A taut, tense film noir with a powerful message that remains devastatingly relevant today, Crossfire not only condemns anti-Semitism, but also all forms of hate within its gritty murder mystery context. A trio of talented Roberts - Young, Mitchum, and Ryan - headline this riveting Oscar-nominated drama that also features a literate, thought-provoking script and inventive direction by Edward Dmytryk. A brand new 4K restoration struck from the original camera negative distinguishes Warner Archive's top-notch Blu-ray presentation that faithfully honors the artistry of this important motion picture. Highly Recommended.
Two groundbreaking movies dealing with anti-Semitism premiered in 1947. Both earned Best Picture Oscar nominations. One took home the award, the other deserved it. One is a glossy, sophisticated A picture, the other a gritty, naturalistic B. One dances around the issue at hand and strives to make it palatable for close-minded audiences, while the other lays it bare with an uncomfortable rawness. One is cerebral, the other visceral. One has "message" written all over it, the other lets the horrific on-screen action speak for itself.
You may have guessed the former film is director Elia Kazan's Oscar-winning Gentleman's Agreement, which stars Gregory Peck as a journalist who masquerades as a Jew to expose insidious anti-Semitism among Connecticut's ritzy country club set. Sadly, though, the latter - and better - picture, director Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire, can't escape its shadow. That's a shame, because while Gentleman's Agreement remains very much a movie of its time almost 75 years later, Crossfire, which searingly examines a brutal anti-Semitic hate crime committed by an average-joe ex-GI in urban Washington DC, continues to be both timeless and timely. Its powerful themes, presented through a riveting film noir prism, resonate just as strongly today as they surely did in 1947, and eerily relate to issues afflicting our country right now.
Vicious anti-Asian assaults and the trial of the cop accused of murdering George Floyd remind us how much unvarnished hate exists in this world, and Crossfire isn't afraid to confront that unpleasant fact head on. Smaller in scope than Gentleman's Agreement, yet far more impactful, Crossfire uses anti-Semitism as a vehicle to address the larger problem of deep-seeded bigotry that cuts across the entire spectrum of our population, often festering like an open wound. Dmytryk and screenwriter John Paxton (The Wild One, On the Beach, Murder, My Sweet) bravely expose that ugly human cancer to which so many Americans are not immune.
The taut, tension-filled drama opens with a violent fistfight between two silhouetted figures in a dingy apartment. One falls to the floor dead. The other, a serviceman, staggers away without being seen. Detective Finlay (Robert Young) later arrives to investigate and finds the wallet of Corporal Arthur "Mitch" Mitchell (George Cooper), a sensitive artist scarred by the war, buried in the slain man's couch. While Finlay noses around, another former soldier, "Monty" Montgomery (Robert Ryan), shows up looking for Mitch. That leads Finlay to question a group of ex-GIs who met the victim, Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene), in a bar and went back to his apartment for a few more drinks.
Mitch emerges as the prime suspect, but Sergeant Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) knows Mitch is incapable of committing such a heinous crime and tries to protect him. It soon becomes apparent anti-Semitism was the murder's motivating factor, but it's up to Finlay to determine who's telling the truth, who's lying, and how to catch an animal consumed by a hatred so strong, it eats away at his soul.
It's astonishing to think a soldier who went to war to fight anti-Semitism and a host of other evils could be a disciple of such a disgusting belief himself, but Crossfire effectively raises and explores that hot-button issue. The novel upon which the movie is based, written by future director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Richard Brooks (Elmer Gantry), deals with homophobia in the U.S. Army, but the censors deemed that explosive topic taboo. Switching the focus to racism probably improves the picture by lending it a more universal feel, and lines like this from Finlay hammer home that point: "Hating is always the same, always senseless. One day it kills Irish Catholics, the next day Jews, the next day Protestants, the next day Quakers. It's hard to stop."
