Columbia Noir: The Mob (1951)

mob1Well there’s no uncertainty about this one- The Mob is very much a film noir, right from its rain-drenched, night-time opening and to its thrilling, gutsy conclusion. The lighting, the framing, everything screams ‘noir’ from the very start and while the film goes off into an organised crime caper that echoes that of 711 Ocean Drive, the previous film in this second Columbia Noir set from Indicator, there’s something much darker, edgier and pulpier in this offering.

Its possibly because they were generally b-movies and exploitation thrillers, but sometimes these noir feature the unlikeliest, or perhaps more aptly speaking, the most unspectacular, of protagonists as their leads. Conventional Hollywood leading men would I suppose usually be featured in more wholesome, higher-budget dramas and thrillers, so these noir often, it seems to me, feature actors who seem to have lived in the real world more than, say, your regular Hollywood heartthrob (Glenn Ford may argue with me though on that observation). But certainly, Broderick Crawford, middle-aged and overweight and hardly blessed with a face to set women’s hearts a flutter seems both a refreshingly unlikely lead and paradoxically an oddly convincing one. When  this guy turns up on the docks undercover, he looks like a surly trouble-maker and working-class joe rather than a heroic handsome lead- you can believe the workers and thugs don’t imagine he is really a cop. There’s a sense of reality to it, and Crawford is great in the role.

The noir trope of a trapped hero raises its head early on in the film- Crawford plays Police Detective Johnny Damico who late at night stumbles upon the aftermath of a gun fight whilst off-duty. The shooter, face partly obscured by the rain and shadows, identifies himself as Lt. Henderson, a Detective from another Precinct. Surrendering his badge and gun to Damico, Henderson reveals that the dead man at his feet shot a police officer just a few hours before. Damacio suggests that Henderson goes over to an open shop across the road to call for back up, handing Henderson his gun. But while a police car quickly arrives, Henderson doesn’t return, and the patrolmen exiting the car deny being called-in. Damico rushes over to the shop and is told by the owner that Henderson didn’t go to the phone, but instead went out the back and off into the night. It dawns on Damico that he’s been had, which is confirmed when he calls his boss and learns that a Lt. Meary was murdered a few hours before, and his gun and badge stolen. Whoever ‘Henderson’ was, he wasn’t a cop- and Damacio has unwittingly let a killer caught cold-handed get away free.

Damico is offered a chance to redeem himself by going undercover at the waterfront docks to finish what the dead officer Meary was trying to accomplish- to uncover the identity of a mysterious gangland figure who is in charge of racketeering on the docks, who goes by the name of Blackie Clegg- in the grand tradition of Fu Manchu, this criminal genius is an unknown figure that nobody on the right side of the Law has seen or been able to identify.

Its quite an intriguing drama involving gun-happy heavies, mysterious waterfront characters, corrupt cops, and Damico threatened on all sides. Crawford is supported by a very fine cast, which features Ernest Borgnine in one of his very first films, as menacing mob leader Joe Castro, and a very young Charles Bronson in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it early role as a dock worker. I really enjoyed The Mob, and its twists and turns were really very well executed .On top of its very good script and fine cast, the film looks absolutely top-notch, with gorgeously atmospheric cinematography. It really works on all levels and I can’t fault it at all, its a solid film and strong addition to this very fine Columbia Noir set.