Sometimes the girl on a gangster’s arm is more important than the billfold in his pocket. Nothing is truer in the world of Mr. Brown, a somber, carnal crook who gets off on owning Susan Lowell, a stunning blonde who’s essentially held captive by Brown. Sniffing at Brown’s polished heels is persistent flatfoot Leonard Diamond. While he insists he’s spending the tax payers’ money to take down Brown’s big “combination,” it’s really his overwhelming lust for Susan that’s driving him. The Big Combo is director Joseph H. Lewis’ other masterpiece (alongside Gun Crazy). While on the surface it may seem like a pretty straightforward gangster flick, this bad bitch is a potent brew of cruelty and sex.
In 1945, director Henry Hathaway collaborated with the FBI and 20th Century Fox to make The House on 92nd Street. The film was an obvious handjob to the FBI meant to paint them in a positive light while presenting their twisted uptight version of justice. The pseudo-documentary style would be utilized three years later in Hathaway’s Call Northside 777 (as well as numerous other post-war films). It’s based on the true story of a Chicago reporter who proved that an innocent man was rotting in prison for the murder of a cop 11 years before. This film sorta wavers on the fence between documentary and noir tradition of the 1940s, meaning it never dips into bleak territory or wallows in cynicism as it examines the American judicial system. However, it certainly doesn’t trust ol’ Lady Justice either, the crooked bitch that she is.
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.