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, Screenplay, Best 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.
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.
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.
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.