Crossfire

1947, Movie, NR, 86 mins

Review

CROSSFIRE
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A classic. Anti-Semitism had been unexplored in Hollywood for decades; no studio wanted to take on this social evil until Fox decided to film GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT, but RKO beat Fox to the punch by releasing CROSSFIRE first, and the impact was tremendous. It is a simple and chilling story centering on sadistic bully Ryan, who is about to be mustered out of the Army with three buddies, Brodie, Cooper, and Phipps. In a nightclub, the three meet Levene and his girl friend Grahame, then go with the couple to Levene's apartment, where they drink themselves into near collapse. In a drunken rage Ryan, who seethes with hatred for Jews, beats Levene to death. His friends vaguely recall the incident but vanish so they can't be questioned by authorities. Young, a pipe-smoking, introspective detective aided by G.I. Mitchum, begins to investigate and lays a trap for the elusive sadist.

All of the performers contribute fine work, particularly Ryan, who is terrifying as the brutish, bigoted killer--a role the actor was determined to play. Ryan had served in the Marine Corps with Richard Brooks, upon whose novel CROSSFIRE is based, and Ryan had told the author that if his book were made into a film, he wanted to play the part of Montgomery. Ironically, Ryan's performance is so convincing that he would long be associated with the vile character he plays here, and he would be repeatedly cast in vicious, mean-spirited roles throughout a distinguished career that included his extraordinary portrayal of a boxer in THE SET-UP.

In the novel the central issue is not race or religion but sex--a homosexual is beaten to death by other Marines. However, in 1947 this subject matter was still taboo, and producer Scott convinced RKO to buy the book on the proviso that anti-Semitism would replace homophobic intolerance. Dore Schary had just taken over the reins at RKO, and this thriller--which grossed $1,270,000 at the box office, a whopping amount in 1947--was his first production. It was also the last film director Dmytryk and producer Scott, long a duo, would co-create for the studio: after CROSSFIRE's completion, both men were brought before HUAC and became enmeshed in the Communist witchhunt. leave a comment

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