Directed by Raoul Walsh and written by John Huston. Stars Ida Lupino as Marie and Humphrey Bogart as Roy ‘Mad Dog’ Earle. Co-stars Arthur Kennedy, Joan Leslie, Henry Hull, Alan Curtis, Henry Travers and Jerome Cowan
After being released from prison, notorious thief Roy Earle is hired by his old boss to help a group of inexperienced criminals plan and carry out the robbery of a California resort.
Roy Earle: (Humphrey Bogart)I wouldn’t give you two cents for a dame without a temper.
Marie Garson: (Ida Lupino) Yeah, I get it, ‘ya always sorta hope ‘ya can get out, it keeps ‘ya going.
Directed by John Huston screenplay by Richard Brooks & John Huston. Stars Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis and Marc Lawrence.
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) visits his war buddy’s family hotel run by Lionel Barrymore and his daughter Lauren Bacall and finds a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) running things. As a hurricane approaches, the two end up confronting each other. Claire Trevor turns in a brilliant performance as washed up torch singer Gaye Dawn.
Frank McCloud: (Humphrey Bogart) You don’t like it, do you Rocco, the storm? Show it your gun, why don’t you? If it doesn’t stop, shoot it.
Gaye Dawn: (Claire Trevor) No, Mr. Temple, it wasn’t you. It wasn’t the law or anybody. It was only Johnny Rocco. Nobody in the whole world is safe as long as he’s alive.
A cynical American expatriate gets involved in smuggling and gun-running for the rebels during the 1925 Syrian insurgency against French occupation. Directed by Curtis Bernhardt. Stars Humphrey Bogart, Lee J. Cobb, Everett Sloane and Märta Torén
Two escaped killers take hostages and hide in a Nevada mining ghost town knowing that an atom bomb is scheduled to be tested there the next morning. Directed by Dick Powell. Stars Stephen McNally, Alexis Smith Keith Andes and Jan Sterling.
Sam Hurley: (Stephen McNally) You ever been locked up?
Ex-con trucker tries to expose his boss’ rackets. Directed by Cy Endfield. Stars Stanley Baker as Tom Yately, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins, Patrick McGoohan as ‘Red’ William Hartnell, Alfie Bass, Jill Ireland, Sidney James, Wilfrid Lawson, David McCallum and Sean Connery.
“A searching look into the innermost depths of a woman’s heart . . . and a man’s desires!”
The Hustler (1961)
Sarah to Eddie–“You’re too hungry”
Director/Screenwriter Robert Rossenwrote the screenplay for Marked Woman (1937), They Won’t Forget (1937), Dust Be My Destiny (1939), Out of the Fog (1941), Blues in the Night (1941), Edge of Darkness (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Johnny O’Clock (1947), Desert Fury (1947) and wrote the screenplay for Billy Budd. Rossen also wrote and directed All the Kings Men (1949), Mambo (1954), and the psycho-sexual labyrinth set in a mental institution in the early 1960s starring Jean Seberg-Lilith (1964) perhaps Rossen’s most dark and nihilistic vision of the human spirit yet. He directed John Garfield and Lilli Palmer in Body and Soul (1947). Robert Rossen was a pool hustler himself as a youth. Based on the novel by Walter S. Tevis.
Music by Kenyon Hopkins (12 Angry Men 1957, The Strange One 1957, The Fugitive Kind 1960, Elmer Gantry 1960, East Side/West Side 1963-46, Lilith 1964, television movies, Dr. Cook’s Garden 1971, Women in Chains 1972, Night of Terror 1972, The Devil’s Daughter 1973 and tv’s The Odd Couple 1970-73).
Robert Rossen is one of the most fascinating unexplored American directors, for his interesting viewpoint on alienation in the world and that constant elusive souvenir of the spirit one’s identity. Rossen has been quoted as saying that his favorite Shakespearean play was Macbeth. In it he said he found a “dramatization of the ambiguity of the human condition… man reaching for the symbols of his identity, rather than the reality, destroying yet finding himself in the tragic process.”
In Rossen’s collection of works you can see the more aggressive symbols played out as the representations of male power, domination and violence as physical love. He told The New York Sun in 1947 that “Real life is ugly… but we can’t make good pictures until we’re ready to tell about it.”
