Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea) to Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott)- “Don’t ever change, Tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.
released Feb 5, 1955 by Allied Artists
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy 1950, My Name is Julia Ross 1945 , So Dark the Night 1946) Screenplay by Philip Jordan, Director of photography John Alton who’s haunting chiaroscuro and noir figures in silhouette fill out the landscape of entrapment, corruption and decadence.
From Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror by Bruce Crowthers
In The Big Combo (1955)“Alton’s dazzling black and white photography starkly counterpoints the film’s perverse sexuality which constantly strains against the limitations of the Hollywood code. Whether exploring the sado-masochistic violence of the hoodlums, two of whom, Fante and Mingo are clearly homosexual or the psycho-sexual domination wielded by gang boss, Brown over the young woman from the right side of the tracks, the scripts and the director’s needs are continually and effectively fulfilled by Alton’s camera.”
Stars Cornel Wilde as Leonard Diamond, Jean Wallace (Jigsaw 1949, The Man on the Eiffel Tower 1950, Storm Fear 1955) as Susan Lowell, Brian Donlevy (The Glass Key 1942, Impact 1949, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, A Cry in the Night 1956) as McClure, Richard Conte (The Blue Gardenia 1943, Cry of the City 1948, Thieves’ Highway 1949, Whirlpool 1949, Oceans 11 (1960), Tony Rome 1967, Lady in Cement 1968) as Mr. Brown, Lee Van Cleef as Fante and Earl Holliman as Mingo, Robert Middleton as Peterson, Helen Walker as Alicia, Jay Adler as Sam Hill, John Hoyt as Dreyer, Ted De Corsia as Bettini, Helene Stanton as Rita
Joseph H. Lewis from Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia by Wheeler Winston Dixon-
Lewis abandoned westerns and began a “frenzied round of freelancing that took him from Poverty Row to the majors, with such films as the disquieting horror Universal film The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942) and the astonishing Secrets of a Coed aka The Silent Witness 1942 for PRC.”
The Big Combo is considered a ‘syndicate’ film noir, where a mob organization is running the urban landscape, in which the organization is ‘all’ but with a difference. According to writer/historian Wheeler Winston Dixon, director Lewis was an “eccentric and he depicts a universe that is as out of kilter as his often imbalanced camera set-ups; the camera sweeps in on the protagonists in their most intimate moments, frames them as silhouettes in wide shots that effectively use fog and a few shadows to disguise the fact that seem to entrap his characters in even tighter compositions.”
At the police station, booked on a phony charge just to harass Brown. Joe McClure-“Mr. Brown is a very reasonable man. You don’t know him.” Leonard Diamond “Oh, is he? Well I’m not. I intend to make life very difficult for you Mr. Brown.”
Joe McClure-“You shouldn’t talk like that, Lieutenant. You’re overstepping your authority.” Mr. Brown-“Joe, the man has reason to hate me. His salary is $96.50 a week. The busboys in my hotel make better money than that. Don’t you see, Joe? He’s a righteous man.”
From FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF THE SCREEN BY FOSTER HIRSCH
“One of the eroding factors in the fifties thrillers surfaced in such films as the Big Combo and The Phenix City Story where crime no longer springs from the aberrant individual but is instead a corporate enterprise, run like a business. (Or like Murder Inc.) This view of crime is widespread, almost communal undertaking, counters the traditional noir interest in the isolated criminal whose actions are controlled not by an impersonal conglomerate but by a complex interweaving of character and fate.” Hirsch also points out that it represents another level of decadence.
From The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller-“This gray area between old-school hoodlum and the new “organization man” was fertile turf for noir fables…)… in The Big Combo the gangster picture is distilled into a sexual battle between the saturnine, sensual Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) and dogged but frustrated flatfoot Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) Both men covet the appetizing Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), whom Diamond has been stalking for months as part of his investigation of Brown’s illegal Combination.”
I have read that chiaroscuro is director Lewis’ domain and that he also liked to use icy blondes the way Alfred Hitchcock did. In Gun Crazy (1950) Lewis had Peggy Cummins, and in The Big Combo it is Jean Wallace, yet Lewis’ women are more overtly ‘sex-kittenish than high class blonde.- From Film Noir: An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
Cornel Wilde does a blunt job playing a righteous cop, Leonard Diamond who will do anything to take down Mr. Brown who represents everything he detests in the world.
