58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2002
Quentin Tarantino owes his career -- or what's left of it, anyway -- to Joseph L. Lewis' *The Big Combo*, from 1955. Fans of *Resevoir Dogs* will be surprised to see that the villain of the piece (a hissable Richard Conte) is named "Mr. Brown" (which was Tarantino's color-coded name in his own film). They will also be shocked to discover that Tarantino is something of a rip-off artist when they see the scene here where Conte and his goons torture a cop tied to a chair. In 1955, force-feeding someone booze, splashing it all over him, and cramming a hearing-aid into his ear with the other end attached to a radio was considered sufficient torture. In 1992, our sensibilities required the removal of the ear and splashes of gasoline. Progress. At any rate, my point is that *The Big Combo* was a very influential film noir among connoisseurs. It still packs a wallop. I take issue with the fellow from Canada below on several points. As for his sniping about the low budget here . . . yeah? So? If anyone can name a classic film noir that had an extravagant budget to play with -- with the possible exception of *Double Indemnity* -- I'd be interested to know about it. And my answer to his complaints about the dialogue is to suggest that perhaps he has confused *The Big Combo* with, well, *Double Indemnity*. I personally find the dialogue to be compact, lean and mean, and reasonably free of superfluous verbiage. (Unlike in Wilder's "classic", wherein insurance agents talk like lifelong Hell's Kitchen hoods, to say nothing of nattering voice-over narration.) There are certainly no page-long, single-space monologues in this movie. In any case, the absolutely stunning cinematography provided by the master John Alton should mute any misguided criticisms. This will be one of the best-shot black & white movies you will ever see. It ranks with the Expressionist milestones of Murnau and Welles. The pulsing alternation between shadow and sudden clarity is particularly impressive. A word of praise also goes to the performers: Jean Wallace is a walking blonde veneer steaming with sexual degredation beneath the surface; her real-life husband Cornel Wilde is the quintessential New York City detective. The supporting players are great, too. [The DVD is not so great. No extras, but who cares? -- it's the transfer that's really lacking. *The Big Combo* needs, and deserves, a thorough clean-up, in the Criterion tradition. We're still missing the entirety of Alton's photographic achievement with this product.]
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2000
First and foremost I would like to congratulate and say thank you very much to IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT for having the sense to make available a great overlooked, and underappreciated classic on VHS and DVD. "The Big Combo" is one of the best film noirs ever made, and one of the best films of the 1950s. It is one of the most brutal films both visually and in its depiction of the violence that lies beneath the surface of society. It also has many great performances by Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, and Conte's two psychopathic aids Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman. This is definitely a must-see for either fans of dark, violent films, or for fans of great artistic films also. I congratulate, applaud, and thank very much, IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT for remembering and making "THE BIG COMBO" available on DVD and VHS as it should be. Here are some forgotten classics that aren't available on video or need a better transfer, that definitely should: NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950), GUN CRAZY (1949), BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956), NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), CRIME WAVE (1954), WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950), TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), EDGE OF DOOM (1950), SCARLETT STREET (1945), THE RED HOUSE (1947), DETOUR (1945), CAUGHT (1949), THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1948)
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2000
Wow ! That's the kind of film noir I like. Firstly , the villain is really a villain. Richard - Mr Brown - Conte is the kind of bad guy you don't want to have against you. The way he uses a radio to torture the poor Cornel Wilde is...weird, it's the least one can say.
One also will recognize Lee Van Cleef, the future spaghetti star of the italian westerns of the 60's, in the role of a vicious bodyguard. And Jean Wallace as the fragile blond girlfriend of our vicious psychopath. And Brian Donleavy, the former mob boss, whose ear infirmity gives to director Joseph Lewis the opportunity to imagine a scene that is part of Movie History.
The quality of the DVD is above-average with very good images but no extras. Just a scene access.
A DVD for your library.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2002
This is tough, muscular film noir delivered by a master of the genre, director Joseph Lewis, whose master touch in low budget mystery gave us the unforgettable "Gun Crazy." The camera work is excellent in this epic about a large city at night, when two obsessive men do battle for turf control, giving us a microscopic view of its fierce underbelly and the ferocious mobsters who tenaciously seek to control it.
