1910 - 1975
Nobility was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1910 when Richard Nicholas Peter Conte was born. The one time truck driver and singing waiter studied at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse. In 1939 Nicholas Conte made his Broadway debut in the short run Group Theater production My Heart's in the Highlands and made his film debut at Twentieth Century Fox in Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence, by Dalton Trumbo, directed by Ricardo Cortez. For the next few years the handsome and confident actor appeared in a number of popular war movies including Lewis Milestone's The Purple Heart and A Walk in the Sun, and Henry King's A Bell for Adano. Richard Conte was trained in the Group Theater of the 1930s, a member of the Committee for the First Amendment in the 1950s and an honorary Rat Packer in the 1960s. He was not defined by his group affiliations, but stood out as an individual.
It is the confidence with which Richard Conte imbued his roles in post-war crime dramas - many post-war crime dramas - that makes him the King of Noir. It is not merely the number of titles that fall under the lauded style, but the quality and variety of the performances that gives Richard Conte the right to the crown.
Richard Conte, Victor Mature
Cry of the City (1948)
Noir master Robert Siodmak directed Cry of the City. Martin Rome (Conte) is a cop killer, a bad man. He's also daring, charismatic and has a soft spot for his girl (Debra Paget). Marty's mama loves him and his kid brother worships him. The audience wants to like him, wants him to succeed and show us he's really a good guy at heart. Lt. Candella (Victor Mature) knows Rome the way we, the audience, do not. Candella grew up in the same circumstances, but chose the right side of the law. Cry of the City is a movie full of sharp, sudden curves. You start to think it will go one way and it takes you in unexpected directions to unexpected places. Many people are against Martin Rome, but just as many want to help him and, as Lt. Candella says, "You forgot about them, did you? No. You didn't think about them at all."
Richard Conte, Paul Valentine, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Luther Adler
House of Strangers (1949)
Joseph Mankieicz's directed the engrossing House of Strangers. The strangers are the Monetti family ruled over by Papa Gino (Edward G. Robinson) who pits his four sons against each other as he holds onto the power of his banking business. Only Max (Richard Conte) seems above it all. He is independent with a wry sense of humour. He stands back from the family while still loving them deeply. Max builds a life away from the stifling influence of his father, yet when trouble comes it is Max's strong sense of loyalty that leads him to sacrifice his freedom for his father's sake and that sense of loyalty turns into an equally mighty need for vengeance. Can Max remain true to himself in this House of Strangers?
Richard Conte, Anne Baxter, Anne Sothern, Georges Reeves
The Blue Gardenia (1953)
Fritz Lang directed the murder mystery The Blue Gardenia. It may not be the most difficult movie murder you've ever solved, but it has atmosphere, character to spare and a title song sung by Nat "King" Cole. Three roommates (Ann Sothern, Jeff Donnell and Anne Baxter) band together when Baxter is accused of murdering a wolf in artist's clothing (Raymond Burr). Reporter Casey Mayo (Richard Conte) is on the lookout for a good story and is also taken with the bright-eyed suspect. Hey! Richard Conte makes an excellent good guy. Who knew? He's tough enough and smart enough to play both the cops and the crooks, and charming enough to win the heart of any bright-eyed suspect. Sigh.
Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, Jay Adler
The Big Combo (1955)
Joseph H. Lewis directed this film-noir classic concerning the obsessive Lt. Diamond (Cornel Wilde) and his pursuit of mob kingpin Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). It is like a kick in the gut watching the sadistic Mr. Brown and the driven Lt. Diamond battling each other over the battered bodies and souls of all around them. Conte's Mr. Brown is one of the great screen villains in his arrogance, disregard for others and joy he takes in violence. Brown's philosophy is wrapped up in this exchange with the lieutenant:
"Diamond, the only trouble with you is, you'd like to be me. You'd like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You can't. It's impossible. You think it's money, it's not. It's personality. You haven't got it, Lieutenant, you're a cop. Slow, steady, intelligent, with a bad temper, and a gun under your arm. And with a big yen for a girl you can't have. First is first, and second is nobody."
Mike Mazurki (at board), Richard Conte
New York Confidential (1955)
Russell Rouse wrote (with Clarence Greene) and directed New York Confidential which exposes the business of organized crime. Richard Conte is Nick Magellan, a loyal company man who is the best at his job. His job is hit man and his company is the syndicate. Magellan's confidence comes from being good at his job. This character shows none of the arrogance and sadism of Mr. Brown in The Big Combo made the same year. Nick has a similar philosophy in that he has seen the world for what it is and a man should take what he can. Nick is also single-minded when it comes to loyalty to the firm. It is the number one guiding principle of his life. However, Nick's views are shaken when he meets his boss' (Broderick Crawford) fiery daughter Kathy Lupo (Ann Bancroft). Kathy wants nothing more than to escape from her mobster father and live a simple life on her own. Her very desperation and yearning touch Nick. He doesn't understand it, but he feels it and in the only disloyal to the firm act of his life actually tries to help Cathy.
Paul Picerni, Richard Conte
The Brothers Rico (1957)
Another noir master, Phil Karlson, directed The Brothers Rico based on a Georges Simenon story. Conte is Eddie Rico, former mob accountant who is brought back into the life when his brothers (Paul Picerni, James Darren) run afoul of the gang. Conte wants to be a regular guy, but he can bring out the cunning tough guy to protect his family in what is a desperate struggle. Some people are just too stubborn to give up no matter what the odds.
Other film-noir titles featuring equally impressive performances from Richard Conte include Somewhere in the Night, Call Northside 777, Thieves Highway, Whirlpool, The Sleeping City, Under the Gun, Hollywood Story, The Raging Tide, Highway Dragnet and The Big Tip Off. Initially considered for the role of Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, Conte instead played Don Barzini after Marlon Brando was given the title role.
Many actors and their fans can make a claim to royal titles in the land of film-noir. Among the Dukes, Counts and Earls are the cynical Humphrey Bogart, the cool Robert Mitchum, the edgy Robert Ryan. And let's not forget Viscount Dan Duryea. However, there can only be one King, and the King of Noir is Richard Conte.