“I know his name. The name of a man who will pick up a phone and call Chicago and New Orleans and say “Hey Bill, Joe is coming down for the weekend. Advance him fifty thousand,” and he hangs up the phone and the money’s advanced, protection money. A new all night bar opens, with gambling outside city limits. A bunch of high school kids come in for a good time. They get loaded, they get irresponsible, they lose their shirts. Then they get a gun, cause they’re worried, they want to make up their losses. And a filling station attendant is dead with a bullet in his liver. I have to see four kids on trial for first degree murder. Look at it. First degree murder, because a certain Mr. Brown picked up a phone.”
Robert Middleton who happens to be one of my favorite underrated character actors plays Diamond’s boss, Police Lt.Peterson, who’s trying to convince Diamond not to pursue Brown through his girlfriend Susan Lowell and realizes that after tailing her for months, Diamond might have developed feelings for her. “You’re a cop, Leonard. There’s 17,000 laws on the books to be enforced. You haven’t got time to reform wayward girls. She’s been with Brown three and a half years. That’s a lot of days… and nights.”
Richard Conte is particularly more brutal as Mr. Brown than in some of his other portrayals of the embodiment of the crime aesthetic, possessing the essential flair of the well heeled mobster. The Big Combo is one of the most bleak and perverse of all the mid 1950s film noirs. The pace of the film leaves us hanging in a world of perpetual threat and vexation.
Richard Conte infuses the role of Mr. Brown with an unusual intensity even for the enduring tough-guy Conte as he plays a ruthless mob boss who practically holding a society girl Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace) hostage by their odd attraction for each other. Susan has left a budding career as a pianist to be a trophy in Brown’s collections, seduced by his control, and the money he lavishes on her, yet ambivalent about her self-loathing and her attraction to his perverse power over her body and their sexual relationship. In a potent scene he takes Susan in a secret room in her apartment filled with a hidden stash of money and ammunition. Brown to Susan- “This is my bank… we don’t take checks, we deal strictly in cash. There isn’t anybody I’d trust with so much temptation–except myself. Or maybe you.”
Mr. Brown- “Where’d you get that outfit?” Susan Lowell “What’s wrong with it?” Mr. Brown-“I like you better in white. You’ve got a dozen white dresses. Why don’t you wear them? “ Susan Lowell-“White doesn’t please me anymore.” Mr. Brown –“A woman dresses for a man. You dress for me. Go put on something white!”
Brown employs his two exploitable goons Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) to stay close to Susan and watch her every move, acting as unwanted bodyguards.
Brown’s far-flung organization is under attack by the overzealous hard-boiled detective Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) who is determined to bring Brown to justice. All of Mr. Brown’s associates are figures marginalized by society in some way, all defined by their ‘difference.’ Brown gets his kicks pointing out what everyone else around him lacks while he pats himself on the back like a sadistic narcissist.
The film opens with Susan fleeing a boxing match, pursued by Mr. Brown’s two hired muscle heads, through dark alleys until she is finally caught by Brown, which only symbolizes his sexual dominance over her.
“It was for her I began to work my way up. All I had was guts. I traded them for money and influence. I get respect from everybody but her…”- Mr. Brown
Brown is so fixated on displays of dominance and strength that he fires his boxer after he loses his bout. First he uses the opportunity to belittle his deputy McClure (Brian Donlevy) in front of the young boxer then he smacks Benny across his swollen bloody face waiting for his retaliation, but when it’s obvious the boy won’t hit him back, he cuts him loose.
Brown talking to Benny after the bout- “So you lost. Next time you’ll win. I’ll show you how. Take a look at Joe McClure here. He used to be my boss, now I’m his. What’s the difference between me and him? We breathe the same air, sleep in the same hotel. He used to own it!”
