Rating: The Good – 71.4 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 92 mins Director: Phil Karlson Stars: Richard Conte, Dianne Foster, Kathryn Grant
A modest forerunner to mob classics such as The Godfather and Goodfellas, The Brothers Rico is a compelling crime drama centring on Richard Conte’s Florida business man and former accountant to “the organisation” who is brought back into the fold when his brothers go on the run from the big boss. In place of shootouts, The Brothers Rico falls on the more subjective side to organised crime as Conte attempts to balance his duty to his former employers with his family’s future. In a prescient piece of social commentary, the expansion of the family (he and his wife are adopting a son while his brother and his wife are expecting one) acts as a personal contrast to the semblance of family attributed to by the mob to themselves. And the more Conte begins to appreciate the former, the more the veil drops on the latter. For an actor that skirted so close to stardom as he did, this is one of the few wholly dramatic roles Conte got to sink his teeth into and he’s gives it plenty of nuance. Diane Foster is equally interesting as his wife while James Darren excels as the younger brother on the lamb. Most memorable perhaps is Larry Gates who puts in a quietly formidable turn as the crafty boss Sid Kubick. Phil Karlson adequately directed the movie but one wonders what a stronger director would’ve brought to the table for the movie’s style lacks the personality of both Georges Simenon’s story and Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay. The film’s close skips a couple of beats too in a not too subtle attempt to reel a rather dark tale into warmer waters. Again, more commitment here to the essence of the story and The Brothers Rico would probably be more than a footnote in the history of mob cinema.
Rating: The Good – 76.8 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 94 mins Director: Jules Dassin Stars: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb
Unique noir drama courtesy of one of the genre’s great directors follows a couple of truck drivers as they attempt to sell a consignment of apples to a cutthroat retailer while at the same time wrangle the money he cheated from one of their fathers during a previous sale. Richard Conte stars as the offended party determined to stand up to Lee J. Cobb’s hardened chiseller and, if possible, exact some revenge for his role in his father’s paralysis. The pair cultivate a fine antagonism that Jules Dassin slow cooks for most of the film while he goes about showing us the ins and outs of the backstreet produce trade. As Conte’s partner, the craggy Millard Mitchell adds a worldly presence to contextualise Conte and Cobb’s personal duel while providing a tense subplot involving Millard and a couple of competitors. With Dassin behind the camera, take it as a given that Thieves’ Highway looks every bit the classic but for a story outside the traditional noir territory of murder and detectives – a tradition that lent itself to a raw visual aesthetic – it’s particularly accomplished in its execution. Norbert Brodine’s polished photography and Thomas Little’s set design are especially stunning to behold and fit for the purposes of A.I. Bezzerides’s unusual take on the doomed inertia of the noir hero. Adapting his own novel, the latter strikes a delicate balance between the intimacy of the working man’s plight and the hard edge of criminal ethics but it’s Dassin exquisite orchestration that brings it all together in such riveting fashion.
Rating: The Good – 75.6 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 88 mins Director: Otto Preminger Stars: Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, José Ferrer
Otto Preminger’s minor classic of psychological suspense has Gene Tierney playing the troubled wife of Richard Conte’s famous psychotherapist who is hypnotised into implicating herself in a murder by quack therapist José Ferrer. Preminger’s rich and sophisticated touch is all over this appealing little thriller and, from frame one to the close, Whirlpool looks wonderful. But what it boasts more loudly is an elegant story and some truly excellent performers at its centre. Tierney is a beautiful picture of nervous energy and strikes a delicate balance between confidence and vulnerability. Conte is surprisingly believable as the famed intellectual she is fervently dedicated to and Charles Bickford is fantastic as the grisly old detective whose sympathy for the married couple drives him deeper into the case. However, this is the great Ferrer’s film. It’s a devious little turn full of charm, malice, and well disguised pettiness. Yet another villain on his resume but completely different to anything he or anyone else had previously (or since) given us. Guy Endore’s novel provides the intriguing premise but the legendary Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt bring it to the screen with so much grace. Yes, it approaches the world of psychotherapy with a little too much respect and even fear but such mystique does a tricksy thriller like this no harm whatsoever. Highly recommended.
