Director: Robert Siodmak
Screenplay: Richard Murphy
Based on a Novel by: Henry Edward Helseth
Starring: Victor Mature, Richard Conte, Fred Clark, Berry Kroeger, Shelley Winters
Running Time: 95 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
After moaning about a lack of film noir releases in the UK a couple of months ago, I’m now being spoilt by a wealth of them. I even passed on the chance to review a couple Arrow are releasing soon (largely because I already own them on DVD though). The latest noir offering to take a spin my Blu-Ray player is Richard Siodmak’s 1948 film, Cry of the City. The director was one of the many German directors who fled the country when the Nazis came into power in the mid-thirties. After living with Billy Wilder in Paris for a few years and making films there, he left for America in 1940. There he grew to become one of the most famous film noir directors during the genre’s heyday, responsible for classic titles such as The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross. Cry of the City wasn’t as successful as those at the time, but these days its reputation has grown, so I was keen to check it out.
Cry of the City opens to show us Martin Rome (Richard Conte) at death’s door in a hospital. As his family hold a tearful vigil by his bedside, two policemen – Candella (Victor Mature) and Collin (Fred Clark), and a lawyer – Niles (Berry Kroeger) are skulking around, wishing to speak to him before he dies. For one, he died in a shoot out with the police which ended in the death of one officer, but also Niles wants to get him to confess to a crime his client is due to go to the chair for, the DiGrazia murder. Rome manages to survive the night and is transferred to a prison hospital, where Candella and Niles continue to hassle him to get answers. Rome keeps his mouth shut, but is concerned for the safety of his innocent girlfriend, Teena (Debra Paget), so breaks out of the hospital to try and get her to safety, whilst getting to the bottom of the DiGrazia case. There’s little chance for a happy ending for Rome though as the driven Candella closes in on him and his life-threatening wounds aren’t given chance to heal on the run.
I felt this had a slightly different quality to it than a lot of the film noirs I’ve seen in the past. It’s still hard-boiled, but in a different way than many others. The dialogue doesn’t have the sharp, sarcastic witticisms of the Chandler-inspired scripts, but the film is almost solely populated by tough, often unpleasant characters, including the (shared) lead protagonist Rome. Candella is the exception to this, as he doggedly pursues Rome, who grew up in the same neighbourhood as him. Candella’s talks with Rome and his kid brother Tony (Tommy Cook) can get rather preachy because of his desire to stop the place he grew up in from continually churning out hoodlums and thugs, but these moments don’t detract from what is otherwise quite a dark drama.
One thing I also appreciated that felt a little different to most entries to the genre, was the film’s focus on characters over narrative. Yes, there’s the DiGrazia case to solve, but the film seems more interested in the colourful characters involved in it than any sort of complicated mystery to unravel. The film’s running time is largely taken up by lengthy conversations between characters as they either play mind games with each other or debate the moral issues at hand. There are also a couple of nice quiet little moments, such as when Candella goofs around with a young boy whilst he waits for Rome’s mother to come back from the kitchen.
As such, the film feels more relaxed in pace than most noirs, although there is a nasty killing in the middle and some exciting moments here and there. Most notably, the prison break scene is very tense, despite the quiet, action-free method of escape. In terms of craft, the film is an excellent showcase of Siodmak’s skills. On top of those couple of set pieces mentioned, he makes great use of sets and locations. Keeping the camera lower to the ground, he uses the shapes of doorways and patterns on ceilings to add hints of German expressionism. This is accentuated by his use of moody lighting and strong shadows.
It’s a classy affair all round then. It’s slower moving than many film noirs, with an emphasis on talk over action and some overly preachy monologues here and there, but there are a wealth of interesting characters on display and it’s all very artfully presented, so still works a treat.
Cry of the City is out on August 22nd on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by the BFI. The film looks and sounds very good on Blu-Ray. The picture is slightly soft perhaps, but it’s free of damage and dirt.
The film is supplemented by a handful of special features. Here’s the list:
– Audio commentary with Adrian Martin
– Adrian Wootton on Cry of the City (2016): a newly filmed appreciation by the critic and chief executive of Film London
– Original theatrical trailer
– Fully illustrated booklet with credits and newly commissioned essays
The commentary and appreciation are both well researched, providing a deep look into the film’s history and qualities.