[yelling into McClure’s sound magnifier that is in his ear]
“We eat the same steak, drink the same bourbon. Look–same manicure, cuff-links. But we don’t get the same girls. Why? Because women know the difference. They got instinct. First is first and second is nobody… Now, Benny, who runs the world? Do you have any idea?” Bennie Smith “Not me, Mr. Brown.” Mr. Brown “That’s right, not you, but a funny thing, they’re not so much different from you, but they’ve got something. They’ve got it, and they use it. I’ve got it; [pointing to McClure] he hasn’t. What is it, Benny? What makes the difference…? Hate! Hate is the word, Benny! Hate the man that tries to beat you. Kill ’em, Benny! Kill ’em! Hate him till you see red, and you’ll come out winning the big money, and the girls will come tumblin’ after. You’ll have to shut off the phone and lock the door to get a night’s rest.”
Brown lectures Benny- “You should have hit me back. You haven’t got the hate. Tear up Benny’s contract. He’s no good to me anymore.”
Brown cuts his fighter-Benny loose, telling him he just doesn’t have the killer instinct he needs. Brown is a narcissistic bully whose smooth philosophical meanderings taunt the people who work for him, women and even the cop who is right on his heels.
Brown’s two brawny side-kicks Fante and Mingo are obviously homosexual lovers, who thrive on violence as an enhancement to their sexual arousal like foreplay. Brown’s former boss, the weakened and inadequate McClure must rely on a clunky portable radio sized hearing aid in order to keep up with the gang’s activities.
Lt. Diamond goes after the psychotic megalomaniac Mr. Brown trying to shut down his crime organization. There is conflict already within the organization as Brown is demeaning to McClure and verbally bates him constantly with put downs, to try and get a rise out of him. McClure wants to get rid of Brown all together and take over as head of the mob once again, but in the end he is too impotent, to smack down Brown’s power.
Brown has a prized possession —his beautiful blonde girlfriend Susan who is watched over every minute of the day by his two thugs Fante and Mingo. When Susan finally has a breakdown and overdoses on sleeping pills as a way out, she finally asks Diamond for help.
First Diamond wants to expose Brown’s criminal organization and secondly it would give him great satisfaction to take Susan away from Brown, as he also has developed feelings for her.
When Diamond harasses Brown by arresting him on false charges just to bring him into the station –he goes on a mission to persecute Brown, who retaliates as his credo is “First is first and second is nobody” Brown puts a contract out on Diamond, who is then kidnapped by his two vicious flunky’s Fante and Mingo who are in a surreptitious relationship, with each other Mingo showing his sexual attraction and love for Fante in a rather covert yet palpable way. Though toward the end, while they’re hiding out, he does make mention that he’s sick of Salami. A thought, make of it what you will!
In a shocking scene Fante and Mingo torture Diamond, it is particularly brutal and vicious as they use McClure’s hearing aid turned up to full volume amplifying sound to the point it could blow his ear drums out. The pain on Diamond’s face is tangible. Then they begin pouring alcohol down his throat poisoning him, leaving him to appear as if he’s been off on a bender, thank god his boss Peterson (Robert Middleton) is there to help Diamond recover.
Mr. Brown-“I think Mr. Diamond needs a drink. Got any liquor?” Fante-” How about some paint thinner?” Mr. Brown-“No, that’ll kill him. Anything else?” Fante- “Hair tonic, 40% alcohol.” Mr.Brown-“Fine.”
Once he recovers from his torture, Diamond is even more determined to bring Brown down. Diamond starts to put the pieces together and find clues that point to Brown’s involvement in the murder of a racket boss who disappeared a while ago, and whose place he took over in the organization. He discovers some of Brown’s old associates, Dreyer (John Hoyt) an Austrian who runs an antique and import business and Bettini (Ted De Corsia)a nice Italian man who owned a pizza parlor in the city and is now hiding out, fearing for his life.
Fante and Mingo go to Diamond’s hotel room intending to kill him, and wind up murdering his sometime lover night club singer Rita who went there to surprise him with a date, but becomes an unfortunate casualty being at the right place at the wrong time she is caught in the fray. Even Rita had laid things out for Diamond about the reasons why Susan would stay with a creep like Brown- “Women don’t care how a man makes his living, only how he makes love.”
After Diamond finds Rita’s body gunned down in his apartment- “She came to see me in her best shoes!” I treated her like a pair of gloves. I was cold… I called her up.”
Brown tries to school Diamond in the ways of the world, “You’d like to be me… You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You think it’s the money. It’s not–it’s personality. You haven’t got it. You’re a cop. Slow. Steady. Intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody.
