Monday, July 31, 2017


A novel by a young marine, Richard Brooks, the future Hollywood writer/director, called The Brick Foxhole was purchased by RKO despite its touchy subject matter. The novel concerned the murder by fellow soldiers of a homosexual. Hollywood censors at the time would not allow such a character, but there is always a way around censors, and a seemingly endless supply of people to hate for no reason.

The RKO triumvirate of producer Adrian Scott, writer John Paxton and director Edward Dmytryk created four outstanding films during the late forties. Along with the drama from James Hilton's novel So Well Remembered, there are the films-noir Murder, My Sweet, Cornered and Crossfire. Of these four films, only the 1947 release Crossfire received Academy recognition in the form of 5 nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, ScreenplayBest Actor in a Supporting Role Robert Ryan, Best Actress in a Supporting Role Gloria Grahame.

The adaption of The Brick Foxhole changed the murder victim to a Jewish veteran named Samuels played by Sam Levine. 20th Century Fox would soon release their premiere social conscious film of the season, Gentleman's Agreement which would win the Best Picture Oscar. A new Hollywood generation was taking an honest look at their world.

The film opens with ominous, gut churning music from Roy Webb and a shadowy figure pummeling some poor soul to death. The murderer is in uniform. The murderer drags a pal away from the scene. The murderer plans to pin his crime on some other poor soul, a poor soul also in uniform.

Important to the characters and plot of this film is the situation in which these vets, most of them young, find themselves. Back from war, they are at loose ends. Can you just pick up life and relationships and start over as if nothing had happened? Too much had happened, both on the front and at home.

The face of hate enters the frame.
Robert Ryan

The sympathetic Samuels understood the issues of this post-war world as he comforted the young Corporal Mitchell played by George Cooper. Mitch is messed up this night. He's confused and lonely, and he's drinking too much. He's lucky to have found friends in Samuels and his girlfriend played by Marlo Dwyer. Luck does not hold for Samuels as his kindness brings Montgomery played by Robert Ryan into his life. Montgomery brings nothing but rage and death.

Captain Finlay searches for a motive.
Robert Young

Captain Finlay played by Robert Young is the law, the police captain who has seen too much, but has another murder to deal with this night. The facts, as related by Montgomery, all point to young Mitchell. Captain Finlay has fine instincts, but he still has to follow the facts. Sergeant Keely played by Robert Mitchum follows his own parallel investigation as his instinct is to protect the men in his outfit, and Mitchell is one of those men.

Paul Kelly

Think of Corporal Mitchell as a film-noir Alice in Wonderland stumbling through a city full of crooked streets and crooked people. Nothing makes sense and nothing is waiting for him but a jail cell. Mitchell hooks up with Ginny played by Gloria Grahame. A dancer in a dive, Ginny is a tough gal because she has to be. Mitchell says she reminds him of his wife. Ginny is also mixed up with The Man played by Paul Kelly. This character is definitely something out of Wonderland. Nothing he says is true, but everything he says and does has a meaning. That meaning is only known to The Man, although Ginny may think she knows.

She reminded Mitchell of his wife.
Gloria Grahame, Jacqueline White

Steve Brodie as the murderous Montgomery's luckless pal Floyd, along with William Phipps as the frightened young soldier Leroy they are important to the plot and give sterling performances. Jacqueline White plays Mary, Mitchell's wife, who also becomes involved in the investigation.

I like Captain Finlay. Robert Young's portrayal combines a weary cynicism with deep understanding and commitment to do the job right. He is given a couple of speeches about hate and bigotry that could become tiresome in the wrong hands. I feel his sincerity.

Sgt. Keely takes care of his men.
George Cooper, Robert Mitchum

Crossfire touches on important social issues in fanaticism and the readjustment of veterans, while never losing touch with its murder mystery core and its fatalistic noirish style.

TCM is screening Crossfire on Sunday, August 6th at 9 a.m. It is Summer Under the Stars and (Hallelujah!), it is Robert Mitchum Day in honour of the 100th anniversary of his birth. We call him "Big Bob" around here, but you can call him Mr. Mitchum, if you like. They've got everything from Holiday Affair to Thunder Road to Night of the Hunter on tap. Plan accordingly, and don't forget Crossfire.


  1. Great Write-up! I enjoyed the movie but I'm always discombobulated by Robert Mitchum not being the leading man. It just doesn't feel right.

    And the little speeches against bigotry aren't bad, except for one. IRC, Robert Young ends one speech with something like "and they hung my Grandfather, just because he was IRISH!" - a rather unbelievable assertion both historically and because Robert Young seems about as Irish as Hebert Hoover.

    1. Thanks. I appreciate the compliment, and your taking the time to read.

      I suppose they were making the point that a mob or anyone filled with hate doesn't need a good reason for their actions. Any immigrant could be a victim.

      I would image that for an actor, that speeches in particular would be difficult to make conversational. By the way, I think Robert Young could pass. Wonder what his background was.

  2. Well, Faith and Begorra, I just looked it up. Robert Young's father was an Irish Immigrant. Fortunately, Father Young didn't get Lynched by angry mobs of Americans, when he stepped off the boat.

    Keep up the great work. Love your blog.

    1. Well what do you know about that! Yep, I guess Pap Young slipped through.

      You make me very happy. Thanks.

  3. I like Captain Finlay, too. He truly does seem like a man who's seen it all, yet he still wants to do the right thing – he doesn't give in to disillusionment.

    Love, LOVE the casting in this film. Robert Ryan is terrifying!

    1. Glad to hear we're Team Finlay. I don't think Young gets enough credit for what he brings to the movie.

      Many actors can give us that duality in roles, the villain and the hero. Robert Ryan, however, goes so deep into either side that it's a wonder he can come back!

      He's one of those "legacy" actors. My dad would point the screen and say "watch this guy".

  4. All the Roberts were great in this movie. (Just as an aside, I'm not sure why your first commenter finds it unbelievable that Irish people were once hanged for being Irish, but there are plenty of such historical incidents. I can think of at least one in western Massachusetts in 1806 when two Irish immigrants were hanged by a prejudiced community. The KKK also persecuted Catholics of many ethnicities.) Movies such as this are not about bigotry towards one group so much as they remind us that no group is safe, and that where one is threatened, we all are. Are filmmakers less brave today, or are they really uninterested in these types of stories?

    1. Charlton Heston wrote that there were so many Chucks on The Big Country (3 actors, 2 stuntmen) that they all stood up and answered when they heard the name. I wonder how they dealt with the Bobs on the Crossfire set.

      It is never easy for the immigrant to become accepted, and it is frightening how easily mobs turn to violence and actions that can never be taken back. When my Irish ancestors came to Nova Scotia, they covered the big two professions - religion and bootlegging. The respect of necessity can be found in those jobs.

      It looks like the new release "Detroit" will focus on recent history that a younger-than-us generation may not be aware of, and movies can provide a service that way.

    2. The 2 Irish Tramps were hanged for the murder of a local farmer in 1806. They were given a defense attorney (who accused the prosecution of hating Irishmen), a fair trial by 1806 standards, and hanged after a priest gave them the last rights. There were no lynch mobs nor were they hanged for "Just Being Irish".

      That someone has to back 200 years, shows how few incidents there are. But we all view things differently.

    3. As Donne wrote: "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

      Or as Ted Baxter said on The Mary Tyler Moore Show: "Lou, he stole your poem."



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