A lonely girl — a man on the run and 72 hours reckless hours that shock you with the impact of unleashed emotions!
Directed by John Berry (Tension 1949), with the screenplay by two victims of HUAC Dalton Trumbo (The Prowler 1951, The Brother’s Rico 1957, Papillon 1973) and Hugo Butler (The Southerner 1945.) Based on a novel by Sam Ross. All three men’s names Berry Trumbo and Butler were struck from the credits due to the blacklist, but have since been restored.
Garfield stars in his final film, as Nick Robey and Shelley Winters as Peg Dobbs. Wallace Ford plays Fred Dobbs, and Selena Royle as Mrs. Dobbs. The incomparable Gladys George is Mrs. Robey. Norman Lloyd as Al Molin. With music by Franz Waxman, it is not overwrought but has a beautiful, restrained melody. The film is shot by prolific cinematographer James Wong Howe ( The Thin Man 1934, They Made Me a Criminal 1939, King’s Row 1942, he shot Garfield in Body and Soul 1947, The Rose Tattoo 1955 Sweet Smell of Success 1957)
While under contract to Warner Bros. John Garfield could have had his pick of any major studio in Hollywood, RKO, 20th Century Fox even MGM wanted him to sign, but being the tough, rebellious everyman, in 1946 he did not renew his contract with Warners, and since none of the other studios would touch He Ran All the Way, Garfield released the film under his own new independent production company with Bob Roberts (Body and Soul 1947, Force of Evil 1948, All Night Long 1962) and Paul Trivers.
In an interview with Look magazine, he said, “I wasn’t carrying a chip on my shoulder at Warners. I appreciated the fact that they made me a star, but they didn’t pick me up from a filling station.”
“When an actor doesn’t face a conflict, he loses confidence in himself. I always want to have a struggle because I believe it will help me accomplish more.” – John Garfield
A kid from the streets of New York, during John Garfield ‘Julie’s career between Body and Soul 1947 and He Ran All the Way 1951, he did not work in Hollywood when HUAC targeted the actor as a communist sympathizer. Garfield suffered at the mercy of the blacklist when he refused to name names. Criminal considering he not only raised money for the war effort during WWII, but also co-founded the Hollywood Canteen. The stress of the constant persecution he endured led to him suffering a massive heart attack leading to his tragic death at only 39, less than a year after He Ran All the Way.
In 1946, John Garfield a naturalistic actor was box-office gold, ( I think he set the stage for Dean and Brando) having a successful run as a superstar in Hollywood with Humoresque, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Nobody Lives Forever. Garfield was able to transform an unsympathetic guy, into a heavy, might-have-been, and deeply humanize him. And though the fatalistic creed of ‘film noir’ is that no flawed anti-hero can escape their dark destiny, we feel for their consequences.
Film historian Eddie Muller calls Garfield the ‘pied piper’ because he led the way for all the actors from New York’s Group Theater and the Broadway scene. Not only a bold actor on screen, but he was also a terrific stage actor as well having used sense memory a lot.
John Garfield was magic because of his authenticity at playing brooding, defiant, working-class guys, his Nick Robey is a lost soul – living in a claustrophobic nightmare that he can’t outrun, that he cannot escape. Even while he’s asleep. The nightmares chase him into a frightened sweat.
Set in Southern California over a 72-hour time frame, under the sweltering summer heat, the film opens A fevered dream, running so hard… “my lungs are burnin‘ up.”
Mrs. Robey –“Nick, Nicky you were hollering in your sleep.” Nick- “Alright Mom so I was hollering in my sleep what’s wrong with that?” Mrs. Robey –“It’s 11 o’clock Mr. Robey you can’t lay there all day.”
Nick –“Beat it, blow.” (She rolls the shades up to let the harsh morning light into the room)
… Hey Cut that out!
Gladys George is an intense searing beam of deplorable as Nick’s mother who swills cheap beer like a well-oiled lush and treats him like she resents having given birth to her loser son. Mrs. Robey persistingly harassing Nick. Later she even tells the cops to “Kill him! Kill him!”
Mrs. Robey –“If you were a man you’d be out looking for a job.”
Nick- “If you were a man I’d kick your teeth in.” Mrs. Robey –“There’s coffee on the stove, Don’t ever talk to me like that Nick.” Nick- “You’ve been talked to worse.”
Mrs. Robey –“Only by you dirty punk.” Nick -“Oh knock it off Mom you just got too big a hangover.” (She slaps him) Mrs. Robey –“I’ll kill ya if you talk like that.” Nick-(Laughs) “You’re losing your punch Mom.”
