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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>
The doctor that illegally treated Martin Rome (Richard Conte) was implicated by being paid in cash, in money reportedly taken from the lawyer Niles' safe. However Rome only finds jewelry and documents in Niles' safe, while emptying it. See more »
Dark city, doomed gangster, stolen jewels--noir heaven
With his silky manners and glittering eyes, Richard Conte was a prince among hoodlums: elegant, magnetic and sharp as a shiv. As the mugs and roughnecks of the early thirties evolved into more sophisticated postwar gangsters, Conte's regal bearing gloved the gangster's raw aggression in smooth style. (Significantly, he was one of the first Italian-American leading men in Hollywood.) Conte always looks like he's plugged into some private source of electricity, like you could get a shock from touching him. He needs that intensity here, since he plays a wounded criminal who spends most of the movie lying in bed or limping around, dragging a gunshot-riddled leg and crumpling with pain. He still manages to radiate menace and charisma, threatening or seducing everyone who comes near him.
Plot-wise, CRY OF THE CITY is that old chestnut about two boys from the same neighborhood (New York's Little Italy, presented with far more nuance and authenticity than Hollywood's usual spaghetti-with-meatballs style) who grow up on opposite sides of the law. Lieutenant Candella (Victor Mature) pursues Martin Rome (Conte) relentlessly after he escapes from a prison hospital; Rome is determined to clear his girlfriend of suspicion in a jewel theft by finding the real culprits. The plot is just a scaffolding to support a series of scenes in which Rome and Candella alternately vie for leverage and influence over an eclectic parade of supporting characters, all of whom seem driven by fear or greed. Desperation inhabits the city like weather. Director Siodmak, one of the masters of film noir, suffuses the film with a dark mood, atmospheric locations, and those corrupted personal transactions that define the genre.
In a hospital in the middle of the night a priest murmurs and family-members weep quietly over a dying man who is chained to his bedMartin Rome has just killed a cop in a shoot-out. Later, after he has escaped and collapsed again, his girl (Shelley Winters in a leopard-print coat) enlists an unlicensed foreign doctor to treat him in the back seat while they drive around damp city streets, using neon signs for light. Stolen jewels get stashed in a locker in a subway station. Marty almost meets his match in a massive, burly masseuse (Hope Emerson), who looms over him as he works his bright-eyed, caressing charm. Their scene together is funny, scary and perversely titillating all at once, as the mountainous woman starts to massage his back and then gets her hands around his throat. Sadder is Marty's seduction of a plain, middle-aged hospital nurse who is burdened, we later find out, with a nasty, selfish, annoying old mother. At one point Candella reads off to Marty a list of all the former girlfriends the cop has had to look up, and Marty amusingly reacts to each name with regret, embarrassment or fondness. For this tough guy, sex appeal is as powerful a weapon as a gun or a knifesometimes it's the only one he has.
All the time we're rooting for Martyat least I was. CRY OF THE CITY perfectly demonstrates how easily movies can mess with one's moral compass. Marty is a killer and a selfish, remorseless crook, but his élan and vulnerability make him an irresistible underdog. His adversary, Candella, is a self-righteous moralizer, a monomaniacal Javert whose hatred seems inspired more by his enemy's charisma than by his crimes. Victor Mature's heavy, stolid presence sharply contrasts with Conte's proud, dazzling quickness. Someone once described Mature as an intelligent actor cursed with the face and physique of a dissipated life guard; I forget who wrote that, but it hits the nail on the head. The poor guy *looked* like a bad actorall beef and no brainseven though he wasn't. Here his scenes with the Rome family are intended to soften his character, and he does have likable moments, but the way he turns them allfinally even the kid brotheragainst Marty only increased my sympathy for the endangered outcast. His accusation that Marty uses people is fair enough, but he lays it on too thick; it wasn't Marty's idea to enlist the illegal doctor or the "trusty" who helps him break out of jail. Booming, "Stop in the name of the law!" Candella embodies implacable authority, and who could root for that?
I like to think that in real life superficial concerns like these wouldn't get in the way of my knowing right from wrong, but this is a movie; style is bound to trump substance. Are films like this onemade under the Hays Code, when movies were not allowed to openly glorify criminalsdeliberately subversive? The script says one thing, but the casting says another. In a way, that hypocrisy is essential to noir, an under-the-radar phenomenon that made caustic comments about human nature while ostensibly endorsing the Ten Commandments. For Martin Rome, a premature death isn't too high a price to pay for all the fun he had breaking the rules. And a clichéd ending is not too high a price for the pleasure of this movie.
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