The Oscar-nominated script also examines how post-traumatic stress hampers the ability of returning GIs to readjust to civilian life and let go of the rage and violent instincts that consumed them during the war. As Samuels, a veteran himself, so eloquently states to Mitch while they're drinking at the bar, "We're too used to fighting. But we just don't know what to fight. You can feel the tension in the air. A whole lot of fight and hate that doesn't know where to go...One of these days, maybe we'll all learn to shift gears. Maybe we'll stop hatin' and start likin' things again." Sadly, some seven decades later, we're still waiting for that elusive "one of these days."
And speaking of hate, ironically both Crossfire and Gentleman's Agreement were directed by men who soon would become targets of the vicious House UnAmerican Activities Committee. (Crossfire raised the ire of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his cronies because they felt a picture about a bigoted, murderous serviceman was dangerously subversive and somehow unAmerican.) Kazan would famously name names and go on with his life, much to the everlasting consternation of many of his peers, but Dmytryk would be a combative witness and become one of the notorious Hollywood Ten, spending time in prison for contempt of Congress. (He, too, would later fold and cooperate with HUAC so he could resume his career.) Personal failings aside, both men are great directors, and though Dmytryk never achieved Kazan's level of renown, the movies he made during the mid-1940s remain noteworthy.
Crossfire earned Dmytryk his only Oscar nomination, and his arresting style and meticulous artistry make it a worthy nod. The occasional use of a subjective camera, high and low angle shots, extreme close-ups that are ever so slightly out of focus, harsh lighting, shadows, and occasional blackouts are just a few of ways he heightens tension and creates a sense of unease and disorientation. (Seeing the blurred, double-exposed images of Monty and Samuels through Mitch's drunken eyes is an especially inventive touch.) Crossfire may be a B movie with a paltry budget that was shot in a mere 24 days, but thanks to Dmytryk's craftsmanship, it never looks cheap or feels hastily assembled.
The three Roberts - Young, Mitchum, and Ryan - all file standout performances. Ryan gets the showiest role and really sinks his teeth into his despicable character, displaying an intensity and ferocity that make some of his actions difficult to watch. Though his superior work would nab him his only career Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor (he would lose to Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street), Ryan would often rue his participation in Crossfire because it typecast him as an unbalanced, menacing character.
Mitchum's easygoing, natural acting style fits Sgt. Keely well, but the bland part requires little more than quiet strength and expressions of sympathy for his targeted friend. (Still rising through Hollywood's ranks, Mitchum would get his biggest break later that year and achieve leading man status when he landed the role of Jeff Bailey in the now iconic film noir Out of the Past.) One might think the macho magnetism of Mitchum and Ryan might overshadow the low-key, unassuming Young, but nothing could be further from the truth. As the jaded, world-weary, pipe-smoking detective, he more than holds his own with his formidable co-stars. Young's quiet, earnest, nuanced performance brims with subtle touches and rivets our attention. It's too bad Young, who would achieve his greatest success in television with the long-running series Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D., didn't receive an Oscar nomination for his stellar work; he definitely deserved it.
Crossfire's fifth and final Oscar nod went to Gloria Grahame in a breakout turn as Ginny, a good-time girl (euphemism for prostitute) who befriends Mitch on the night of the murder. Smoldering and sassy, yet also heartbreakingly tender, Grahame exudes the sexiness of a femme fatale and the warmth and vulnerability of a hard-knocks dame struggling to keep her head above water in a cruel, unforgiving world. Though she would lose the Oscar this time around to Celeste Holm in Gentleman's Agreement, Grahame would be crowned Best Supporting Actress five years later for a far less demanding and affecting role in The Bad and the Beautiful.
