In much of film noir, sometimes the dirtiest thing about the streets is the cops. They either hold strong to such an unbreakable moral code of justice that they’ll destroy anything from a life to their families to ensure its vitality. Or they’re just as corrupt as the gangsters they through behind bars – beating their way to a promotion, pocketing seized cash in the meantime. One wicked example of the latter is the cop at the heart of Bruce Humberstone’s twisting tale of crime and punishment, I Wake Up Screaming (1941), featuring one of the most subtly psychotic cops I’ve seen yet on the Hardboiled Hangover.
CRY OF THE CITY (1948)
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.
KISS OF DEATH (1947)
“Y’know what I do to squealers? I give it to em in the belly.”
Man, it doesn’t get slimier than Tommy Udo. Richard Widmark made his screen debut in this 1947 thriller from director Henry Hathaway (The House on 92nd Street), and goddamn did he make his mark. Kiss of Death made him an instant star. The film is based on the book by Elazar Lipsky, a former assistant district attorney in New York and is loaded with inside detail on how the judicial system works – and it ain’t pretty.