Brown- “You’re a little man with a soft job and good pay. Stop thinking about what might have been and who knows–you may live to die in bed.”
Brown starts to get paranoid and panicky, getting rid of McClure who is a weak link in the mob, and then his two henchmen who know too much about his double dealings and can be linked to McClure’s murder. Adding to Brown’s worries, his ex-wife Alicia (Helen Walker) comes back into the picture after hiding out in a sanitarium aiding Diamond in Brown’s capture. Ultimately leading to a showdown at an airplane hangar where Diamond corners Brown. Alicia “I’d rather be insane and alive, than sane… and dead.”
When McClure tries to double-cross Brown by using his own thugs against him, Fante and Mingo pretend to go along and wind up turning their machine guns on him instead, while Brown sardonically watches grinning like the sadist he is. With a flair of evil embellishment Brown walks over to McClure who has two machine guns trained on him, and takes out his hearing aid. Brown-“I‘m gonna give you a break. I’m gonna fix it, so you don’t hear the bullets.” It is a stunning scene we are watching from McClure’s perspective the flashing lights and smokey tendrils from the gun fire happen at us, but it is all done in eerie quiet and darkness. We are experiencing the frightening moment when he is shot to death. We become McClure at that moment.
Later Brown wants to dispose of his two thugs so there is no evidence of murder, he hands them a package while they are hiding out in an old building in the basement that used to be a speakeasy, They think the package is filled with food, guns and their share of the money they heisted from the bank, but it’s filled with dynamite. As the two men are blown up, leaving Mingo alive for a brief moment just enough to give a death bed confession to exact revenge for his lover’s death and point the finger at Brown.
Richard Conte is icily ruthless as the film’s antagonist, Mr. Brown who is not known by any other name, signifying an enigmatic symbolism for abject violence and immorality. As Dickos states “his imaginative brutality, Lewis bridges violence to the audience’s darker, vicarious desire to see pain inflicted on the screen”
There is a sense of noir fatalism and an underlying current of deviant and provocative sexual appetite within The Big Combo. Much of the violence is influence by a strong element of sadism. The relationship between Susan and Brown is structured by fatalism, as she is sullen and submissive to his neurotic controlling fixation, while she wants to escape she shows no strength or determination other than to give in to it. Brown is obsessed with Susan as an object, preoccupied with her body. This is illustrated in one scene where he devours her with studied kisses, he worships her ,objectifies her with salacious flattery in a way that perversely brings her to ecstasy. It might be this odd sexual attraction to Brown that keeps her passive to his controlling behavior toward her.
From Film Noir Encyclopedia: Edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
“The Homosexuality of Mingo and Fante is smothered in an atmosphere of murder and sadistic torture , as they refine the conventions of violence into a sexual ritual. Joseph H. Lewis’s direction strongly points to a crude sexual bias throughout the film. Even Diamond appears to be sexually frustrated and compensating for impotence. Much in the same way as Lewis’s classic Gun Crazy, there is an affinity between sex and violence.; and the exploration of futility presents an ambience strangely reminiscent of an earlier period of noir films, such as Scarlet Street and Woman in the Window. These attitude combine with John Alton’s photography to create a wholly defined film noir, as striking contrasts between the black and white photography and Lewis’s sexual overtones isolate The Big Combo’s characters in a dark, insular universe of unspoken repression and graphic violence.” -Carl Macek
From Street With No Name by Andrew Dickos
“The Homoerotic violence in the Mingo-Fante relationship, unencumbered by misguided sociological sentiments, is still stereotyped psycho-sexuality —offensive enough on another score—but it is raw and consistent with the noir world. The privilege of noir cinema, as distinguished from other genres, lies in the latitude these films were permitted in exploring sexual power and its ambiguity, and the reason is apparent; as the cautionary cinema of the great negation of a “healthy’ puritanical American vision, the film noir almost mandates a depiction, however perverse, of those repressed impulses reigning hand-in hand with the anarchy that drives its protagonists to violence and paranoia. Unrepressed sexuality alongside these characteristics is far too messy to contain, so it must be vanquished. When it is particularly threatening, one may be sure that there is a woman involved.”
