From the first shot, Crossfire (1947) seems to be throwing you into a genre flick. It opens with a fist fight, in shadow, mostly off camera. You can’t see faces. It feels like a film noir or a crime movie.
As the action unfolds though, the social issue roots of the story reveal themselves. It’s still gritty and built for thrills, but there’s more substance than is obvious at first. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, this fascinating film is bolstered by a charismatic cast and a well-written script by John Paxton which was nominated for an Academy Award.
Whatever else Crossfire has going for it, and it’s got a lot, it’s especially remarkable for gathering three different and unique Roberts: Taylor, Mitchum, and Ryan. The trio settles into familiar roles, which makes the plot twists easy to project, but mystery isn’t the true draw here. Mitchum gets the best lines and he’s often funny in his dry way, Ryan has the showstopper part, and Taylor brings great depth to his role as a detective trying to unravel a murder.
In a movie full of big personalities, it’s noteworthy that the lesser-known George Cooper makes such an impression. As a GI accused of murder, he’s sympathetic and appealing in that interesting way film actors can have of being relatable, but also more fascinating than normal folks. The son of silent film actor George Cooper Sr., his filmography shows a handful of westerns and crime movies in the forties, a few more television roles in the fifties, and only one more role in 1975. It seems that Cooper’s real love was painting and his connections in Hollywood gave him work that was a means to an end and enabled his return to society after serving in the Navy during World War II. He later achieved his dream of becoming an artist.
Cooper has a couple of great scenes with his leading ladies. One is with Gloria Grahame, who is memorable in her small role as a downtrodden, but alluring bar girl who holds the key to the GI’s freedom. Another is a tender and somewhat offbeat moment in a movie theatre balcony with Jacqueline White, who plays his understanding wife. In these scenes Cooper effectively communicates the trauma and disorientation a soldier can feel, something he might have experienced himself as a veteran.
In a film that centers on the impact different perspectives can have, it’s interesting how director Edward Dmytryk plays with point-of-view. From that first scene, he’s deliberate in the way he reveals the action and how he introduces characters. You can be quietly engrossed in a scene and suddenly have a new perspective based on the way his actors slip into the frame.
When the social issue that’s the real focus of the film reveals itself, it unfortunately the dialogue-heavy exposition slows the action for a bit, though eventually things right themselves and the film hits its stride again. Ultimately Crossfire manages to both hold onto its genre intrigue and effectively share its message, winning Oscar nominations in addition to the screenplay for Dmytryk, Grahame, and Ryan.
Special features on the disc include commentary by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, and with audio interview excerpts from director Edward Dmytryk, and the informative featurette Crossfire: Hate is Like a Gun.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.