Noir Nook: Five Things I Love About New York Confidential (1955)

Five Things I Love About New York Confidential (1955)

I can’t recall how or when I first came across New York Confidential (1955), but I clearly remember being sucked into the film from practically the opening scene and counting it among my noir favorites by the last.

Directed by Russell Rouse, the film centers on Charlie Lupo (Broderick Crawford), the hard-nosed head of a New York crime syndicate; his loyal and efficient enforcer, Nick Magellan (Richard Conte); and his beautiful daughter, Kathy (Anne Bancroft), whose life is a misery because of the way her father makes a living. Others in the Lupo sphere include his right-hand man, Ben Dagajanian (J. Carroll Naish), who exists primarily as Charlie’s combination sounding board and nerve soother; his fretful mother (Celia Lovsky); his high-society girlfriend, Iris Palmer (Marilyn Maxwell), whose roving eye lands on Nick; and Arnie Wendler (the always great Mike Mazurki), a member of Charlie’s crew who ultimately has his own  best interests at heart.

New York Confidential Broderick Crawford
Broderick Crawford

The plot stirs this divergent cast of characters into an action-packed stew that depicts the struggle of the high-powered syndicate leaders to maintain the status quo, and the circumstances that converge to bring it to them to their proverbial knees. This month’s Noir Nook serves up five reasons why I love this first-rate feature. (Incidentally, it’s currently available for free on several streaming platforms, including YouTube and Tubi.)

  • The film is narrated by a distinctive baritone voice that makes you sit up a little straighter in your chair – you have the feeling that matters of consequence are being imparted. The narration comes courtesy of Marvin Miller, who I know from his performance as the luckless sidekick of Morris Carnovsky in Dead Reckoning (1947), but his voice is familiar, too. He did tons of voice work during his lengthy career, starting with his first screen gig, a 1944 short called Hell-Bent for Election, and including such films as Forbidden Planet (1964), where he voiced Robby the Robot; children’s shows like The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl; and, perhaps most notably, the long-running TV series, The F.B.I. In addition, Miller was the star of The Millionaire, a CBS-TV series where he played the executive secretary to a mysterious billionaire and dispensed a check for a million dollars at the start of each episode.
New York Confidential Richard Conte and Anne Bancroft
Richard Conte and Anne Bancroft
  • Little touches are sprinkled throughout the film that humanize the otherwise ruthless gangsters. Charlie Lupo and Ben Dagajanian were certainly no pushovers when it came to the crime game, but in a couple of their scenes together, they manage to make the viewer briefly forget that they are killers at heart. In the first scene, after discussing a recent hit gone wrong, Ben shares photos of his grandchildren with Charlie. “Hey, these are wonderful,” Charlie says admiringly. “This young one – spitting image of you, Ben. Believe me, spitting image.”  And later, we learn that Charlie has digestive ailments when he downs a dish that “tastes like something you put wallpaper on with.” He watches with envy as Ben washes down his hefty meal with a cold beer and grouses, “What I wouldn’t give for a salami on rye and a kosher pickle.”
New York Confidential Anne Bancroft
Anne Bancroft
  • The scene where Nick receives an English lesson from Kathy Lupo. After Nick admonishes her regarding an argument she’d had with her father, Kathy informs Nick that he has “a penchant for interfering in other people’s affairs.” Puzzled, Nick repeats, “Penchant?” And Kathy explains, “Penchant means a strong inclination towards. And I’d appreciate it hereafter if you’d mind your own business.”  Minutes later, when Charlie shares with Nick his plans to buy him a new wardrobe, Nick expresses his appreciation and adds with confidence that he has “a penchant for nice things.”
New York Confidential Marilyn Maxwell
Marilyn Maxwell
  • Richard Conte’s performance. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I could happily watch Richard Conte read names out of the phone book for an hour. And his portrayal of Nick Magellan (I even love his character’s name!) did nothing to dissuade me from this stance. He frequently plays ice-cold dudes in his films, but Nick might just be the ice-coldest. In just one example of Nick’s persona, late in the film, he is attacked by a couple of hoods as he enters his apartment. In the next scene, the two men are in an office, congratulating themselves over the beating they gave Nick, and one crows, “He might have been a pretty boy once. I wonder what he looks like now.” A split second after this braggadocious musing, the office door flies open and Nick is standing in the doorway, gun drawn. He slowly, deliberately walks into the room, then says, “Take a good look.”
  • The film’s end. I’m not going to spoil the movie for you but let me just say that the ending is absolute perfection. The last few minutes build to a crescendo that will leave you on the edge of your seat, and Marvin Miller’s narrator gets the last word, telling us, “The circle of self-destruction has claimed new victims. It has stilled the lips that might have revealed the secrets of the syndicate. . . . The syndicate still exists. The rules still hold. This is how the cartel works. This is New York Confidential.”

You gotta love it! I sure do.

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

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.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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