Lewis’s The Big Combo- “where it becomes almost pornographic to see Susan Lowell hopelessly submit to what is surely suggested to be an act of oral sex performed by her crime-lord boyfriend, Mr. Brown. But Lewis is no pornographer, he is a sensualist in the most serious way. No other works in American film until the 1960s broached the acknowledgment of these carnal hungers as a life-enhancing dimension of dangerous living—indeed, in living a short, intense life unto quick death.”
Both Lewis’ film noir masterpieces Gun Crazy and The Big Combo are sexually defined by the discursive violence of the external world—so much a corollary for the violence of passion that Lewis and screenwriter Philip Jordan can barely mask the story of The Big Combo as merely another sensational example of the extend to which organized crime corrupted postwar American Life.
Your EverLovin Joey saying there’s not a shadow of a doubt that I’ll be back with a more indepth look at Hitchcock’s masterpiece of psychological terror!
This is one of the most searing neo Film Noir police procedural/syndicate treasure hunt and shadow eye candy featuring a truly frightening and frenetic performance by our beloved Peter Falk who not only manifested THE only possible rumpled detective in a raincoat, that– “just one more question” knows who the guilty party is in the first five minutes of meeting them, Columbo (sorry Lee J. Cobb) whose inimitable style began the television detecting technique where we know who did it.
As Columbo Peter Falk usually uses the art of ‘misunderestimation’ and quaint anecdotes about relatives who may or may not exist, as he politely taunts and squeezes with relenting loose end tying questions pushing the culprit into a corner they can not escape from. In Murder, Inc (1960) Falk is so dark and brooding as a little thug with a mad on at the world and no acuity toward right and wrong. The only time I saw him create a darker character that sent chills down the back of my neck was in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that aired on December 13th, 1962 called Bonfire where he plays a psychopathic lady-killer who is posing as a firebrand evangelist.
I am planning a very special tribute to the genius of Peter Falk and his unmade bed detective always on the prowl for the jugular, with a very different slant on the show, (no hints please) hopeful getting it ready by the winter 2017 if I can enlist the wit & wisdom of fellow Columbo-worshiping Aurora of Once Upon A Screen to join me in pulling it off!
In his 2006 autobiography, Just One More Thing, Peter Falk attributes his performance as the crazed Reles in Murder, Inc. for launching his career! Not to mention that the great stage actress/teacher Eva Le Gallienne highly suggested after Falk was caught sneaking into her acting class as part of the American Repertory Movement, that he stick with it!
Peter Falk received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his ruthless, violent and misogynistic murderous thug real life hit man –Abe Reles.
film critic Bosley Crowther wrote:
“Mr. Falk, moving as if weary, looking at people out of the corners of his eyes and talking as if he had borrowed Marlon Brando’s chewing gum, seems a travesty of a killer, until the water suddenly freezes in his eyes and he whips an icepick from his pocket and starts punching holes in someone’s ribs. Then viciousness pours out of him and you get a sense of a felon who is hopelessly cracked and corrupt.”
Reles who reigned over the Brownsville district of Brooklyn during the 1930s depression era, was a clever and shifty taker and hit-man who could make people’s murders appear like brain hemorrhages by using an ice pick in just the right way. Lawman Burton Turkus (Henry Morgan) whose book the screenplay is based on, together with Det. Sgt. William Tobin (Simon Oakland) keep track of this psychopathic criminal who is now working for the powerful crime boss Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter played as a self-indulgent burlesque man-child by David J. Stewart (Carnival Rock 1957, The Young Savages 1961) who runs the nationwide syndicate known as Murder Inc.
Directed by Burt Balaban (Lady of Vengeance 1957) and Stuart Rosenberg who later went on to direct the sublimely thoughtful Cool Hand Luke 1967 starring Paul Newman, he also directed The Amityville Horror in 1979.
Filmed in CinemaScope Murder, Inc. possesses a gritty realism painted effectively by cinematographer Gayne Rescher (A Face in the Crowd 1957, Man on a String 1960, Rachel, Rachel 1968 and Otto Preminger’s Such Good Friends 1971)
The film’s musical score is indeed a great companion to the mood, as Frank De Vol who usually works with Robert Aldrich (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962) creates a tense and bitter little pill, a flamboyant world within the universe of egocentric criminals, petty thieves, depression era storekeepers like the wonderful character of Mrs. Corsi (Helen Waters who only appeared one more time in television’s Naked City in 1958) who runs the little soda shop or Joe Rosen (Eli Mintz) who live in fear for their lives. De Vol’s score in addition to a live smoking performance by the late Sarah Vaughan make the film’s musical personality work very well with the visual story.