After his gangster film Johnny O’Clock Rossen directed with the conventions of the crime genre Body and Soul (1947). Then Rossen directed The Hustler which used a breakthrough in technique and stretched the boundaries of social realism in the way Kazan had. The film like his All the Kings Men is still about the corrupt influences of money but on a deeper level it is driven by a darker motivation-the illusionary symbols of self worth, with George C. Scott’s character playing at Eddie’s weakness as a gambler and a seeker, like a devil daring him toward damnation. He is a sadist and ultimately seeks Eddies dependency and ruination and Sarah’s self-destruction.
Sarah tells Eddie “We are all crippled.” Sarah has the insight to see into the future yet she is beyond all the wounds inflicted in her life and can not forestall what will happen outside the confines of their little world that is her cluttered apartment. Sarah and Bert battle it out for Eddie’s soul. It is an ugly power struggle, and there are so many brilliantly executed frames that represent Rossen’s complex themes within The Hustler.
The film also co-stars Michael Constantine, Vincent Gardenia, Murray Hamilton and Myron McCormick who is always compelling in any role, plays Eddie’s devoted manager Charlie Burns who takes the journey with Eddie at first and winds up being pushed out by the hostile and rancorous Bert Gordon. Murry Hamilton is fantastic as he inhabits the coded gay character of the pretentious and effete gambler Findley.
The Hustler is a a moral allegory about life and the inter-relationships of miscreants, losers and lost souls struggling to find themselves in a gritty, unsatisfying world that permeates the world of the competitive underground sport of shooting pool. Fast Eddie has been working his way up to finally have a showdown with the reigning legend Minnesota Fats. The film is a restless contemplation merged with some dynamic scenes of maneuvering on the pool table.
The film opens with a smoke filled pool palace in Pittsburgh with a sign ‘gambling not allowed’. It’s a hangout for pool sharks, called hustlers. Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie, a smug young man who was born to take suckers for a ride, feeling that wood between his anxious fingers he can spot a ripe table waiting for him to swoop in for the kill. But Eddie with all his mythological ambition just doesn’t know when it’s time to quit. Eddie goes 25 consecutive rounds with the legendary Minnesota Fats and it appears like he’s got the marathon match in his corner pocket when he starts knocking back the whiskey, and can’t just take win with dignity he has to demolish Fats and allow his ego to drive the rest of the rest of the way home. The scene is shot in a dynamic half hour sequence using gorgeous black and white photography in cinemascope and Schüfftan‘s (who won an Oscar for his camera-work) eye for detail he honed on Fritz Lang’s surreal Metropolis, the film he developed special effects for. The sequence of this film is nothing short of riveting. The set up is mesmerizing as we are drawn into a timeless expanse as the different approaches to the game unfold, as pool stick meets ball, ball dances with ball and fills the pockets like cannon fire, while the spectators whose expressions are glued to every move as if in a trance.
Fats who is way more graceful and composed manages to win back his loot and leave the cocky and exhausted Eddie practically penniless. Eddie’s got a keen skill for the game but he doesn’t have self control or character. Bert Gordon played by actor George C. Scott tempts Eddie like Mephistopheles to sell his soul to him with the promise that he can not only make his dream come true of being the greatest, but to also avenge the ass kicking that he took from Fats. As cock-sure as Eddie appears, he has no fortitude and winds up abandoning his honor and his love for Sarah in order to seek the rematch with the Fat man.
Piper Laurie’s character Sarah Packard is a liberated forward-thinking woman who while bares the damages of life, is independent though alienated from the rest of the world because of her open wounds. She is trying to be a writer and drinks too much. She wants to be loved, and Eddie wants to be the best.
And so he sells his soul to Bert Gordon who is the films Faustian metaphor. The early 60s began an era of films that began to embrace controversial adult themed narratives, that dealt with race, class dynamics and the changing roles that were taking place with gender.
[Fast Eddie is bothered because Bert called him a born loser]
Fast Eddie: “Cause, ya see, twice, Sarah… once at Ames with Minnesota Fats and then again at Arthur’s, in that cheap, crummy pool room, now why’d I do it, Sarah? Why’d I do it? I coulda beat that guy, coulda beat ‘im cold, he never woulda known. But I just hadda show ‘im. Just hadda show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it’s great, when it’s REALLY great. You know, like anything can be great, anything can be great. I don’t care, BRICKLAYING can be great, if a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why and if he can make it come off. When I’m goin’, I mean, when I’m REALLY goin’ I feel like a… like a jockey must feel. He’s sittin’ on his horse, he’s got all that speed and that power underneath him… he’s comin’ into the stretch, the pressure’s on ‘im, and he KNOWS… just feels… when to let it go and how much. Cause he’s got everything workin’ for ‘im: timing, touch. It’s a great feeling, boy, it’s a real great feeling when you’re right and you KNOW you’re right. It’s like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue’s part of me. You know, it’s uh – pool cue, it’s got nerves in it. It’s a piece of wood, it’s got nerves in it. Feel the roll of those balls, you don’t have to look, you just KNOW. You make shots that nobody’s ever made before. I can play that game the way… NOBODY’S ever played it before.”
