Crossfire (1947)

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Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Written by John Paxton adapted from a novel by Richard Brooks
RKO Radio Pictures

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Ginny: [to Mitchell’s wife] 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.

Excellent performances by three Roberts and a Gloria highlight this pre-Gentleman’s Agreement treatment of Antisemitism.

A group of Army buddies meet a Jewish man and his girlfriend in a bar.  The man strikes up a conversation with Mitchell, a lonely troubled sort, and invites him to his apartment and then to dinner.  The other soldiers follow and force their way into the apartment for some free liquor.  An argument erupts started by the belligerent and very bigoted Montgomery (Robert Ryan).

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The next we see the apartment is filled with military police headed up by Capt. Finlay (Robert Young).  Montgomery soon shows up saying he is looking for Mitchell who left the gathering feeling sick and failed to return.  The search is on for the missing Mitchell.  Finlay turns to Keeley (Robert Mitchum), Mitchell’s closest friend, for help.

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When Mitchell is finally located, he says he was so drunk he can remember hardly anything about the evening, in particular the time anything happened.  He does remember that he picked up a bar girl called Ginnie (Gloria Grahame) and waited for her for some time in her apartment.

The rest of the film is taken up with establishing Mitchell’s alibi and laying a trap for the killer.

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The movie’s message about the dangers of bigotry and hatred was perhaps not best served by putting a long speech on the subject into the mouth of Robert Young but that is only a few minutes of this otherwise nuanced film.  I think that the film has at least as much to do with the disorientation and fears of men being discharged after their wartime service, and that is done without any speechifying.  Famously, the source material was about the murder of a gay man.  I wish they could have made that story in 1947. The exploration of the villain’s motivation could have been more searching.

I generally find Robert Young terribly bland.  His portrayal of the cynical and laconic detective really suited him.  Robert Ryan is perfect at both acting innocent and being explosively violent.  Robert Mitchum doesn’t have enough to do.  Grahame is always good. Recommended.

Crossfire was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor (Ryan); Best Supporting Actress (Grahame) and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Clip – Gloria Grahame – cinematography by J. Roy Hunt


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