Message movies dominated the Hollywood landscape in the years directly following World War II, but Crossfire is more blunt, powerful, and enduring than most, and with a dazzling noir style that amps up tension and impact, it's an unforgettable film experience. Dmytryk's devastating indictment of not just anti-Semitism but all forms of bigotry has chilled audiences for decades, but in our current turbulent social climate, its in-your-face look at hate and sober plea for tolerance strike an especially raw nerve. Though Crossfire may never emerge from the shadow of Gentleman's Agreement, it will forever outshine it.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Crossfire arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Crossfire may be a low-budget film, but Warner Archive makes it look like a million bucks. A brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative yields a stunning 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that faithfully and beautifully honors both J. Roy Hunt's stark cinematography and Edward Dmytryk's arresting direction. From the moment the RKO logo flashes on the screen and the razor-sharp opening credits begin to roll, it's evident we're in for a visual treat, and over the next 86 minutes, the combination of terrific clarity and contrast, exceptional shadow delineation, and an authentic film-like look result in a memorable viewing experience.
A healthy but not overpowering grain structure provides essential texture and details are so crisp you can spot some errant fuzz on Young's sport coat early in the film. The rugged, careworn faces of Young, Mitchum, and especially Ryan are showcased in an array of powerful close-ups, and the tight shots of the alluring, platinum-haired Grahame are, in a word, breathtaking. Artistic flourishes like double exposure during the drunken party scene and multiple instances of harsh lighting never compromise clarity, nor do the dark movie theater sequences. Deep blacks accentuate the tense and disturbing mood, but crush is never an issue, and aside from one odd flash on one frame, no imperfections mar the pristine print.
Fans of Crossfire will be thrilled with this top-notch Blu-ray presentation and can certainly toss the 2005 DVD on the scrap heap.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies clear, well-modulated sound. Roy Webb's music score fills the room with ease, and a wide dynamic scale embraces all of its highs and lows without a hint of distortion. All of the dialogue is comprehendible, and subtleties like footsteps, background bar chatter, a ticking clock, percolating coffee, and a straight razor sliding across Ryan's stubbly cheeks are wonderfully distinct. Silences are generally clean, but a bit of very faint surface noise ever-so-slightly taints them here and there. That minor nitpick aside, this is a high-quality audio rendering that enhances the impact of a powerful film.
Both supplements from the previous Crossfire DVD have been ported over to this Blu-ray release.
Audio Commentary - Film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini sat down for this informative and insightful commentary, which also includes archival audio from director Edward Dmytryk, in 2005. The duo cites Crossfire as one of the most important film noirs because of its critical acclaim and social relevance. They also laud the actors and examine the storytelling technique. In addition, they discuss how the film's themes exacerbated Dmytryk's trouble with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, how Ryan's off-screen personality conflicted with his tough-guy on-screen image, and how Crossfire differs from most film noirs. Dmytryk recalls his difficult experiences with HUAC and how he considered suicide during his blacklisted period. He also shares his impressions of Ryan, details the story's evolution, and explains how he used makeup, lighting, and different lenses to depict the changes in Ryan's character. If you're a Crossfire and/or film noir aficionado, you definitely need to give this intelligent track a listen.
Featurette: "Crossfire: Hate Is Like a Gun" (SD, 9 minutes) - The reminiscences of director Edward Dmytryk dominate this straightforward featurette that also salutes the cast of Crossfire, examines the film's cinematic style, and assesses the story's impact. Dmytryk, in an archival interview, discusses how he got around censorship constraints, reveals he used film noir lighting because "it was so cheap," and admits he wasn't sure how audiences would react to a movie dealing with anti-Semitism.
Crossfire may be almost 75 years old, but the powerful message it espouses sadly remains all too relevant today. Though this searing chronicle of a hate-crime investigation in post-World War II Washington DC focuses on anti-Semitism, it decries all forms of intolerance within its riveting film noir-police procedural context. Three very talented Roberts - Young, Mitchum, and Ryan - lead an impressive cast, John Paxton's literate script hits all the right notes, and Edward Dmytryk's inventive direction keeps us riveted from the first frame to the last. A brand new 4K restoration struck from the original camera negative distinguishes Warner Archive's top-notch Blu-ray presentation that also features solid audio and a couple of absorbing extras. Now more than ever, Crossfire deserves - make that demands - your attention. It's an important film and it comes very highly recommended.