British Science Fiction/Thriller from writer/director Ken Hughes(Wicked as they Come 1956, The Trials of Oscar Wilde 1960, Cromwell 1970). From a story by Charles Eric Maine.
Stars actor/director Gene Nelson as Mike Delaney, Faith Domergue as Jill Rabowski, Peter Arne as Dr. Stephen Rayner/Jarvis, Joseph Tomelty as Detective Inspector Cleary, Donald Gray as Robert Maitland, Vic Perry as Emmanuel Vasquo, Paul Hardtmuth as Dr. Bressler, Martin Wyldek as Dr. Preston. The film is known as Timeslip in England, a mild British thriller using American stars to boost interest in the film, and was cut by almost seventeen minutes for it’s U.S. release!
A man (Peter Arne ) is fished out of the Thames, shot in the back, the x-rays show that he is radioactive and projects a glowing aura around his body. The man dies on the table and is clinically dead for over 7 seconds, when they perform surgery to remove the bullet. American reporter Mike Delaney (Gene Nelson) decides to interview the man who he bares a striking resemblance to Dr. Stephen Rayner is very cryptic about what happened to him. Dr. Rayner whose face is all bandaged up is however in his laboratory working on an artificial chemical element of atomic number 74, the hard steel-gray metal with a very high melting point. Delaney and photographer girlfriend Jill Rabowski (the intoxicatingley dark eyed Faith Domergue) are curious about what is going on and begin to investigate. While the strange man in the hospital continues to act mysterious Delaney’s investigation lead him to Emmanuel Vasquo (Vic Perry) who heads an organization in South America that produces Tungsten steel.
Delaney and Jilly learn that the man they found in the Thames is in fact the real Dr. Rayner, and since he was clinically dead for 7 1/2 seconds and is radioactive somehow he has fallen into a time shift where he is living that small percentage ahead of time. The reason his answers to questions are so quizzical is because he is responding 7 1/2 seconds before they are asked. Delaney with the help of the real Dr. Rayner try to stop the imposter in the lab who is a double hired by Vasquo to impersonate the scientist so they can blow up the lab and prevent any competition by Dr. Rayner to produce artificial steel and pose real competition from the South American suppliers.
Prepare for a close encounter of the terrifying kind! An unspeakable horror… Destroying… Terrifying!
After his debut with Monster From the Ocean Floor in 1954, The Beast with 1.000.000 Eyes was a great foray into the new market of teenage drive-in movie goes that Roger Corman’sproduction team tapped into. First through the company called American Releasing Corp. which eventually became American International Pictures a year later.
James Nicholson, who was the maestro of promotion, changed the name of the film from The Unseen to The Beast with a Million Eyes, because it just had better shock value for selling more tickets. Nicholson was famous for coming up with the title first, telling the marketing department to design an eye-popping nifty poster, and then actually working a script around that vision. Though there was already a working script Nicholson had a poster made up of a beast with a million… well about 7 eyes tormenting a scantily clad beauty.
Directed by David Kramarsky and Corman with a script by Tom Filer. This cult B classic stars Paul Birch as Allan Kelley, Lorna Thayer as Carol Kelley, Dona Cole as Sandra Kelley, Dick Sargent as Deputy Larry Brewster, Leonard Tarver as Him/Carl, Chester Conklin the silent film comedian plays Ben and Bruce Whitmore is The metaphorically million eyed Beast. A million eyes refer to all the animals in ‘nature’ that would run amok and destroy mankind!
The beastly slave of the alien is a hand puppet created by the cheesy greatness that was Paul Blaisdell. (link to my tribute The Tacky Magnetism of Paul Blaisdell)
Interesting side note: Corman needed someone to design the alien who originally was supposed to be an invisible force marauding through the galaxy hitching rides on various life forms and taking over their consciousness, like the animals in this film. In Bill Warren’s informative book Keep Watching the Skies, Corman contacted friend collector/historian Forrest Ackerman suggesting stop animation genius Ray Harryhausen (who obviously was way out of Corman’s league and price range) Warren-“Corman recoiled in economic in shock.” Then Forrest recommended Jacques Fresco a futuristic eco-conscious architect and designer who had created the space station and rockets for Project Moon Base (1953)
But Fresco wanted too much money for his work, so Ackerman came up with another idea. There was an illustrator who drew covers and did illustrations for his magazines, named Paul Blaisdell. It wasn’t like Blaisdell had the experience building movie models but the young guy did build model kits (the Aurora kind I used to spend the days gluing and painting) and did some sculpting. Blaisdell said he would try it for $200 for the job and another $200 for materials. Still more than Corman wanted to invest, it seemed the last resort if he wanted a creature in his film. Corman sent the poster to Blaisdell as a composite and informed him that it didn’t have to do much more than show itself on screen for a few moments, then collapse. Blaisdell could then make it on a small scale, using only the upper torso since the rest would be hidden by the ship’s hatch. And so he made a hand puppet which was a dragon-like creature with wings he molded from clay and placed a simple latex mold over it. Paul’s wife Jackie modeled its hands. The Blaisdell’s nicknamed him “Little Hercules”
Blaisdell made him a leather jacket, a custom-made eight-starred medallion, and a toy gun and finally added manacles and chains to its arms to point out his slave status. According to Randy Palmer’s book, Paul Blaisdell: Monster Maker he was happy with his work, and so were the crew.
