"The first big movie to deal directly with anti-Semitism - it beat "Gentleman's Agreement" to the screen by a couple of months - CROSSFIRE brackets its message of tolerance with a brace of murders. The movie opens and closes with scenes of freshly minted corpses, the first one sparks the narrative, the second neutralizes evil.
All of which is accomplished in deep shadows on cheap sets. There's a short, 9-minute featurette bundled on the dvd entitled "Hate is like a gun." (DON'T watch it before you watch the movie for the first time; it gives away most of the major plot points.) The featurette contains archive footage of director Edward Dmytryk discussing CROSSFIRE. Made on a limited budget for RKO, Dmytryk recounts how he wanted to flip-flop the normal economics of a movie, so he decided to spend the bulk of the budget on actors and proportionately less on lighting, sets, etc. I was tempted to write `at the expense of...' but the shadowy, seedy look serves the movie admirably. The three Bobs this approach allowed Dmytryk to afford - Young, Mitchum, and Ryan - would have been more than worth the sacrifice, though.
Sam Levene plays Joseph Samuels who will be brutally beaten to death simply because, the movie will soon explain, he was Jewish. Samuels was last seen at a hotel bar, drinking with a group of soldiers who are about to be mustered out. He invites a lonely, despondent and seemingly disoriented soldier - George Cooper as Cpl. Arthur Mitchell - to his room. They're joined by a couple of other soldiers, including characters played by Steve Brodie and Robert Ryan , and before the night is through Samuels will be dead and Cpl. Mitchell will be missing and eagerly sought by police Captain Finlay (Robert Young) in connection with the murder.
Although it's nowhere near as preachy as `Gentleman's Agreement,' CROSSFIRE does carry a strong message of religious and societal tolerance that comes across as heavy-handed today. In their informed commentary track, Alain Silver and James Ursini rightly observe that this movie's message had to be sold to its audience, while we accept it as a given today. Enough already with your folks coming over from Ireland, Capt. Finlay! More `subversive,' to their view, is the non-judgmental attitude CROSSFIRE takes toward the b-girl (played to Academy Award nominee perfection by Gloria Grahame,) Cpl. Mitchell befriends and may provide an alibi for him when the police and - gasp! - his wife close in.
The `message' didn't make me realize that anti-Semitism is evil, that in some places it's pervasive, or that it's something that needs to be fought. Young's delivering-the-message scenes were, therefore, a little lost on me, although I found them interesting in a historical sense. And even though Robert Mitchum was a tad wasted - more a bystander than a central character - Ryan, Young, and Grahame more than compensated with their powerful characterizations. Strongest recommendation for this great crime thriller.
A Noir Gem Exposing Bigotry
William Hare | Seattle, Washington | 03/12/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While "Gentleman's Agreement" exposed anti-Semitic bigotry among New York's sophisticated cocktail set, RKO's "Crossfire" tackled the topic from a Middle American perspective as Robert Ryan gave one of his most stirring performances as a soldier returning to America from war filled with hatred."Crossfire" was one of the greatest low budget achievements in film history, earning five Academy Award nominations. Director Edward Dmytryk turned out a gem on a $550,000 budget. It was shot in 20 days. Dmytryk shot 140 scenes distributed out over a 6 1/2 hour daily schedule, a pace of 20 scenes per day.The film noir classic was based on the novel "The Brick Foxhole" written by ex-Marine Richard Brooks, who would later became a film writer, and finally the great director of classics such as "Elmer Gantry" and "In Cold Blood." Brooks' novel differed from the film in one basic area. In the book Montgomery, the hateful killer, murdered a homosexual, while also revealing a hatred for Jews. In the movie he was revealed as a former police officer from St. Louis who detested Jews, killing kindly Sam Levene, who invited him into his Washington, D.C. residence for a drink.The film encompasses one very busy night in our nation's capital, in which Robert Mitchum, playing a worldwise, cool-headed sergeant, helps police detective Robert Young to solve the case. Mitchum is determined from the outset to clear George A. Cooper, the vulnerable young soldier on whom Ryan seeks to pin the crime, taking advantage of the fact that Cooper had been drinking and cannot initially adequately account for his time during the time period of the crime.Cooper's cause is aided by Paul Kelly, who plays a bizarre, mentally troubled man with a penchant for alcohol and a strong urge for B-girl Gloria Grahame, who takes Cooper back to her apartment. Not wanting to get involved, Grahame refuses to help provide Cooper with an alibi, not even after Cooper's wife, Jacqueline White, has interceded on her husband's behalf. Just as Young, Cooper and White are about to leave, Kelly, having overheard the conversation, walks into the living room and corroborates Cooper's account of events.Ryan commits a second murder, killing fellow soldier Steve Brodie when he fears that he will go to the police, strangling him with his victim's Army tie. It is the shrewd Young, who reveals to Mitchum that his own Irish immigrant grandfather was killed by a bigoted mob not long after coming to America, whose expertise ultimately traps Ryan into revealing himself. He uses young Southerner William Phipps, a soldier Ryan likes to make fun of, to reveal information that proves perfect bait for the merciless killer, who falls into the trap.One outstanding noir ploy of the film is that, in order to hide Cooper from the D.C. police while he is under suspicion for murder, the wily Mitchum takes him to an all-night movie theater. Mitchum and fellow soldiers periodically surface in the darkened theater to hold quiet strategy sessions, focused on the task at hand of clearing Cooper and proving their steadfast belief that Ryan is the killer of Levene. The all-night theater idea was adapted from Brooks' novel.RKO intended to use the "Crossfire" team of Dmytryk, producer Adrian Scott and screenwriter John Paxton on numerous other projects. The right wing anti-Communist witch hunt period surfaced at that inauspicious point as Dmytryk and Scott eventually went to jail for contempt of Congress as two members of the Hollywood Ten."
