Saturday Night Cinema: The Big Combo (1955)


Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema is a classic film noir crime film – like fine wine, it ages beautifully. It kicks – from the opening black and white NYC skyline pan shot to its jazzy, sexy instrumental musical score heavy on the brass and woodwinds (kudos to David Raskin).

The Big Combo is a 1955 film noir crime film directed by Joseph H. Lewis and photographed by cinematographer John Alton. This was when moviemaking was an American art form – every scene is a tasty morsel for the senses. The characters have depth – they’re layered. There is so much to take in. You never get anything like this in today’s shoddy, overproduced pieces of worthless meandering, self-conscious movie making.

Shadows and lies are the stars of The Big Combo, a spellbinding black-and-white chiaroscuro with the segmented texture of a spider’s web.

Ed Gonzalez
Slant Magazine

Screen: ‘The Big Combo’; Crime Drama Is New Feature at Palace

New York Times, March 26, 2019:

THE Big Combo,” an Allied Artists release that opened yesterday with the Palace’s new stage bill, isn’t very big or good. Even with the “combo” of a capable cast, headed by Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte, and the kernel of a provocative plot, the result is a shrill, clumsy and rather old-fashioned crime melodrama with all hands pulling in opposite directions.The story, in a nutshell, depicts the bloody tug-of-war over Jean Wallace by her wily gangster paramour, Mr. Conte, and a hard-headed cop, Mr. Wilde. The latter’s muscular campaign to get the goods on his mortal enemy fans out over some picturesque people and territory, it must be acknowledged.Few of the characters, least of all the three principals, along with some key incidents ring true. And the entire picture, for all the frenzied attempts at realism, is carefully and expansively rigged with brutality and violence (six corpses, for the record). Most of the tactics employed went out with Prohibition.Philip Yordan, the scenarist, may know his shady lingo, but it would have been wonderful to have heard someone simply ask for the time and get a straight answer. Both he and director Joseph Lewis share responsibility for the open-throttle monotonous serving of mayhem.As the bone of contention, Miss Wallace and her whimpering listlessness make a pallid fuse for the commotion. Mr. Wilde plays his murkily defined role with uncertain vigor, and small wonder. Mr. Conte does his level best as a cardboard-cut sadist. So does Brian Donlevy, as a quiet henchman. As Mr. Conte’s sideline scapegoats, Helen Walker (welcome back), John Hoyt, Ted De Corsia and Helene Stanton are dandy. But “The Big Combo” remains a sputtering, misguided antique.

The CastTHE BIG COMBO, screen play by Philip Yordan;
directed by Joseph Lewis;
produced by Sidney Harmon for Security-Theodora Productions;
distributed by Allied Artists.
Diamond . . . . . Cornel Wilde
Brown . . . . . Richard Conte
Susan . . . . . Jean Wallace
McClure . . . . . Brian Donlevy
Peterson . . . . . Robert Middleton
Fante . . . . . Lee Van Cleef
Alicia . . . . . Helen Walker
Mingo . . . . . Earl Holliman
Dreyer . . . . . John Hoyt
Bettini . . . . . Ted De Corsia
Rita . . . . . Helene Stanton
Sam Hill . . . . . Jay Adler

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