Sarah Packard: “You’re not a loser, Eddie, you’re a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.”
Rossen wrote the screenplay and directed this gripping story of fast Eddie Felson, as he strives to knock Minnesota Fats down a peg and capture the title of best pool hustler in the country, taking Fats (Jackie Gleason who was perfect as he manifested the character of Fats, well-dressed, reserved and showed a deep reverence and concentration to the game.) on in a high-stakes game that challenges no only his keen gift for shooting pool but on the line is his self respect and his nebulous masculine identity.
Fast Eddie to Fats: You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.
Along the way, he falls in love with Sarah Packford immortalized on the screen in an arresting performance by Piper Laurie (Kim Novak had turned down the role) who should have won the Oscar for Best Actress with her nuanced, and heart wrenching interpretation of the vulnerable loner and self-loathing Sarah. Rossen has often dealt with the intricacies within the psychological landscape of his films.
Sarah Packard is a complicated woman who has a tenuous connection to the world but allows herself to fall in love with Eddie who is driven to succeed and land at the top as the greatest pool hustler. Sarah is a lost soul longing for someone who will love her. She’s receives a stipend from her wealthy father, but there is no sign of affection or acceptance from him, his is non-existent. Eddie awakens desire in her, but he cannot deliver anything but his hunger and ambition to beat Minnesota Fats and attain the title. Fast Eddie destroys everything he touches. In order to really throw herself into the role of Sarah Packard Piper Laurie actually hung out at the Greyhound terminal at night.
Piper Laurie (Has Anybody Seen My Gal 1952, The Mississippi Gambler 1953, Dangerous Mission 1954, Johnny Dark 1954, Ain’t Misbehavin’ 1955, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby 1977, Children of a Lesser God 1986, Dario Argento’s Trauma 1993, The Crossing Guard 1995, The Dead Girl 2006 and television series-Naked City, Ben Casey, The Eleventh Hour) discovered that Paul Newman was truly down to earth – “He really didn’t believe in himself as an actor at all. He thought he had great limitations, and owed everything to other people- the Actors Studio, Joanne- he seemed not to take credit for himself.”
Laurie didn’t make another film over the course of 15 years until she returned to the screen in Brian dePalma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), which earned her a second Oscar nomination as the religious fanatic archetypal devouring mother a role that would ignite a new fire under the icons of horror movie fiends and villains.
Sarah and Eddie meet in the bus terminal. They both have a drinking problem, especially Sarah who drowns her self-pity in booze. She was born with a deformity in her foot which makes her limp, and gives her a feeling of self hatred and undesirability that Eddie breaks through with his smooth talking swagger. He manages to reach in and touch her heart but his reckless abandon to win, overshadows Sarah’s cries for help and her self destructive nature cannot withstand the competition for Eddie’s soul.
Sarah Packard: Yes, I need them very much. If you ever say them I’ll never let you take them back.
To achieve Sarah’s limp, Piper Laurie first experimented with walking around with pebbles in her shoes. “Finally, I just did it without anything, because Rossen didn’t want an obvious limp; he didn’t want it consistent because he felt he wanted the audience to be aware of it sometimes and not other times.”
The two shack up and set up house in Sarah’s apartment that is subsidized by her father’s money. Eddie is obsessed with winning. Their relationship is turbulent and dysfunctional, then enters George C. Scott as Bert Gordon a misanthropic snake in the grass who exploits Eddie and interferes with his relationship with Sarah. Once Bert Gordon slithers into the closed world of Eddie’s pool hustling and his love affair with Sarah, that world is corrupted, and Eddie begins to lose his way.
Ulu Grosbard later noted that the interior of Sarah’s apartment was built in a studio at 55th St. and 10th Ave. He said the actors’ dressing rooms there were very small and, in his memory, without windows, “like cells,” but that Piper Laurie furnished hers “as if she were going to live in it the rest of her life.” It was Grosbard’s impression that Laurie would sometimes spend the night there.
