Friday, March 13, 2009


TCM is airing the underrated Crossfire at 7:30 AM on March 14. It's got some definite flaws, but it's still worth watching.

The setting is Washington DC, not long after World War II (the movie was released in 1947). Three soldiers are about to be decommissioned, and are out for a night on the town before going back to their former lives. While out, they're invited to a man's apartment. The man gets killed, and one of the soldiers disappears, making him the prime suspect. But did he do it? And why would he have done it?

The cast has several recognizable names in it. Robert Young plays the police officer investigating the murder, and Robert Mitchum plays the soldiers' commanding officer. Mitchum is drafted (for want of a better word) to help the police in their investigation, specifically because he can order the soldier-suspects around. Chief among the soldiers is Robert Ryan, a bullying, hate-filled man who has the best performance in the movie. There's also Gloria Grahame, who plays a nightclub worker who lends out her apartment to the chief suspect (played by not-so-well known George Cooper).

The mystery itself is pretty good, and the direction, handled by Edward Dmytryk as a noir, is excellent. But there are a few problems. One is with the motive behind the murder. Crossfire is based on a novel, in which the murder victim was a gay man. He invited the soldiers up to his aparment, and one of them must have thought he was propositioning them, and took offense to it. Hollywood, during the time of the Production Code, couldn't mention homosexuality, and so had to turn the motive into anti-Semitism. Sure, there were anti-Semites around; Gentleman's Agreement is an outstanding movie from the same year dealing with the subject. Worse for Crossfire, the prejudice angle is made mind-numbingly clear thanks to an irritatingly blunt speech by Young comparing anti-Semitism with not liking the Irish. Although Robert Mitchum co-stars, he wasn't given much to work with. He had already become a star thanks to The Story of GI Joe and Out of the Past, but here, he's almost wooden, as though the material is too easy for him. The Robert Ryan role is the meaty one, and Mitchum's CO is never really developed.

Still, Crossfire is a pretty darn good movie. It's also available on DVD, if you don't want to get up early tomorrow morning.

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