A Murder Wrapped In A Social Message. It Still Holds Up.
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 11/24/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Perhaps the first of the social injustice movies Hollywood began turning out in the late Forties, Crossfire is one of the few in my opinion which still hold up. That's because the social message, against hate in general and anti-Semitism in particular, doesn't become too preachy and get in the way of the story. Unlike Gentleman's Agreement (anti-Semitism), Boomerang (legal and class injustice), Pinky (racial prejudice) and others, Crossfire tells a taut story first, in this case about a murder, and features some first-rate acting, especially from Robert Ryan.
The murder mystery is straightforward and there's little doubt about who the killer is. We know a man named Samuels (Sam Levene) has been beaten to death. We know the suspect, Corporal Arthur Mitchell (George Cooper) is one of four recently discharged soldiers who met him in a bar. We know one of the four is a big, edgy guy, Sergeant Montgomery (Robert Ryan), who laughs too much and likes to verbally poke at people he thinks are weak. The body is discovered, evidence points to Mitchell as the killer and police Captain Finlay (Robert Young) goes to work. One of Mitchell's buddies, Sergeant Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) doesn't think Mitchell could be a killer. In a cautious way he starts working with Finlay to establish an alibi for Mitchell, and then to concentrate on Montgomery. One of the biggest issues is what could Montgomery's motivation be. It turns out Montgomery doesn't like civilians, doesn't like "hillbillies," and hates Jews. He's a bigot. When Montgomery complains about "those kinds of guys", Finlay asks, "What kind of guys?" "You know the kind." Montgomery says. "Played it safe during the war, keepin' themselves in civvies, nice apartments, swell dames...you know the kind." "I'm not sure that I do." "Some of 'em are named Samuels, some of 'em have funnier names." It isn't long before we realize that Montgomery is a psychopath who hates just about anyone who is different. With Keeley's help, Finlay finally is able to lay a clever trap for Montgomery.
Young does a fine job as the cop. He's seen probably too much. He's tired. He's a decent man who relies on his training. "I've been at this job too long," he tells Keeley. "I go about it the only way I know how. I collect all the facts possible...most of them are useless." Mitchum, laconic but alert, makes a nice partner for Finlay. He's ready to stand by a buddy he thinks is incapable of killing, and he really doesn't like Montgomery.
Robert Ryan makes you feel uncomfortable from the moment you see him. There's something too friendly about him, something too hidden, something too ready to explode. You're not surprised when he suddenly beats Samuels to death with his fists. The difference between the part of Keeley and the part of Montgomery is, I think, the difference between a role that can lead to a reputation as a movie star and a role that can lead to a reputation as a movie actor. I think it was only when Mitchum took on unsympathetic roles in Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear that many critics realized he was a first-rate film actor, not just a star. By that time, Ryan already had the actor reputation, but major stardom had eluded him.
In a smaller part, Gloria Grahame is excellent as a dance hall hostess who might give Mitchell an alibi. With her cat eyes and pouty lips, Grahame always was distinctive. She and Paul Kelly as a man who may or may not be her husband bring an uneasy and almost surreal quality to their scenes.
Crossfire is a solid looking noir. The DVD presentation is very good."
