The Oscar-nominated Crossfire deals with racism and antisemitism as the film adapts The Brick Foxhole for the screen.
“Well, hate – Monty’s kind of hate – is like a gun. If you carry it around with you, it can go off and kill somebody.” – Captain Finlay (Robert Young)
Captain Finlay gets a number of money quotes throughout the film. Sadly, these quotes are still quite relevant today. Here’s one that unfortunately still stands out today:
“This business of hating Jews comes in a lot of different sizes. There’s the “you can’t join our country club” kind and “you can’t live around here” kind. Yes, and the “you can’t work here” kind. And because we stand for all of these, we get Monty’s kind. He’s just one guy, we don’t get him very often, but he grows out of all the rest.”
“Monty” Montgomery (Robert Ryan) killed Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) solely because he was Jewish. Monty also killed Floyd (Steve Brodie) during the investigation, too. This is quite the murder investigation picture as you have a captain wishing to get to the bottom of things and a sergeant, Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum), wishing to clear his friend’s name. This is what brings Ginny Tremaine (Gloria Grahame) into the picture, who might or might not have an alibi. It’s been over 75 years since the film came out so you probably already know what happens and how.
I regret not watching the film sooner. I borrowed the DVD from the local library with plans to time a viewing to Tisha B’Av but said viewing never took place. By this point, it was getting closer and closer to TIFF so I just ran out of time. I made the decision to watch the film as soon as TCM announced their January 2023 lineup with Thursday nights dedicated to the Jewish Experience.
In a perfect world, a film like Crossfire would not be mentioned when it comes to films discussing antisemitism. This has absolutely nothing to do with its status as a B movie. When Richard Brooks wrote his novel in 1945, it dealt with homophobia. But because of the Hayes Code in the 1940s, studios couldn’t even touch the subject. The Lost Weekend also deals with a similar issue with the Billy Wilder adaptation. All changes from the book notwithstanding, this isn’t even the best film dealing with the same subject in 1947. No, that honor goes to Gentleman’s Agreement. Regardless, John Paxton’s script received an Oscar nomination.
I like how director Edward Dmytryk lenses Robert Ryan’s “Monty” Montgomery whenever he is on screen. The lensing changes throughout the film as we get to know the character. His character appears crisp early on when we meet him. Ryan is lensed in 50mm, 40mm, 35mm, and then finally, a 25 mm lens. There’s a blurring effect while watching the film, too. At first, I thought it may have been something wrong with the negative transfer to Blu-ray. The fact that the filmmakers opted for this presentation is sheer brilliance! It’s great visual effects for its time if you ask me.
Dmytryk and cinematographer J. Roy Hunt go for shadows during some scenes but not because it’s a noir. Instead, it was because of the budgetary concerns. None of this was planned. It was all luck as the filmmaker says in a documentary included on the Blu-ray. They were able to complete the film within 20 days and opened prior to the Fox film on the same subject. However, they had to market it as a murder/suspense film as a way of bringing butts into seats. Even after the war, marketing the movie as a film about antisemitism probably wouldn’t be profitable. In any event, the film became the first B movie to earn a Best Picture nomination. Both Robert Ryan and Gloria Graham earned Supporting Actor/Actress nominations.
After the war, a number of films decided to touch on social issues. One-third of films during this era had to deal with the subject in one way or another. This is one of those films and it’s an important one nonetheless. In any event, producer Adrian Scott was able to convince RKO to acquire the novel and change its subject content. But even at that, the Production Code Administration wanted changes to the script. I’m not even surprised because Joseph Breen was an antisemite himself. How did director Edward Dmytryk respond to their demands? He went for subtlety whenever possible. The filmmaker must have done something right because the Academy awarded him with a nomination for Best Director.
Interestingly enough, both Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott were a part of the Hollywood Ten and blacklisted by Hollywood. None of that stopped the film from getting five Oscar nominations. Just some food for thought.
Light and shadow might qualify the film as a noir but Crossfire is very much an important film about antisemitism. It also isn’t lost on me that homophobia is what prevented the novel’s homophobia from being presented on the big screen at the time.
DIRECTOR: Edward Dmytryk
SCREENWRITER: John Paxton
CAST: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, with Gloria Grahame, Paul Kelly, Sam Levene, Jacqueline White, Steve Brodie, George Cooper, Richard Benedict, Richard Powers, William Phipps, Lex Barker, Marlo Dwyer
RKO Radio Pictures released Crossfire in theaters on July 22, 1947. Grade: 4/5
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