Cornell Wilde is a tough, uncompromisingly honest cop who is belittle by his equally determined adversary, Richard Conte, for being so bright yet ending up with such a small paycheck at the end of the week. Wilde has two reasons for bringing down the cocky Conte, that earlier expressed of seeking to make the city a more decent place with the mobster's loss of influence. The other is that he holds a passionate love for the beautiful blonde controlled in such a tight vise by Conte that she attempts suicide. The blonde is Wilde's real life wife, Jean Wallace, and Wilde is determined to pull her away from the egomaniacally dominating Conte before she is destroyed.
For a large part of the film Conte laughs at Wilde, taunting him over his ineffectuality, telling him he is wasting his time attempting to put him away. This is largely a bluff, though, since he recognizes Wilde's zealousness and competence. At one point his henchmen kill a lovely young stripper going with the policeman, intending to terminate Wilde instead.
Wilde is able to crack the case when he learns about the existence of Conte's wife, thought to be dead, played by Helen Walker. When Wilde gets the goods on the mobster and is ready to arrest him Conte begs his adversary to kill him. Wilde will have none of it, telling Conte that he will instead be tried, convicted, and sent to prison, where he will be a man devoid of power. Wilde knows that this is a much sterner punishment to Conte than death by execution.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"The Big Combo" is thoroughly characteristic of classic film noir, which is remarkable in that it was a latecomer to the classic film noir movement, released in 1955. Cinematographer John Alton may have been film noir's most expressionistic photographer, and "The Big Combo" exploits his precision low-key lighting and penchant for shooting through fog to their greatest advantage. Philip Yordan wrote the "crusading cop" story directly for the screen and, in great noir tradition, included no real good guys or victims among his characters.
Police Lieutenant Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) has been trying for 6 months to find something that will incriminate the infamous and elusive Mr. Brown (Richard Conte), the financial arm of his city's crime syndicate, and come up emptyhanded. One evening Mr. Brown's mistress, Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), attempts suicide in her desperation to escape the life she has made for herself, and Diamond takes advantage of the opportunity to arrest her and pressure her for information. She tells him nothing, but in her delirium, she repeats the name "Alicia". Convinced that Alicia might be an important clue to cracking Mr. Brown, Diamond rounds up and questions everyone associated with Brown, including the man himself, inciting a bloody war between his own and Brown's conflicting obsessions. Mr. Brown articulates the film's perspective when he mockingly calls Diamond "a righteous man".
"The Big Combo" is one of film noir's most obvious examples of the sexualization of violence. We can see the standards changing and the Production Code relaxing in this film. Explicit torture scenes and undisguised sexuality are very different techniques than "Gun Crazy", noir's sex and violence masterpiece, employed 6 years earlier. "The Big Combo" is a very good film whose sensational aspects augment its edginess without being explicit enough to overwhelm its themes. But it made me realize that, if the classic film noir movement had lasted much longer than it did, the increasingly loose standards of what could be shown in movies would have produced films that were tawdry and gory instead of introverted and subversive. They did, of course, but film noir had passed by that point, and if it hadn't, graphic overstatement would have done it in. The Image Entertainment DVD, released in 2000, has no bonus features or subtitles.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2005
I'm a film noir fanatic and I can tell you this is easily one of the very best examples you'll find anywhere. It has an awesome cast, wonderful hard-boiled dialogue, a fast-paced jazzy score by legendary composer David Raksin, and incredible cinematography by the great John Alton, who is well-known for his work in film noirs like "T-Men", "Raw Deal", "The Amazing Mr. X", and "He Walked by Night". If you looked up film noir in a dictionary this movie could be the definition!
Cornel Wilde stars as Lieutenant Leonard Diamond, a "righteous" cop who's determined to take down the evil Mr. Brown (Richard Conte at his menacing best!), who controls a crime racket known as "The Big Combination". Desperate to get evidence, Diamond turns to Brown's beautiful girlfriend Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace) for help. She refuses to help him until Brown's henchmen murder Diamond's girlfriend, which convinces Susan that Brown must be brought to justice.