Rating: The Good – 70.7 Genre: Film-Noir, Drama Duration: 112 mins Director: Henry Hathaway Stars: James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb
Another one of those 20th Century Fox thrillers that were rolled out in an attempt to cash in on the success of the great films-noir of the early forties. Rarely fitting snugly into the noir category, these films were strong on plot but nothing more than solid in the screenplay and direction department. This one is much the same although with James Stewart, Lee J. Cobb, and Richard Conte in the starring roles, the standard enough script was made extra effective. Conte is the blue collar mug sentenced to life for the murder of a police officer but proclaims his innocence. Stewart and Cobb are the investigative reporter and editor respectively who attempt to lift the lid on the case eleven years later only to find evidence of corruption and stonewalling.
Stewart brings his usual five star presence and sharpens it with just enough cynicism to carry the film’s tension square on his shoulders. Alongside him, Cobb and Conte bring a level of professionalism to the film that gives it a personality it might have otherwise struggled to achieve given that Henry Hathaway shot this one with a level or greyness that leaned more towards the traditional noir aesthetic but without the intrigue of shadowy contrasts.
Hathaway was one of Fox’s preferred directors for these films perhaps because he knew how to shoot these stories and generally wasn’t drawn off task by an over commitment to aesthetic. He was solid as a rock. And while Call Northside 777 was competently shot, it still looked every bit the mainstream vehicle. For this reason, there’s a lack of edge to the tenser moments and the film’s overall progression but, as usual in these movies, it’s the story that wins out here. With strong arm police officers and shady witnesses at every turn, sniping lawyers, and even a touching romantic angle, this one has some great fundamentals and they tie together seamlessly. You’ll find yourself fully endeared to Stewart’s mission to clear an innocent man’s name and more than satisfied with the conclusion.
Rating: The Good – 82.7 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 84 mins Director: Joseph H. Lewis Stars: Richard Conte, Jean Wallace, Cornel Wilde
Cracking film noir, The Big Combo opens to the sultry swinging music of David Raskin and spends the remaining 84 minutes living up to every bit of that theme music’s promise. Cornel Wilde plays a detective with a personal grudge against Richard Conte’s ruthless mob boss but every time he thinks he has his man, the loathsome gangster comes out one step ahead. With each new piece of evidence or witness follows Conte’s enforcers and when one of those tough guys is Lee Van Cleef, you know you’re in for some chilling showdowns. And that’s exactly what you get.
The Big Combo is as dark as films noirs got in their heyday, punctuated as it is by moments of cruelty and moral debasement that are startlingly shot and intensely acted. Conte is magnificent as the smugly disturbing mastermind (foreshadowing his later turn as Don Barzini) who exudes menace and contempt for everyone in his path. Wilde is a little plain in the role of the exasperated cop, sacrificing much to let Conte shine in the tenser scenes. Van Cleef is everything his fans would hope for in a similar role to his High Noon turn but with dialogue! Cruel and chilling dialogue at that, made more so by his magnetic voice. Brian Donlevy and Jean Wallace round off the cast off with the former giving one of the richer performances despite relatively less screen time. Unfortunately, the latter falls as flat as Wilde did in the lead.
Feeding the exciting turns in the story is Philip Yordan’s wonderfully twisted screenplay which, while dialled rather high at times, accentuates the flamboyantly dark tone of the film. Director Joseph H. Lewis and legendary cinematographer John Alton pull out all the stops here with some sharply intelligent uses of the camera. Shot in misty black and white, the film has a murkiness at its centre so that much of what we see is revealed through sharp slivers of key lighting. The film is flush with little flourishes too, most of which bedeck the grittier scenes and give them a tantalising and hugely memorable quality. The scene in which Conte goes to work on Wilde with a hearing aid and a very loud radio is utterly superb in construction as Lewis captures our minds and puts us right in the shoes of the brutalised detective.
Given the absence of a genuine star in either the lead good guy role or that of the romantic interest, The Big Combo never got the acclaim of many of its contemporaries but the unrelenting grittiness of the piece might also account for its under-acknowledgement. However, that just means it’s there to be discovered by fans of the genre and what a discovery it will be. And if you’re still not sure just have a listen to the film’s opening scene embedded at the top of the page.