Petty crook and cop-killer Martin Rome, in bad shape from wounds in the hospital prison ward, still refuses to help slimy lawyer Niles clear his client by confessing to another crime. Police Lt. Candella must check Niles' allegation; a friend of the Rome family, he walks a tightrope between sentiment and cynicism. When Martin fears Candella will implicate his girlfriend Teena, he'll do anything to protect her. How many others will he drag down to disaster with him? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Midway through the film, while Rome is knifing Niles to death, the latter manages to pull a pistol from his desk drawer, but is only able to fire 1 shot through the ceiling; moments later we see Niles' secretary, who was eavesdropping just outside the door, is seen dropping dead, apparently from that bullet. See more »
Marty Rome and Vittorio Candella both grew up in an Italian neighbourhood in New York. Both are smart, handsome young men. But that's where the similarity ends. Marty became a violent criminal, and now he lies in a hospital bed, riddled with gunshot wounds. Vittorio went straight, and is now the police lieutenant investigating Marty.
It's not as if Marty never had a choice. The film stresses the decency of Marty's upbringing. The family is 'deserving poor' - crucifix on the living-room wall, mother attending Mass every day, display case of war medals in the back room. Marty's girlfriend, Teena Riconti, is also from an honest family. So what turned Marty bad? This is analysed through the treatment of Tony, Marty's kid brother. Tony is on the cusp of manhood and beginning to adopt Marty's warped values. Can he be saved, or will he inevitably gravitate towards the "poolroom hotshots"?
Lest we conclude that moral depravity is the preserve of immigrants or even the urban poor, the film offers us Niles, the crooked lawyer. Played by Berry Kroeger with almost Wellesian flamboyance, Niles is the distillation of nastiness - a man with every advantage in life who still elects to sup with the devil. Twentieth-Century Fox's films noirs exhibited little love for attorneys, but Niles is probably the most unpleasant of them all.
Victor Mature and Richard Conte are in great form as Candella and Marty respectively. There is no real romantic sub-plot - Teena appears briefly at the beginning and the end, but plays no part in the story - and Candella is too busy making himself at home in the Rome household to go out and get a girl. Shelley Winters plays Brenda, one of Marty's dumb broads. For her, here in 1948, the typecasting had already begun.
As always, noir uses external scenery to symbolise internal emotion in the classic expressionist manner. Marty and Teena are filmed through the bars of the hospital bed-head, representing both the imprisonment awaiting Marty and the way in which Society is bearing down on these two, restricting their options. The hospital architecture is much vaster than the human scale, making a similar point - we like to think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, captains of our own destinies, but we are little more than insects, and the nest we have built around us dominates our existence. Marty's journey through the tunnel of the prison hospital is like an expressionist bad dream, a virtual street with pedestrians and vehicles, but no sky. Arches are everywhere. Marty's hospital ward is a forest of arch shapes. Niles' office has two arched windows whose insistent geometry dominates the screen. The church continues this motif with its lines of arches overhead. The city is our nest, and its institutions are the linked burrows through which we are obliged to scurry. Neon signs continually force themselves on our attention - the Gillette ad in the street, and the garage sign intruding through Rose Gibbons' apartment window. Just as with the terrific el-train shot, the city creeps into our consciousness, never allowing us to forget that we are living in its bowels.
Tony's moral crisis centres on the hard decisions which his bad-guy brother forces him to make. We see his hesitation when Marty tells him to take Candella's gun, then later when he is asked to steal the family's savings. In the church, the wall picture shows Christ falling with His cross. When, moments later, Candella the Christ-figure slumps to the pavement, it is Tony who (quite literally) supports the police.
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