Diamond tries to track down potential witnesses against Mr. Brown, but Brown proves to be too crafty, and the potential witnesses are quickly eliminated. That is, until Diamond tracks down Mr. Brown's wife, who only after continuous pressure finally agrees to help the police. It all boils down to the inevitable showdown between good and evil, with Brown cornered by the persistant Diamond, who like the Mounties, "always gets his man."
"The Big Combo" was directed by Joseph Lewis, the same genius who gave us the classic "Gun Crazy". Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte were simply superb, although the obvious scene-stealer was Conte who portrayed one of the cruelest gangsters of all time. In fabulous supporting roles were Brian Donlevy (who portrayed Mr. Brown's right-hand man) and Lee Van Cleef (who portrayed one of Mr. Brown's hoodlums of course). Beautiful Jean Wallace was actually married to co-star Cornel Wilde at the time, making their scenes together even more convincing, romantic, and entertaining.
This movie has earned a reputation for having graphic, ahead-of-its-time violence, but trust me it's nothing you can't handle. Compared to modern mob movies, the violence in "The Big Combo", even the torture sequence, is very tame. In terms of style (especially cinematography), it's hard to find a better film noir than this classic. Bottom line, this movie is a definite must for all film noir buffs!
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
It is sad that such a tense, gritty and beautiful little film has been given such an awful presentation. The picture quality is passable, but tends to be murky. John Alton was noted for his use of shadows, but this transfer leaves much to be desired. It can be lived with, however, since this was an independent film and possibly nothing else survives. The sound howver, is another story. It is TOTALLY unacceptable. Throughout the entire film, quite loud at time, is an audio problem known as "motorboating". This occurs when the edge of the picture frame gets into the track area and you "hear" the frame lines in the soundtrack as a constant humming, like a boat motor. It RUINS this films, especially in a scene where silence is key. Although this problem is present in the original material used to make this transfer, it should have been corrected. I cannot recommend this video to anyone unless you are a die-hard J.H. Lewis fan. It's sad, because this is a highly enjoyable film, a fascinating counterpoint to Lewis's raucous "Gun Crazy".
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2005
Lean, taut, and violent, "The Big Combo" is a great example of 1950's film noir and belongs in the same rank as "This Gun For Hire," "The Killers," and "Criss Cross." While it's low budget shows through (which is common for almost any film noir), the dynamic black and white photography will blow you away with its iconic contrasts.
The first name-less Mr. Brown, as embodied by a barely restrained Richard Conte, is a truly despicable villian. The famous torture scene of Cornell Wilde's police detective seems tame by today's standards, but must have been shocking in 1955 upon the film's release. Still, the violence packs a sap-gloved punch, and the dialogue is so hard boiled it cracks.
Look for early screen appearances by tough guy Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman as best buddy(?)assassins who are seemingly inseparable. The hospital scene featuring Mr. Brown speaking to Cornel Wilde through Brian Donleavy is a scream. And all that smoke and those shadows...hard not to like this gem.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I don't have to repeat everything that others have written-- this is a great movie! I already had the Image DVD when I decided to buy the Geneon PD release for just over a dollar from an Amazon seller to send to a friend. I expected the inexpensive public domain release to be barely watchable. I've had that experience with most of the Alpha DVD's I've purchased. But, THIS Geneon is quite good. Before looking for an out of print Image DVD, check this one out! With shipping, my total cost was under 4 dollars! Highly recommended!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2009
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I'm a fan of this movie even though the plot is a little silly at times, and Cornell Wilde isn't the greatest of actors. However the film makes up for it's weaknesses in style. The cinematography and stark lighting are first rate. Plus it has Richard Conte, who is one of my favorite actors.
The Big Combo is in the public domain, and there are several versions available on DVD, so buyer beware. I recommend the one by Image Entertainment. Although the print used in their version has scratches in several scenes, it still has the best picture quality of all the PD DVDs out there. (Avoid the ones by Geneon Entertainment and Alpha Video. The Geneon version is interlaced, too.) Even so, the Image disc is a bare bones affair, with no extras. Maybe one day someone will do a proper restoration of the film and include an audio commentary by a film historian, but until then the Image DVD will have to do.