Cry of the City (1948)

cry5Cry of the City, 1948, 95 mins 

Directed by Richard Siodmak – Phantom Lady, The Killers, The Dark Mirror, Criss Cross

Starring Victor MatureKiss of Death, Samson and Delilah, The Robe, Richard Conte – Whirlpool, The Big Combo, The Brothers Rico, The Godfather, Fred Clark – Sunset Boulevard, The Curse of the Mummy’ s Tomb

Cry of the City, so typically of noir, had me wondering at the start just where my allegiances lay. There’s often an almost unconscious tendency to root for the bad guys, especially in narratives such as this, which opens on some poor guy in hospital getting served the last rites with his family looking on. This is Martin Rome (Richard Conte), and it transpires he’s a crook who just shot dead a police officer, so even if he survives his wounds (which he does) it will be for naught as he’s certain to face the death penalty. Well, so you’d think- but Rome is a supreme opportunist who manages to break out of prison and gets hold of a stash of jewellery from a corrupt lawyer, with which he’ll finance a getaway out of the country with his latest girl, Teena (Debra Paget, in a fairly thankless role). Rome has an innate charm with which he uses people whether it be family (younger brother Tony idolizes him ) or gullible ladies, like Brenda (Shelley Winters) or Frances, a nurse at the hospital who falls under his spell. Conte is very good here, warm and smooth when he needs to be and yet tough and heartless; he’s clearly a streetwise thug who isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is.

So my natural tendency was to root for Rome to find some way out, to beat the system and escape justice, but as the film progresses any empathy for him starts to wane as it becomes clear what a user he is and the negative effect he has on everyone around him. He’s bad, he needs to come to an ill end,  and we have to start rooting for the good guys, even if one of them is Victor Mature.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I seem to have a dislike for Victor Mature- I’ve no idea why, but I suspect it may simply be because I may have seen him in a film when I was very young and just took an instant dislike to whatever character he was playing, and it stuck with me ever since. Anyway, as irrational as that may be, I have to confess that I may now be warming to him a little, because he’s really very good indeed here. He delivers a strong and rather sensitive performance as a frustrated Detective, Vittorio Candella. He’s from the same neighbourhood as criminal Rome and is angry that Rome blames his own behaviour on the tough streets he grew up in, as if Rome himself is the victim. “Oh, save it for the jury, Marty,” retorts Candella. “Who do you think you’re kidding? l was brought up in the district too. I’ve heard that dialogue from you poolroom hotshots ever since l was ten years old. Get hip… only suckers work… don’t be a square… stay with the smart money,”  For Candella its a matter of choice, knowing good from bad, and Rome’s criminal activity is a bad example to the other kids growing up there and a bad representation of the largely law-abiding immigrant community that calls those streets home.

cry4Maybe Mature’s excellent performance is down to his director- Richard Siodmak, no stranger to me as I’ve at this point seen a number of his film noir and I rate them as amongst the very best I’ve seen. While his noir  typically have strong visual flourishes – the expressionistic lighting and composition so synonymous with noir, they are also graced by strong performances;  Siodmak certainly seems to have had a knack of getting great work from his cast, so perhaps its no surprise that even someone I don’t usually like in films is so good here.  Even the minor players, such as Shelley Winters in one of her earliest credited roles, really shine (Winters in particular absolutely makes an impression, even though she’s only onscreen for ten to fifteen minutes- albeit I still can’t rationalise that that (lets be kind) mature lady in The Poseidon Adventure was so hot back in the day).

Cry of the City is a very strong noir- it has a great storyline with plenty of twists, some genuine surprises, and some really interesting characters being played by great character actors. I expect that the book this story was based upon was a great page-turner. There really isn’t much to find fault with here, and even the film’s inevitable moralising doesn’t feel forced, but rather deftly handled as a natural extension of the plot and how Rome’s misdeeds are impacting those around him. I’m quite surprised that this film isn’t as popular a noir as some others, its yet another example to current film-makers with their bloated movies of just how much can be naturally fitted into what is pretty much a ninety- minute film: there’s no padding, and it doesn’t feel rushed. Maybe pacing is something of a lost art?  This film really hasn’t aged at all and I must just point out how much I was impressed by some of its lovely location shooting, so evocative of a lost era/lost world. There were moments where an establishing shot would quite take my breath away, and I’d find it hard to resist reaching for the pause button to soak it in, that sense of time and place, just a little more. Some shots were like looking through the window of a time machine. Its something so typical of noir but which I always find so seductive. So yeah, this is a really good, solid film noir. I guess I should start looking for a copy on Blu-ray. Oh my wallet.



3 thoughts on “Cry of the City (1948)

  1. Siodmak’s run in the 1940s is really remarkable, isn’t it? it seemed he could do little wrong and I agree that he got some fine performances from almost everybody who worked on his movies at the time. I remember feeling ambivalent about Mature in My Daring Clementine once upon a time, but I came to realize what a beautifully realized and sensitive performance it is – I’d hate to see anyone else play the role now.

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