Thursday, February 11, 2016
THE BIG COMBO
"A woman doesn't care how a man makes a living, only how he makes love."
There's a ferocious struggle going on between two determined men: Lt. Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) and his crooked antagonist, gang boss Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). Caught up in this struggle are three women: Brown's unhappy, cultured paramour, Susan (Jean Wallace), whom Diamond cares for from afar; dancer Rita (Helene Stanton), who cares for Diamond; and the missing Alicia (Helen Walker), whom Diamond is trying to find. Add to this mix the jealous underling McClure (Brian Donlevy), who used to be the one in charge and now covets Brown's position, and the two gunsels Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman), the latter of whom seems to have real feelings for the former. There are murders, double-crosses, twisted feelings, and betrayals galore, all bolstered by excellent acting from the leads and most of the supporting cast. Particularly good scenes include Diamond's torture-by-hearing aid, and a murder later on in which the same hearing aid figures. Wallace [No Blade of Grass], Stanton, and Walker [Nightmare Alley] are all vivid and compelling in the roles of the three ladies. Ted de Corsia has a notable cameo as a scared former gangster; Jay Adler [99 River Street] and Robert Middleton score as Diamond's police associates; and John Hoyt makes a believable Swedish captain turned antique dealer who knows more than he should. Conte is deliciously slimy, and handsome Wilde also turns in an outstanding performance; Donlevy is also terrific. Well-directed by Lewis, The Big Combo is film noir at its best.
Verdict: Crackling good crime drama; one of the finest of the fifties. ***1/2.