A Message Film That Only RKO Would Produce
Vincent Tesi | Brick, New Jersey | 06/19/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In one of the first films to expose the issue of anti-Semitism in post WWII America, Edward Dmytryk's 1946 film Crossfire, brings forth the dangerous venality of ethnic hatred to an unsuspecting screen audience. A hit at the box office and a winner of several humanitarian awards, Crossfire is most remembered by Robert Ryan's portrayal of a twisted, menacing, racist who vilifies Jews. Ryan as the callous G.I. Montgomery, created a screen presence that would secure him numerous roles as Hollywood's most notorious racist. In reality, Robert Ryan was actually a champion of civil liberties and an agressive campaigner for equality of rights among minority groups. Although scriptwriter John Paxton and RKO producer Adrian Scott were nervous about the film's public reaction; credit should be given to the creative team of Dmytryk, Paxton, and Scott for collaborating on a film dealing with a controversial topic that was buried in American society. While other major studies such as Warner Brothers, Paramount, and MGM refrained from social "message films" minor studio RKO showed resilience in forging an avenue for future social commentary films such as Gentleman's Agreement, and Bad Day At Black Rock. The film's storyline is pure noir; an innocent man is accused of murder and a midnight to dawn investigation of the true killer ensues. Robert Mitchum plays G.I. Keeley, who aids in the murder investigation. George Cooper is Finlay, the naive, innocent, soldier on the run. Gloria Grahame recieved an Academy Award nomination for her brief appearance as a prostitute, and like Robert Ryan solidified a position in future urban noir films. Crossfire is one of those films that has largely been forgotten by film buffs. Do not let this one slip by you."
"No Jew is gonna tell me how to drink his stinking liquor!"
Dave | Tennessee United States | 11/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Completed in only about 20 days of shooting, 1947's "Crossfire" was one of Hollywood's first attempts to make a movie focusing on anti-Semitism. Directed by Edward Dmytryk (Murder My Sweet, Cornered, The Sniper), it was filmed on a very low budget yet featured an amazing cast: Robert Young, Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Gloria Grahame, Paul Kelly, Sam Levene, and Steve Brodie. To everyone's surprise, the movie (released shortly before the similarly-themed Gentlemen's Agreement) was a big hit and was nominated for five Academy Awards including best picture.
Joseph Samuels, a Jewish veteran who had survived World War Two has just been murdered, and the police are baffled. Captain Finlay (Robert Young) interrogates the last two people who saw him alive, Mitchell (George Cooper) and Montgomery (Robert Ryan). They are also veterans, but only Montgomery seems to have an alibi for the night of Joseph's murder, and Mitchell was too drunk that night to remember what really happened. Knowing that he's the police department's prime suspect in the case, Mitchell hides from the cops. Meanwhile, Mitchell's friend Sgt. Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) tries to help the police find the real killer, while clearing Mitchell.
As Finlay's investigation progresses, he learns that Montgomery was the only one who had any reason to kill Joseph. The motive: a burning hatred of all Jews. Also, the police find out that Mitchell was at Ginny Tremaine's (Gloria Grahame) apartment while the murder took place. But proving that Montgomery was the murderer will be very difficult, because Montgomery has a ready answer prepared for just about any question the police can ask him. Eventually, the police use Montgomery's own friend Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie) to try to trick Montgomery into revealing himself as the killer.
Despite some badly dated scenes of Robert Young "preaching" about racism, "Crossfire" is a terrific film noir with an excellent cast and stylish, shadowy lighting that creates a very dark atmosphere for a story of hatred and murder. Gloria Grahame, who played a sexy nightclub girl (it is implied that she's also a prostitute), was nominated for a best supporting actress oscar for her brief but very memorable performance. And aside from Robert Ryan's outstanding and chilling portrayal of a racist killer, the second most interesting character IMO was Paul Kelly, who played Gloria Grahame's pimp (for lack of a better word).
The picture and sound quality of the Warner DVD of "Crossfire" is very satisfactory. Bonus features include commentary by film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini (which includes audio interview excerpts of director Edward Dmytryk), and a brief documentary "Crossfire: Hate is Like a Gun," which explains how difficult it was to get the movie made, and how the director had his career almost ruined by the communist "witch hunt" of the late 1940's that resulted in many people in Hollywood being wrongfully blacklisted. One minor error I noticed in the commentary: they state that "Crossfire" was Robert Young's only film noir credit. Actually, he made two other noir films: "They Won't Believe Me" and "The Second Woman." Other than that error, though, the commentary was very interesting. "Crossfire" is a wonderful example of how many late 1940's noir films had strong messages concerning social and moral issues. This dvd is a must-have for any film noir buff!"