Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Big Combo

I don't think TCM has shown The Big Combo in a good five years, but it's finally airing again, at 8:00 PM tonight. It's an entertaining little film from the end of the noir era that also has a really interesting twist.

Much of the plot isn't particularly novel, in that a good portion of the basic structure seems to be right in line with The Big Heat. Cornel Wilde stars as Lt. Diamond, a police detective who has taken on the investigation of the head of the local mob, one Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). Diamond isn't really getting anywhere, and the overtaxing of resources is bothering his superiors, who press on him to stop the investigation, as it would be so much easier for everybody. Well, not the honest people of the city, but it's not as though the police care about them. There's also a second-in-command (Brian Donlevy) who, like Lee Marvin in The Big Heat, is a bit of a loose cannon who poses problems for the mob, as well as a moll, Susan (Jean Wallace) who could really help Diamond out if only he could get to her. She's inaccessible because she's got two bodyguards (Earl Holliman and Lee Van Cleef) assigned by Brown to make certain nobody gets to her. As with Gloria Grahame, something dramatic happens to Susan (although not quite as dramatic) that sends her to the hospital and gives Diamond a chance to blow the case wide open....

Even though a big portion of The Big Combo isn't terribly original, it's still quite entertaining. But there is one thing in the movie that you wouldn't see in the rest of noir. Susan's bodyguards are seen sharing living quarters, and have a scene together with dialog that fairly strongly suggests that they're a gay couple in addition to being Susan's bodyguards. Obviously, of course, this couldn't be made explicit, but this is one of those relationships like in Rope where it's probably better for the sake of the movie that the relationship only be implied. (It's only a minor, if noticeable, detail in the film.) Richard Barrios picked The Big Combo as one of the films when TCM had the Gay Images in Film series back in 2006, and it's certainly a good choice.

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