Tuesday 8 November 2022

Crossfire - 1947 film review

Crossfire is an intriguing film noir with an ambitious and interesting theme. It received five Oscar nominations and, three-quarters of a century on, it remains very watchable indeed. The three male stars are all called Robert; each gives a highly distinctive and impressive performance. They are Robert Young, as a smart but low-key cop called Finlay, Robert Ryan, as a seemingly amiable but in truth sociopathic soldier, and Robert Mitchum.The director was Edward Dymtryk and the screenplay by John Paxton.

From the start, we're aware that two men have beaten up a Jewish man, Samuels, and killed him. Finlay and his team soon discover that Samuels had been in the company of a group of soldiers prior to his death and it's likely that one of them (at least) is responsible for the murder. Suspicion falls on a soldier called Mitch, but it emerges, partly through flashbacks, that the killer was Ryan's character, Monty, and that his accomplice was a soldier called Floyd. 

There's no clear evidence to link Monty to the crime, but his temper and brutality mean that he is a dangerous man to know. Finlay deduces his motive and sets about laying a trap...

I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that antisemitism is the motive for the crime. It's also an element in The Brick Foxhole, the book on which Paxton based his script. But in the novel, homophobia is a central issue. The movie industry in 1947 simply wasn't ready to tackle that. Nevertheless, the film delivers a very forceful message about bigotry of all kinds, as well as antisemitism in particular. The Brick Foxhole, incidentally, was an early novel written by Richard Brooks, who became a noted film director, working on movies such as Blackboard Jungle and In Cold Blood.


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