The Robert Siodmak train keeps a rollin’ with 1948’s Cry of the City. The character dynamic presented in the film mirrors Angel with Dirty Faces a bit, in which a gangster goes against his childhood friend, who grew up to become a priest. In Siodmak’s film the priest is replaced by a cop, played by Victor Mature (Kiss of Death). And rather than offer up the certainties of retribution that 1930s film did, Siodmak delivers a stylized and wonderfully bleak feast of noir. It failed to pack the emotional punch that The Killers or Criss Cross had, but Cry of the City (what a fuckin’ name, huh?) contains several memorable moments blanketed within Siodmak’s always impressive style.
Criminal Martin Rome (Richard Conte) is recovering in a hospital from a shoot-out with the police. He killed a cop in the gunfight, so once he’s well enough, it’s off to the chair. His childhood pal from Little Italy Detective Candella (Mature) believes that Rome was also involved in a recent jewel robbery, in which a man and a female accomplice tortured an old woman. Cool cat that he is, Rome laughs off the accusation. While he’s prone in bed, ya really get the feel of Rome. Even with a busted leg and an inevitable trip to the chair, he’s a smooth sunavabitch.
A greasy lawyer representing the crook who did pull the jewel heist visits Rome in the hospital and offers him a deal – either fork up $10,000 or he’ll have his girlfriend Teena (Debra Paget) framed for the job. Teena’s the only person Rome really gives a shit about, so he escapes and desperately tries to get Teena outta the city – all while Candella is hot on his heels. The bigger trouble is that Rome hasn’t fully recovered from his injuries, so as the chase progresses, he becomes more ill.
Besides these main players, there’s a fantastic cast of secondaries. Nearly all of them reflect what desperate people will do for money or some kind of person gain. There’s the hospital orderly who helps Rome escape because he hates one of the guard’s guts and wants him fired. The doctor who fixes up Rome’s leg after the escape so he can get money to help his sick wife. And, of course, Rome’s mother. Candella visits the Rome family tenement and she treats him like the good son she never had. The desperation these people harbor is clear, as is the consequences they face later on. Also in the mix is Rome’s younger brother, whose soul both Rome and Candella are fighting for.
The cop and the crook are damn near reflections of each other, both in the way they chose to direct their lives and in the beliefs that keep them going. There’s an interesting switch in the wardrobe as well: Candella dresses in black, Rome in white. Candella is a tenacious cop whose convictions drive him full force to the climactic confrontation with Rome inside a church. This is a genuinely powerful scene, where Rome must realize how his manipulation of people has affected them. He’s used everybody for his own gain, even the ones he loved. Even his own family. It’s a heart-wrenching scene that culminates in an unforgettable moment out on the cold, wet streets outside the church. The darkness of the ending is provided some light, in the form of Rome’s brother, who then and there swears off a life of crime. There’s some hope for the Rome family yet.
Siodmak was used to shooting in a studio, but he worked absolute wonders with New York locations. The wet streets and the thrum of traffic all permeate the scenes, and when night rolls in the scenes are consumed by Siodmak’s shadows and dark corners. The citizens are threatened to be swallowed by the darkness. Even the inside of a church is lit like a cellar.
While it may not be as well-known as his major noirs, Cry of the City is a tough, stellar film featuring great performances and a damn exciting climax. Also, I just wanna mention real quick, the scene where Rome escapes from the hospital isn’t an elaborate breakout or anything, but it is white-knuckle as hell. The simplicity of it really demonstrates Siodmak’s talent for suspense.
Robert Siodmak Power Rankings:
1. The Killers
2. Criss Cross
3. The Spiral Staircase
4. Phantom Lady
5. Cry of the City
6. The Dark Mirror
7. The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
8. The File on Thelma Jordon
9. The Suspect
10. Christmas Holiday