The viciousness touches the garment district, the Unions, the burlesque clubs all the way up to the Borscht Belt where comedian Walter Sage (Morey Amsterdam) is hit by Reles at the request of Lepke. There’s cops on the beat and the feds looking to finally incarcerate and shut down Murder Inc. The film is seeded with little cameos by some actors first appearances, like Sylvia Miles as Sadie the loud mouth who gets Reles’ hand shoved in her face while in the phone booth.
A small but slick performance by Vincent Gardenia as the mobs attorney Laszlo, and terrific stage performance by Sarah Vaughan singing Fan My Brow and The Awakening written by composer George Weiss. I saw Sarah Vaughan at the Westbury Music Fair back in the 1980s! she was nothing less than magical!
The basic gist is this–Reles (Peter Falk) and his flunky Bug (Warren Finnerty) meet with Garment District crime boss Lepke Buchalter (David J. Stewart) who wants to hire Reles as the syndicate’s new hit man. Lepke’s first task is for Reles to hit comedian Walter Sage (Morey Amsterdam) who has a headline act up in the Catskills. Sage has been holding out money from the slots and Lepke is a petty hothead (who constantly drinks milk) with a literal belly ache. Enter Joey Collins Stuart Whitman (I’ve had a long time crush on this guy and his eyebrows!) a singer, who knows Sage from show business, and since he owes Reles $600 which will soon be $1,000 with every day he doesn’t pay back his loan he feels cornered into helping Reles do him a ‘favor.’ Joey Collins (Whitman) is coerced into driving up to the Borscht Belt in order to lure Sage out of the club so Reles can do his dirty work with his nice clean ice pick!
When Reles pays a visit to the small apartment where Joey and his refugee showgirl wife Eadie (May Britt) live, Eadie is not only rude, she tries to throw Reles out. Reles who obviously has an inferiority complex takes Eadie’s dismissal as a rejection of his manhood and he comes back while Joey is out of the apartment and brutally assaults her with his, “dirty hands, his dirty fingers.”
But Joey is so entangled and emasculated himself by the predicament he’s gotten himself into, he doesn’t even try to stand up to Reles, but rather feels he is trapped, though Eadie wants to just run and get as far away from Reles and the whole deal. While the couple stay together because they are forced into a dynamic by Reles, they no longer sleep in the same bedroom nor act as a married couple. The weak and shameful Joey should have listened to Eadie!
Reles sets the kids up in this glamorous apartment as a front.
Now that Lepke thinks he has everything under control he has Reles working full force taking out anyone who can fink on him. Reles gives a maniacal soliloquy about ‘taking’ manipulating the couple into living as a cover in his gorgeous apartment that is furnished with imported stolen goods and dope.
The police want to bring Lepke in because they have found a witness, small business man Rosen who Lepke warned already to keep his mouth shut. He should have had his trusted man-crush Mendy push down the elevator shaft when he had the chance. Rosen is seen brought in by detective Tobin by Lepke, Mendy and their lawyer Laszlo in the halls of the courthouse. Rosen is now, at least this time– a dead man…
Mendy Weiss (Joseph Bernard) is asked by Lepke to kill Rosen himself, gunning him down right on the street in front of his shop, one pop in the guts, and then a bullet to the back of his head at Lepke’s request. Lepke comes to hide out at Joey and Eadie’s apartment, where he proceeds to demean and treat Eadie like a servant.
While detective Tobin (Simon Oakland) has been trying to shake things up and harass Reles and Lepke, even asking the small shop owners for their help, as Mrs. Corsi explains to Tobin that innocent people are being threatened, ‘acid thrown’ on their wares, even attacked just being seen talking with the police. She refuses to say a word. He can’t break the protective shield surrounding this gang, nor legally fight against a sly lawyer like Laszlo (Vincent Gardenia).
