“Some of them are named Samuels; some of them have got funnier names.”
When a Jewish man (Sam Levene) is murdered in his apartment after socializing with a group of soldiers in a nearby bar, a detective (Robert Young) investigates the case. While the presumed culprit is a drunken soldier (George Cooper) who visits a dance hall girl (Gloria Grahame) while pining for his wife (Jacqueline White), Cooper’s anti-Semitic platoon buddy (Robert Ryan) soon arouses suspicion as well.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Detectives and Private Eyes
- Edward Dmytryk Films
- Gloria Grahame Films
- Murder Mystery
- Robert Mitchum Films
- Robert Ryan Films
- Robert Young Films
Edward Dmytryk’s adaptation of Richard Brooks’ novel The Brick Foxhole is notable both as the first B-level film to be nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture of the Year, and for running neck to neck with Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) as one of the first Hollywood movies to openly address anti-semitism. Ironically, Brooks’ novel was actually about homophobia, a topic banned at the time by the Production Code. However, unlike Brooks’ own directorial adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958) — which suffers from a fatal loss of sensical motives when Paul Newman’s homosexuality is taken out of the storyline — the thematic switch here works fine; it’s easy to be convinced that anti-Semitism (ever present, albeit often in more subtle forms) might drive a senseless murder like this one. As Dmytryk wrote in his autobiography:
After our rough-cut showing to the sound and music department, one of the young assistant sound cutters, an Argentine, complimented me on the picture.
“It’s such a fine suspense story,” he said. “Why did you have to bring in that stuff about anti-Semitism?”
“That was our chief reason for making the film,” I answered.
“But there is no anti-Semitism in the United States,” he protested. “If there were, why is all the money in America controlled by Jewish bankers?”
I stared at him in astonishment. “That’s why we made the film”, was all I could think of to say.
As a noir, Crossfire works exceptionally well, with each frame maximizing use of light and shadow to heighten the drama and suspense; Dmytryk and his crew managed to get the film made with only 150 set-ups (be sure to listen to the commentary soundtrack on the DVD to learn more about the film’s production, as well as Dmytryk’s blacklisting by HUAC). Equally impressive are the stellar performances, most notably by Ryan: check out his soulless eyes as he tells a faux flashback tale to Young, and his chilling scene with terrified Steve Brodie as “Floyd”.
Grahame is also a stand-out in her supporting role as a world-weary dance hall girl with a mysterious man (Paul Kelly) living in her apartment.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Strong performances across the board
- Dmytryk’s creative direction
- J. Roy Hunt’s cinematography
Yes — definitely check this one out. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.