Director: Edward Dmytryk
Production: RKO Radio Pictures Corp.; black and white, 35mm; running time: 86 minutes. Released 22 July 1947. Filming completed 28 March 1947 in RKO studios.
Producer: Adrian Scott; executive producer: Dore Schary; screenplay: John Paxton, from the novel The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks; photography: Roy Hunt; editor: Harry Gerstad; sound: John E. Tribby and Clem Portman; art directors: Albert D'Agostino and Alfred Herbert; music: Roy Webb; music direction: Constantin Bakaleinikoff; special effects: Russell A. Cully.
Cast: Robert Young (Finlay); Robert Mitchum (Keeley); Robert Ryan (Montgomery); Gloria Grahame (Ginny); Paul Kelly (The Man); Sam Levene (Samuels); Jacqueline White (Mary Mitchell); Steve Brodie (Floyd); George Cooper (Mitchell); Richard Benedict (Bill); Richard Powers (Detective); William Phipps (Leroy); Lex Barker (Harry); Marlo Dwyer (Miss Lewis).
Awards: Best Social Film, Cannes Film Festival, 1947.
McCarthy, Todd, and Charles Flynn, Kings of the B's: Working Within the Hollywood System, New York, 1975.
Thomas, Tony, The Films of the Forties, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1975.
Dmytryk, Edward, It's a Hell of a Life But Not a Bad Living, New York, 1978.
Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, editors, Film Noir, Woodstock, New York, 1979.
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Dmytryk, Edward, Cinema: Concept and Practice, Stoneham, 1988.
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Crowther, Bosley, in New York Times, 23 July 1947.
Scott, Adrian, "You Can't Do That," in Screen Writer (London), August 1947.
Elliott, E. Cohen, in Commentary (New York), August 1947 (and reply by Dore Schary, in no. 4, 1947).
Agee, James, in Nation (New York), 2 August 1947.
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Scott, Adrian, "Some of My Worst Friends," in Screen Writer (London), October 1947.
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Stein, Jeanne, "Robert Ryan," in Films in Review (New York), January 1968.
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* * *
A fascinating and biting film noir, Crossfire is a good example of the message film disguised as entertainment. It is one of a series of films produced in the later 1940s when the American motion picture industry discovered that adult themes and social problems could produce good box office. The first of two films released in 1947 dealing with anti-Semitism, Crossfire was both a commercial smash and a critical success. It was RKO's most lucrative production, earning over $1,000,000 in profits. It also garnered outstanding reviews: film critic James Agee called it "the best Hollywood movie in a long time" and Newsweek magazine judged it "one of the year's best films."
The film opens on a soldier, shrouded in shadows, viciously beating a man to death. The victim was Jewish, and his killer is a pathological sadist and rabid Jew-hater (stunningly portrayed by Robert Ryan). Crossfire is actually concerned with why the man is beaten to death, rather than who did the killing, as less than halfway through the film the killer's identity becomes known. The setting has been described as "that peculiar midnight-to-dawn atmosphere that ordinary surroundings acquire in those mute subdued hours," and includes still, almost deserted city streets, all-night movie theatres, seedy bars, and cheap apartments—as well as the disparate and somewhat shady types who inhabit this world. Before the killer is brought to justice by an avuncular but hardnosed police captain (played by Robert Young in a role against type), he also brutally strangles a fellow soldier who might have given him away. Assisting the police captain is an army sergeant (Robert Mitchum) who serves in part as a sounding board for the captain in his comments on racial prejudice.
The movie is based on The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks, who later gained a certain well-deserved fame as a screenwriter and director. The novel focused on the brutal murder of a homosexual, but as that subject was just too controversial for a Hollywood still under the domination of the Motion Picture Production Code, the filmmakers changed the victim to a Jew. The "message" of the film is presented by the police captain. In perhaps a too didactic sermon, he preaches the need for tolerance and an end to prejudice, and summarizes the role of bigotry in American history. The film's message and its good intentions deserve respect but, over time, have lost their forcefulness. What remains striking and powerful is the framework in which the message of the film was set. Crossfire is a well-crafted, carefully organized, beautifully presented melodrama which still retains its audience's interest in the story's unfolding.