District Attorney Burton Turkus (Henry Morgan) moves in and begins an all out mission to bring down Murder Inc. which has it’s tendrils in Chicago and Florida (What happened to New Jersey? hhmm)
Burton Turkus is interrogating Reles after he agrees to turn states evidence. He asks Reles how he can simply murder people without any feelings around it. Reles asks him how his first time on the job as a cop effected him. He tells Reles, he was shaky at first but “he got used to it.” Reles gives him a very matter of fact ‘that’s your answer’ look.
Before the police finally pick up Lepke, while in hiding Lepke gets paranoid about his people squealing so he orders a hit on anyone in Brownsville that can connect him to the syndicate, especially Joey Collins and his wife Eadie who are living with him and now know too much. Finally Eadie can’t bear it anymore and goes to the police and becomes an informant. Turkus takes Joey and Eadie into protective custody. Which isn’t so protective but hey, I won’t ruin the film for you.
Once Reles realizes that Lepke is on his trail he agrees to spill the entire can of Murder Inc. beans on the operation too, knowing the law very well, and making a deal with Turkus for a lesser murder sentence and his promise of protection.
So Reles is also hidden away at the less than fortress-y Half Moon Hotel room watched over by disgruntled uniformed cops in Coney Island. I won’t give away the defenestration climax, but I will say that Lepke does finally face execution for his part in several unsolved murders. His last meal must have included a gallon of milk for that upset stomach disorder…
You can absolutely say that it’s Peter Falk’s incendiary performance as the high strung little punk with a Napoleonic complex based on true life Brooklyn gangster “kid twist’ Abe Reles earning him the Academy Award nomination for his combustive performance and his myriad of colorfully vicious asides.
It’s what makes Murder, Inc (1960) work so well, but there’s a lot of little inlaid gems that make this neo-noir crime drama a conflagration of mind gripping tropes and wonderful little characterizations.
Murder, Inc is a neo-noir/documentary style/crime-drama masterpiece featuring not only Falk’s searing performance, but David J. Stewart as the despicable complainer -Lepke who ran the syndicate in New York City and was connected to all the major city crime bosses who oversaw big money, murder and mayhem like a miserable business, taking out potential stool pigeons, or little shop owners who just can’t pay their protection fees — Vicious brutal and utterly mesmerizing the film plays like a nightmare while the well intended but at times inadequate good guys who just can’t seem to legally or physically pin down the bad guys without getting their witnesses murdered. Or it’s suggested that there are also insiders in the police department and government that shield these criminals from prison time. Murder Inc spreads like an insidious disease taking over the city, but like all things violent -they must eventually self-destruct as Stuart Whitman who plays Joey Collins: says to Reles, after he is arrested “I’m gonna watch you fry! I’m gonna watch you fry! I’m gonna watch you fry!”
Eadie (May Britt) is the film’s sufferer and sacrificial lamb as a woman who is either consistently abused and mistreated or woefully looked after by all the men in the film. She is surrounded by dread and ruin.
Talking about Lepke–“He came in the door like a king. He came with a hole in his stomach. All the time he stayed I was his house maid. Two Minute Eggs… (she closes her eyes)…. I boiled a thousand two minute eggs and never did it right once…”
“I boiled a thousand two minute eggs and never did it right once…”
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying I gotta go make a two minute egg!
I became a recent fan of this extraordinary actress when I watched her play the feisty Eve Gill in Alfred Hitchcock’s awesome thriller Stage Fright (1950). It’s no wonder why Jane Wyman (The Lost Weekend 1945, Stage Fright 1950, All that Heaven Allows 1955) won the Oscar for her extraordinarily poignant and heart wrenching portrayal of a deaf mute Belinda MacDonald, in rural fishing village referred to thoughtlessly by many as ‘the dummy.’ Belinda must brave her physical challenges, the wall between herself and stern yet loving father (Charles Bickford) and austere and grim aunt Aggie (Agnes Moorehead) who raise her, after her mother dies in childbirth.
Within this quaint seascape brews a sickening hypocrisy, inhabited by locals that are predatory, gossiping, and judgemental church goers who live in the sanctimonious fishing village off the Nova Scotia coast. Along comes the kindly mild mannered and ethical family practitioner Dr. Robert Richardson (Lew Ayers) who doesn’t mind taking chickens as payment for doctoring, delivering calves in the middle of his supper, and who becomes Belinda’s ally and teacher, opening up a whole new world for her, unlocking the grace and passion that hungers for expression. Wyman and Ayer’s are incredibly believable as Belinda and Robert whose sensitive and loving relationship is mesmerizing!
