Monday 8 April 2024

Movie Review: The Big Combo (1955)

Genre: Police Procedural Noir  
Director: Joseph H. Lewis  
Starring: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Jean Wallace, Brian Donlevy, Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman 
Running Time: 88 minutes  

Synopsis: Police Lieutenant Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) is determined to arrest arrogant criminal Mr. Brown (Richard Conte), a key financier in the Combination syndicate. Brown's crew consists of aging second-in-command Joe (Brian Donlevy) and henchmen Fante and Mingo (Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman). Diamond enjoys the company of showgirl Rita (Helene Stanton), but secretly has a crush on Brown's girlfriend Susan (Jean Wallace). She reveals Brown may have something to hide about a woman called Alicia, accelerating Diamond's investigation and resulting in a mounting body count.

What Works Well: This is a gritty and uncompromising noir, featuring clashing personalities, ambition, jealousy, multiple doomed romances, and complex relationships. Once he senses his opponent's weakness, Diamond is a dog with a bone, pursuing the details of a long-ago incident to unearth crucial evidence. Brown is equally tenacious in protecting his power and methodically attempts to rub-out inconvenient witnesses. The shifty dynamics swirling between his underlings Joe, Fante, and Mingo add enjoyable texture, including a couple of innovative - and quite mean - misuses of Joe's hearing aid device.

What Does Not Work As Well: When he is not eloquently philosophizing about his intelligence, Brown is quite careless in his words and actions.  

Conclusion: A hard-hitting duel between dogged detective and debonair desperado.

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