Noir Nook: YouTube Noir – Cry of the City (1948)
The other night, I participated in a #FilmNoirFriday thread on Twitter, where I offered up a film noir recommendation. I selected The Big Combo (1955), which is one of the many noirs that I love, but which doesn’t get a lot of attention. This first-rate feature stars Cornel Wilde, (Wilde’s then-wife) Jean Wallace, Brian Donlevy, Earl Holliman, and Lee Van Cleef.
Oh, and there was one more star in the film: Richard Conte.
I have been known to declare that I could cheerfully watch Richard Conte tie his shoelaces, or listen to him recite the pages of the phone book. In other words, I’m pretty crazy about this guy as an actor, and particularly as a film noir actor. He can be seen in more than 10 movies from the classic noir era, playing roles that range from a mild-mannered, bow tie-wearing husband of a kleptomaniac, to a heartless, stone-cold hitman. This month’s Noir Nook offers the third entry in my series of film noir features that can be found on YouTube – it’s another underrated Conte noir, Cry of the City (1948), which contains one of my favorite Conte performances.
In this picture, Conte is Martin Rome, a small-time hood who kills a cop during a bungled robbery attempt and, despite being injured during the crime, manages to escape from police custody. While on the lam, Rome has a number of memorable encounters. He tries to extort ten grand from a crooked attorney who pulls a gun on Rome and winds up getting knifed for his troubles. He goes to his family home, hoping to get some comfort and rest from his devoted and loving mother, only to be literally handed his coat and shown the door. And his hero-worshipping kid brother arranges for Martin to rendezvous with his naïve and loyal girlfriend, Tina, who he tries to convince to run away with him.
In Martin Rome, Conte gives us a portrait of a criminal who can, in turn, be smart, shrewd, and even charming but is completely deficient when it comes to considering others, even those whom he professes to love most. A self-centered user who was always able to self-justify his nefarious acts, Martin’s efforts to achieve his own ends always came above all else, whether that meant a stiff prison sentence for the jail trusty who helped him break out, or endangering this lives of his young brother or girlfriend. His mother hit the nail on the head in what would be her final meeting with her wayward son: “You have no feelings for other people. You only care for Marty.”
Conte is ably supported by Victor Mature (in what I consider to be one of his best roles), Barry Kroeger as the corrupt and ill-fated attorney, Tommy Cook (who’s still with us at age 89) as Martin’s brother, and, as Martin’s girlfriend, Debra Paget in her film debut. The film was directed by noir veteran Robert Siodmak, who also helmed such gems as Phantom Lady (1944), The Killers (1946), Criss Cross (1948), and The File on Thelma Jordon (1949).
If you’re new to Cry of the City, you’re in for a treat – and if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, do yourself a favor and give it a re-watch. You only owe it to yourself.
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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