Offbeat and elegant unsung auteur, director Jean Negulesco the Romanian immigrant who came to Hollywood in the turn of the century, starting out as assistant producer and second unit-director. Perhaps acquiring his artistic sensibilities having been a stage designer and painter in the Paris of the artsy twenties. Okay he has done some obscure curiosities over his career but let’s focus on the early work with the intense tones of noir.
His first feature for Warner Bros. in 1941 was the remake of Dangerous 1935, but it wasn’t until he became proficient in the realm of noir with his first masterpiece The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) starring one of Warner Bros. most recognized, quirky characters Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. Then he directed these two great character actors along side Hedy Lamarr in The Conspirators (1944), then Nobody Lives Forever (1946) with John Garfield and Geraldine Fitzgerald.
Once again, Negulesco arranges his unusual & wonderful noir/suspense yarn about three random people who’s lives become entwined around a lottery ticket, starring Lorre, Greenstreet and Fitzgerald, in Three Strangers (1946). Eventually directing the memorable Humoresque (1947) with John Garfield and Joan Crawford as the brilliant opportunistic violinist and the dynamic Crawford as the wealthy, hysterical dame Helen Wright who idolizes him. Then came Deep Valley (1947) starring Ida Lupino who is amazing as the alienated woman awakened by gangster Dane Clark. Jack Warner made a big mistake when he let go of Negulesco who then went to Fox and made the way cool noir favorite of mine, Road House (1948) with Ida Lupino, followed by Three Came Home ( (1950) with Claudette Colbert and one of my favorite quirky melodrama’s Phone Call From a Stranger (1952) starring Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Shelley Winters, Michael Rennie, Keenan Wynn, Warren Stevens and Beatrice Straight.
But truly what must be his most notable masterpiece and greatest work, is the beautifully filmed melodrama that exudes realism Johnny Belinda (1948) dealing with the subject of poverty, rape, and single motherhood in a starkly bold manner. A tale of human suffering, human kindness, self-righteous aggression, sacrifice, and release that is partly due to the marvelous casting making the story come to life from the adapted screenplay by Irmgard VonCube
Belinda’s father Black McDonald, who runs a modest grist mill, is a stoic and pragmatic man portrayed with the granitized masculinity of Charles Bickford. His sister is the harsh seemingly unsympathetic downright cantankerous bread making machine, Aunt Aggie manifested by the great Agnes Moorehead, who has perhaps some of the best lines as usual! Aggie comes around eventually showing loyalty, compassion and a steadfast protectiveness for her tragic yet beautiful and inspirational niece Belinda.
Stephen McNally plays the smarmy Locky McCormick, the egotistical brute & lothario who wants to marry Stella (Jan Sterling) partly for her inheritance, but mostly for her unabashed enchanting cuteness. He lusts after Belinda after watching her dance to the vibration of a violin when he and his rowdy gang invade the McDonald’s mill to pick up their dried goods. He comes back while Belinda is alone, the night of the town dance, because she is seemingly defenseless, figuring she cannot relate her attack to anyone. Once Belinda becomes pregnant by the rape, it puts more of a burden on this ostracized family, not to be targets of ridicule by the locals.What’s worse she can’t even negotiate the import of bearing his child, she only knows that she loves the little guy fiercely, though I won’t give away the climax of the film.
Jan Sterling is painfully sympathetic as the fay lass Stella who pines hopelessly for Dr Robert Richardson played wonderfully by that darn likable Lew Ayers, There’s also an assortment of disgraceful gossips in town –Rosalind Ivan, Dan Seymour, and the mean-spirited old biddies Mabel Paige and Ida Moore as Mrs. Lutz & Mrs. Mckee.
With an incredible moving score by Max Steiner and gorgeously evocative cinematography by Ted D McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), East of Eden (1955) and The Sound of Music (1965).
I couldn’t resist taking notice of the quintessential gist of the film, spoken as only ferociously honest as Agnes Moorehead can deliver here’s her memorable quote:
Agnes Moorehead as Aggie McDonald “It’s hard to get born and it’s hard to die!”