Warner Home Video presents
"Well, hate...is like a gun."- Capt. Finlay (Robert Young)
Stars: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan
Other Stars: Gloria Grahame, Paul Kelly, Same Levene, Jacqueline White, Steve Brodie, George Cooper, William Phipps, Marlo Dwyer
Director: Edward Dmytryk
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, thematic content)
Run Time: 01h:25m:32s
Release Date: 2005-07-05
Genre: film noir
DVD ReviewShadows on a wall display the silhouettes of men locked in a fight. One man obtains the upper hand and throws his victim into a lamp. Darkness consumes all until a light is turned on, revealing the dead body of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene). Two men scurry off into the night, but who are they? Thus is the conventional plot of Edward Dmytryk's taut film noir classic, Crossfire. However, like other titans of the genre, the mystery is only important insofar as it relates the film's themes to its audience.
Police Captain Finlay (Robert Young) is assigned to the case of Joseph Samuels and the evidence on the scene points to an emotionally distraught soldier, Cpl. Mitchell (George Cooper). His wallet is found on the scene and one of his Army buddies, Montgomery (Robert Ryan), recounts their encounter with Samuels to the detective. As Finlay continues his investigation, Mitchell's friend, Sgt. Keeley (Robert Mitchum), professes the missing man's innocence and sets out to find Mitchell before the police do. What starts out as a simple "whodunit" becomes far more intriguing and complex, as director Dmytryk and his screenwriter, John Paxton, weave the threads together alongside the audience.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the film is how it uses flashbacks to unravel the mystery and develop the characters. Eventually Keeley finds Mitchell and the events leading up to Samuels' death do not exactly compliment Montgomery's original story. In many ways, Crossfire plays like a precursor to Rashomon, with Dmytryk's direction placing the action within the confinements of a character's point-of-view. How much of this is a carry-over from the novel by Richard Brooks is unknown to me, but it works especially well on the screen. As Finlay interviews Montgomery, Keeley, and perhaps the only person who can clear Mitchell, a working girl names Ginny (Gloria Grahame), the audience assembles the pieces to puzzle and learns the true nature of the crime.
Of course, now comes the question of how much I can reveal in a review. Do I risk spoiling the specifics of the plot by exposing the themes of the film? I'm going to approach this delicately, hoping to explain why this is such a landmark piece of American cinema without spoiling any of its delights for those unfamiliar with it. At its core, Crossfire does not truly care who killed Joseph Samuels. Instead, Dmytryk has assembled this cast and crew to investigate the motives behind the murder of Joseph Samuels—a Jewish person. Subtly, through performances and skilled filmmaking, the movie plunges itself into America's anti-Semitic undertones and uses its crime drama as a means to promote a greater understanding of ethnic and religious tolerance. This is not to say that it preaches its message, though a scene where Finlay gives a speech comparing treatment of the Jews to the bigotry faced by Irish immigrants comes close to a sermon, but that the screenplay aptly mixes its themes and plot points into a successful thriller with something to say.
Dmytryk's pacing of the script doesn't waste a single moment of screen time. Utilizing the dark, rich shadows of J. Roy Hunt's cinematography, Dmytryk delivers an enthralling B-movie. Nary a wrong step is taken and the musical score punctuates the drama. Just as impressive as Dmytryk's direction are the performances. Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame both earned well-deserved Oscar nominations for their performances. Ryan's multi-dimensional take on Montgomery is pivotal for the movie's success and his work, especially in the climax, is so real you can practically touch it. Robert Young and Robert Mitchum also deliver compelling performances, working off of one another well as their characters go about solving the crime in their own way.
The inevitable comparison for Crossfire is with Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement, which was released only a few months later. Both tackle anti-Semitism and were highly controversial and successful movies upon release. Although Kazan's movie walked off with the Oscars that year, it is Dmytryk's that rings true 50-some-odd years later. It's engaging story and subtle explorations of its themes make for an exquisite motion picture.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The transfer captures the essence of the black-and-white cinematography, but there are plenty of print defects and scratches to be seen in the process. Most seem to be a consequence of the source material, but perhaps the picture could be cleaned up a bit more than it is. Regardless, the contrast and detail are impressive, making up for any flaws.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The mono mix is a nice bit of film preservation, but also contains a great deal of hiss that is slightly irritating. Dialogue is always audible and the whole feel of the original soundtrack seems to be in place, but there's no ignoring that hiss.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Edward Dmytryk, Alain Silver, James Ursini
Extras Review: Although there aren't many extras on this set, the audio commentary and featurette are well worth your time. The commentary by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini also contains snippets of Dmytryk from archival interviews. A lot of time is spent on the McCarthy "Red Scare" and although Dmytryk's perspective is quite insightful (he was blacklisted for four years), I would have preferred more time to be devoted to the actual production itself. Ursini dominates the track for the most part, offering some intellectual insights into its place within film noir. Some interesting information is explained about its place in cinematic history, making this an informative listen overall.
Accompanying the commentary is the featurette Crossfire: Hate Is Like a Gun (08m:56s). Although brief, this piece produced by Turner Classic Movies gives the context in which the film was made and discusses the differences between the screenplay and the Richard Brooks novel on which it's based. In addition, Dmytryk's comments about outsmarting the censors are good advice that current filmmakers may want to consider. It's a limited amount of supplemental material, but it is still good.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA triumphant undertaking, Crossfire is just as relevant today as it was in 1947. Warner has done well with its release as part of the second installment in its Film Noir Collection, the work here is a fine presentation of the movie.
Nate Meyers 2005-07-04