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A "Holy Grail" of Film Noir
on June 20, 2010
NEW YORK CONFIDENTIAL (1955) was one of the two missing "Holy Grail's" of Film Noir. [The other, still missing, is BLACK TUESDAY (1954) with Edward G. Robinson.]
Historically, the movie is a "bridge" between the gang-oriented mobster classics of the 1930s-40s (e.g. LITTLE CAESAR, PUBLIC ENEMY, HIGH SIERRA, WHITE HEAT) and THE GODFATHER. It is one of the earliest films to deal with "organized crime" on a national level, a topic that had been front-page news in the 1950s during Senator Kefauver's Congressional Crime Hearings.
Though "suggested" by a 1950s sensational expose' book by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, the screenplay by Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse appears to be a work of total fiction.
There is a lot to like in this movie, but it does have its problems.
On the plus side, it boasts a stellar cast of players, not the least of whom is Broderick Crawford, at his snappy-talking, "bull-in-a-china-shop" best. And yet, there are scenes in which he is allowed to exhibit a softer, more humorous side.
Richard Conte is also fine as Crawford's steely-eyed "hatchet man," the kind of role he had played many times, and Anne Bancroft is terrific as Crawford's self-destructive daughter who is ashamed that her father is a mobster.
Other effective players are Marilyn Maxwell, J. Carrol Naish and Mike Masurki.
The picture has several good action sequences involving contract killings, particularly the one in which Mazurki murders a Washington lobbyist that borrows a page from the Alfred Hitchcock suspense handbook.
I saw NEW YORK CONFIDENTIAL first run in 1955 (I was 14), and I recall being quite taken with this film that "exposed" organized crime.
Viewing it today, however, I still find it to be fairly entertaining, but it doesn't really hold up as well as some of its gangster predecessors (e.g. WHITE HEAT, HIGH SIERRA). That's because it IS an "expose'," and what was shocking back in 1955 is kind of old hat in 2010. This is, indeed, a film of its time.
The screenplay by Greene and Rouse is a bit "talky," primarily because the writers were trying to make the now well-worn point that much of the country, right up to and including the U.S. Congress, is controlled (or, at least, influenced) by organized crime.
The characters and their family problems are certainly interesting and dramatic, but they lack any real texture, such as you find in THE GODFATHER or even its less successful predecessor, THE BROTHERHOOD (1968), which starred Kirk Douglas.
Rouse directed the picture in a leisurely style, reminiscent of the television version of THE UNTOUCHABLES. Frankly, I think that somebody like Raoul Walsh or Phil Karlson would have infused the movie with a more needed energy.
Despite those minor reservations, I am thankful that VCI Entertainment has made this long missing film available and, as an aficionado of the gangster movie, I am delighted to have it in my collection.
© Michael B. Druxman