Corman and American Releasing Corp must have been satisfied enough with Blaisdell’s skill and his price, he went on to become the go-to monster-maker for the studio during the 1950s. Including The busty She-Creature (1956), the cucumber alien in It Conquered the World (1956), The fanged umbrella bat in Not of This Earth (1957), The alcoholic google eyed brain invaders in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), my personal favorite Tobanga the walking tree spirit in From Hell it Came 1957 and the alien stow away in It! The Terror from Beyond Space 1957inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).
He also acted inside the suits he designed, created special effects and did his own dangerous stunts in Corman’s movies. However, the 60s were not kind to Blaisdell and he decided to retire. He did co-publish a monster movie magazine with fellow collector and friend Bob Burns, but walked away from the industry entirely. Blaisdell passed away in 1983 suffering from stomach cancer at the age of 55.
Roger Corman has a singular touch all his own and it’s not just that he can create cult classics with a shoestring budget. Though filmed on the cheap, his work and so many American International Pictures releases will always be beloved because they possess a dynamism that is pure muddled non-logical magic. Beast with a Million Eyes is no exception. It takes place in the Southwestern desert where Allan Kelley (Paul Birch), his wife Carol (Lorna Thayer), and their daughter Sandy (Dona Cole) live on a dude ranch struggling to keep the weary family together. Carol feels isolated from the world and takes out her dissatisfaction with her marriage on her teenage daughter Sandy and resents the presence of the mute farmhand ‘Him’ who lives in a shack reading porn magazines and stalking Sandy quietly as she takes her daily dips in the lake. Trying to live a normal wholesome life on a desolate farm isn’t easy for Carol, as she burns Sandy’s birthday cake and is unnerved by the jet flying overhead that has shattered her good china. Life in the desert certainly isn’t the good life in suburbia.
They believe it is a plane that flies overhead but it turns out to be an alien ship landed in the hot sun-seared desert landscape. First Sandy’s dog Duke discovers the blinking lights of the spaceship, and when he returns home, he becomes violent and attacks Carol so viciously that she must shoot the poor animal.
Then black birds attack Allan, a docile old milking cow that tramples their neighbor Ben (Chester Conklin) then wanders onto Allan’s ranch and must be shot before it stomps Allan to death. And yes even chickens become menacing when they assail Carol in fury of clucking madness! Some force is causing the animals to go berserk… Later birds fly into the electrical box and cut off the ranch’s source of power.
Oddly enough what ever is effecting God’s simple creatures has also taken control of Allan’s mute handyman Carl (Leonard Tarver) who was Allan’s commanding officer during WWII, wounded during the war because of a mistake he made, Allan feels responsible for what Carl/Him losing a portion of his brain. He is what his nasty wife calls the poor mute. Carl is lured by what ever has piloted the spaceship, most likely because he is most impressionable due to his brain injury. Dick Sargent(yes! the second Darrin Stephens) who plays Sandy’s boyfriend is attacked by Carl who then lumbers off into the desert.
Larry-“That Loony of yours has gone mad!”
Later Carl kidnaps Sandy and delivers her to the craft in an effort to put her under its psychic control. Allan and Carol follow them to the ship and Allan tries to persuade him to let Carol go. Allan discovers that the evil alien is frightened by love, it is the creature’s weakness. The million-eyed alien imparts to us earthlings in voice-over that it has no material form but inhabits the minds of other living creatures, feeding off of them and controlling them. “Hate and malice are the keys to power in my world.” When the family confronts the intruder in its spaceship for a brief moment it materializes and then dies, the spaceship takes off leaving the bodiless creature behind in the form of a rat. The cycle of normal life resumes as an eagle (the representation of American strength and democracy) swoops down and carries the rat off with it. Allan philosophizes in his lugubrious manner “Why do men have souls? If I could answer that I’d be more than human.”
Carol Kelley: out there… all that wasteland and mountains. We might as well be on another planet. Oh, Alan without Sandy I don’t know what would happen to me. It’d be just you and me and… Him
[she sees Him looking at them]
Carol Kelley: . Always watching. Why doesn’t he ever go away on his day off? Always watching us. Heaven knows thinking what thoughts.
