Monday, January 12, 2009

Crossfire (1947)

Memorable, not only for it's dark and brooding atmosphere, (in this world, it seems always night) and for the fact that it was Gloria Grahame's first soiree into the world of Film Noir, Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire (1947) is the screen adaptation of Richard Brooks' The Brick Foxhole.

The novel dealt with the murder of a homosexual, but Hollywood was NOT prepared to go there in 1947, so the movie substitutes antisemitism to preach against. Because of the war, hating jews had become a lot less respectable than it had been heretofore.

Perhaps because of this substitution, the film gives us no explanation of why Robert Ryan's character hates jews. It seems that any group could have been the object of his wrath. This is counter to the usual tendency in movies, where motivations are considered essential, but may be the most true-to-life aspect of the film. The fact that this is purposeful is indicated in Robert Young's tale of his Irish grandfather's long ago murder at the hands of bigots.

This movie has a lot going for it. The cinematography is just marvelous, but it's the characterizations that are the meat of the matter. Robert Young, as the moralizing detective does a good job of keeping his pipe-smoking character, saddled with delivering the movie's earnest message, this side of pompousness. Robert Mitchum gives a spot on performance as the placid survivor, whom war has tempered but not destroyed. George Cooper is the shell-shocked young basket case, (what we would consider a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder today) and, like many suffering from this condition, is taunted and branded as a coward by his fellow soldiers. He has become utterly self-loathing and fears the return to normalcy. He is the obvious candidate for the frame-up.

Robert Ryan is truly spine chilling. What a performance! He creates a frighteningly convincing portrait of an ignorant, violently unstable bigot, repleat with phony geniality, bullying, and resentment of anyone with advantages he lacks.

Gloria Grahame nearly steals the movie with her two scenes. Bleached-blonde, cynical and caustic. She looks ready to barf when Mitchell (George Cooper) tells her that she reminds him of his wife, but his wistful sincerity manages to penetrate her hard defensive shell, and she dances with Mitchell in a deserted courtyard, then offers to cook him spaghetti at her apartment.

Adding little to the plot, but much to the atmosphere as the compulsive liar who might or might not be Gloria Grahame's husband, Paul Kelly, delivers a wonderful performance, approaching the surreal. At one point, he says to George Cooper, "You know what I told you? All those things I just told you? They're all lies."

Ginny: (Gloria Grahame) [to Mitchell's wife (Jacqueline White)] Okay, where were you when he needed you? Maybe you were someplace having beautiful thoughts. Well, I wasn't. I was in a stinkin' gin mill, where all he had to do to see me was walk in, sit down at the table and buy me a drink.

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