year.
– Mike Massie