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Noir-vember 2013: Cry of the City (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on November 1, 2013

“Fat, old women who have too much money and too many jewels. They think the jewels make them beautiful, and they fight to keep them like they fight the years that make them ugly.”

Marty Rome (Richard Conte) is being held in the hospital.  He’s taken four bullets during a shootout in which he killed a cop.  Attorney W.A. Niles (Berry Kroeger) wants Rome to confess to a jewel robbery/murder, clearing his client’s name.  It’s known that a girl was involved, and it’s known that a mysterious girl visited Rome in the hospital.  Rome’s childhood pal Candella (Victor Mature) is a now a police lieutenant, duty-bound to investigate the allegation.  Meanwhile Rome scrambles to protect his innocent gal Teena (Debra Paget), dragging down his mother (Mimi Aguglia), his kid brother (Tommy Cook), an old flame (Shelley Winters), a prison guard (Roland Winters) and trusty (Walter Baldwin) and an underworld doctor.  Candella picks up the pieces of fragile human lives that Rome leaves in his wake.

Director Robert Siodmak’s noir credentials rest most heavily on his adaptation of The Killers, but for my money, this is his masterwork.  It’s not an exciting film, the film moves rather slowly.  And it isn’t stacked with snappy dialogue.  But it achieves a thick aura of melancholy.  Everyone in this film seems desperate, sad, hopeless… at the end of their rope, clinging to some vague dream of a better life.  It’s the minor characters who really drive this home, from Baldwin’s hopeless con with a bum ticker to the always reliable Shelley Winters as a used-up floozy.  It’s Hope Emerson who absolutely steals the show, intimidating and bitter, jaded and cynical.

Conte and Mature are both noir mainstays.  Neither is an actor I get particularly excited to see, but both do among their best work here.  Mature with his heavy eyelids has a lovely sincerity to him, and yet his adherence to the letter of the law shows no mercy, even while his heart is clearly full of it.  And Conte is manipulative, conniving and vicious, yet his strongest motivation is his love for Teena, his desire to protect her.

With wonderful location photography and an unobtrusive, downbeat score, Cry of the City isn’t an edge-of-your-seat noir thriller, but it excels at establishing mood.  The ending is surprisingly moving.  Rating: Great (90)


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