Bert Gordon: Sure you got drunk. You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning… that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You’ll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.
Bert Gordon: You’re here on a rain check and I know it. You’re hangin’ on by your nails. You let that glory whistle blow loud and clear for Eddie and you’re a wreck on a railroad track… you’re a horse that finished last. So don’t make trouble, Miss Ladybird. Live and let live! While you can. I’ll make it up to you.
Fast Eddie: I loved her, Bert. I traded her in on a pool game. But that wouldn’t mean anything to you. Because who did you ever care about? Just win, win, you said, win, that’s the important thing. You don’t know what winnin’ is, Bert. You’re a loser. ‘Cause you’re dead inside, and you can’t live unless you make everything else dead around ya.
The Hustler is an extraordinary character study of the how humans bang into each other like the balls on the table, and no one really wins. It’s got a slick rhythm to it’s movement and editing by the wonderful Dede Allen and the Eugen Schüfftan (Metropolis 1927, Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion (1945), The Strange Woman 1946, The Bloody Brood (1959), Eyes Without a Face 1960, Something Wild (1961) Lilith (1964) Eugen Schüfftan’s style is uniquely dark and almost mythic in it’s visual abstraction of reality.
IMDb trivia –
The picture was shot by Eugen Schüfftan, who had invented an optical effects process that employed mirrors to create backgrounds. According to crew reports, many of the pool room shots employed this process to varying degrees. The picture was also shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process usually reserved for big epics and action pictures.
The camera descends like Orpheus into the seedy smoky hidden world of the American pool hall, gazing at the sweaty mercenaries who hunger to hear the clicking and smacking of the balls making contact as they encircle the pool tables like birds of prey.
According to editor Dede Allen, an entire scene from this film was omitted after much deliberation between Allen and her director Robert Rossen. Even though both agreed that the scene, an impassioned speech by Paul Newman in the pool room, was possibly the best part of his entire performance, they had to throw it out because “…it didn’t move the story.” Newman, though Oscar-nominated, later claimed that the deleted scene most likely cost him the Academy Award. Dede Allen liked working with Robert Rossen because he was the kind of director who shot scenes from every possible angle, providing her with a wide range of cover footage that allowed for various interpretations and possibilities.
The film was also somewhat autobiographical for Robert Rossen, relating to his dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee. A screenwriter during the 1930s and ’40s, he had been involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s and refused to name names at his first HUAC appearance. Ultimately he changed his mind and identified friends and colleagues as party members. Similarly, Felson sells his soul and betrays the one person who really knows and loves him in a Faustian pact to gain character.
When it was necessary to show some of the trickier shots, 14 time world billiards champion Willie Mosconi (who was also the film’s technical advisor) would play the stunt hands.
Otherwise Jackie Gleason who was already an accomplished pool plays and Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying wrack ’em up and then join me for another go around here at The Last Drive In
Harry Lime (Orson Welles) to Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”
You’re EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ I gotta go set my Cuckoo Clock, see ya soon!
Helen-(Claire Trevor)“If you go to the police, you’ll see Laury sooner than you think.”
Mrs. Kraft-(Esther Howard)“Are you trying to scare me?”
Helen-(Claire Trevor) “I’m just warning you. Perhaps you don’t realize, it’s painful being killed. A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone. It takes a while to die, too. Sometimes a long while.”
Holiday Carleton (Barbara Payton) to Ralph Cotter (James Cagney)“You only said one true thing in your life, and that’s when you said you were going away tonight. And you are. Many miles out of town and six feet under. All alone, with nobody to lie to. And you can kiss tomorrow goodbye.”
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying there’s no need for us to say goodbye, we’ll always have tomorrow!
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 Wildeas 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 Adleras Sam Hill, John Hoytas 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 Combois 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 an underlying current of shadows and light here at The Last Drive In, but no worries, you got what it takes to stick around -no need to turn up the volume for you to hear how much I appreciate you all!
Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)-to Teresa Wright (Charlie Newton)
“You think you know something, don’t you? You think you’re the clever little girl who knows something. There’s so much you don’t know… so much. What do you know really? You’re just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there’s nothing in the world to trouble you. You go though your ordinary little day and at night you sleep your untroubled, ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams… and I brought you nightmares.”
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!