Allan Kelley: We’ve been over this before. You must know by now, he’s harmless.
According to American International Pictures head Samuel Z. Arkoff, Roger Corman‘s contract called for four films at a budget of $100,000 each. By the time it came to “The Beast with a Million Eyes,” the fourth film in the series, there was only $29,000 to $30,000 left, so Arkoff signed off on shooting the picture non-union in Palm Springs.
Producer Roger Corman was unsatisfied with the way the film was progressing and took over from director David Kramarsky, without credit.
When Samuel Z. Arkoff of ARC received The Beast with a Million Eyes he was unhappy that it did not even feature “the beast” that was implicit in the title. Paul Blaisdell, responsible for the film’s special effects, was hired to create a three-foot-tall spaceship (with “beast” alien) for a meager $200. Notably, the Art Director was Albert S. Ruddy, who would later win two “Best Picture” Academy Awards for The Godfather (1972) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).
The tiny budget meant music, credited to “John Bickford”, is actually a collection of public-domain record library cues by classical composers Richard Wagner, Dimitri Shostakovich, Giuseppe Verdi, Sergei Prokofiev, and others, used to defray the cost of an original score or copyrighted cues.
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 blondes.- 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 are 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 holds 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 to 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 gunfire 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 deathbed 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 influenced 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, worships her , and 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 extent 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!
Impact(1949) Directed by Arthur LubinImpact stars Brian Donlevyas Walter Williams a wealthy San Fransisco businessman who thinks his wife Irene played by Helen Walker ( great as the dark dominating force Lilith in Nightmare Alley) is truly the adoring woman she pretends to be. Here’s a great article from Movie Morlocks about the unsung talent of sexy Helen Walker.
Irene Gives her husband monogrammed shirts with his initials and calls him softy. She so adept at delivering the saccharine flattery of a doting wife. Unknown to the misguided Walter, she’s done the same monogram initials bit for her lover Tony Barrett as Jim Torrence a ruthless opportunist who has no hesitation in harming Walter to get what he wants.
Jim utters the iconic words from the film that reverberates in Walter’s head once he awakens from the nightmare, “This is for me and Irene sucker” just before he smashes the tire iron down upon Walter’s head.
Before the married couple are supposed to leave on a trip, Irene sets Walter up by feigning illness therefore not feeling well enough to travel with him. Instead, she sends her lover who is pretending to be her cousin Jim Torrence to meet up with Walter so he can give Jim a lift. Jim plans on bumping Walter off along the roadside and meeting up with Irene later at a Hotel under assumed names.
In a moment of sheer fatalistic retribution while speeding away from the crime scene Jim Torrance dies in a horrible head-on collision with a truck, which burns his body beyond recognition. After hitting Walter on the head with a tire iron he viciously throws him down the side of a cliff and leaves him for dead.
But Walter awakens bloodied and dazed climbs onto the back of a Bekins truck and winds up in Larkspur Idaho where he takes a job as a mechanic working for a war widow, the exquisite Ella Raines as Marsha Peters. Ella is even sylph-like in her greasy mechanic’s jumpsuit and cap.
Walter is hired at the gas station using a fake name, and while Marsha is beloved in the community she is not a very good mechanic so Walter takes over for three months, living as a roomer at Marsha’s kindly mother’s home. Walter becomes part of the community, as a volunteer fireman, and starts to relish leaving the big city life behind and the double-crossing wife Irene for this quaint existence in Larkspur.
Walter is assumed to be dead, which is all over the newsprint and later his wife Irene is sent to jail accused of plotting his murder, being hounded by Lt.Quincy played by Charles Coburn.
Walter reads the news, anticipating his revenge now with Irene sentenced to death, and he and Marsha begin to develop feelings for each other. When Walter tells the truth to Marsha..she insists that he do the right thing and go back to San Fransisco and show that he’s still alive.
Ironically, the police then believe the yarn that Irene spins that it was Walter who murdered her lover and not the other way around. Now Marsha and Lt Quincy must track down Su Lin, the William’s maid played by Anna May Wong who isn’t sure if her testimony would either help or hurt the kindly Walter Williams.
While Impact has some of the essential elements of a noir film, it works really well as a MeloNoir, the merging of melodrama and noir together. Brian Donlevy gives a great performance as the paragon betrayed patsy by his ruthless wife Irene. Helen Walker is icy as ever and Ellen is just gorgeous sitting on the stoop in Larkspur.
The Narrator starts off the tone of the film by saying Impact, the force with which two lives come together. Sometimes for good, sometimes for evil.
Visit this revised piece that covers Impactin more detail.