Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


THE BIG COMBO (1955). Director: Joseph H. Lewis.

"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.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill, I've read about this one but have yet to see it. I am excited! Richard Conte excels at the slimy characters he plays...remember him as Susan Hayward's mean drunk of a husband in I'll Cry Tomorrow? And I have been a Cornel Wilde fan ever since Lucy Ricardo snuck into his hotel room and spied him naked in the bathtub...

I just recorded Asphalt Jungle to watch again from TCM...another great 50s noir! Now will seek out The Big Combo as well.

William said...

It's a very good picture. And I'm just "wilde" about Cornel -- I'd sit through just about anything with him in it, and this is a fine picture -- for an added bonus. And Conte is particularly good and slimy in this.

Meanwhile I[m digging out my complete collection of "Lucy" and watching the Cornel Wilde episode again, LOL!

angelman66 said...

I have the Lucy collection, too, in the heart-shaped box!! The Cornel Wilde is one of the very best of the Hollywood episodes; enjoy!