CRY OF THE CITY (director: Robert Siodmak; screenwriters: from the novel “The Chair for Martin Rome” by Henry Edward Helseth/Richard Murphy; cinematographer: Lloyd Ahern; editor: Harmon Jones; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Victor Mature (Lt. Candella), Richard Conte (Martin Rome), Fred Clark (Lt Collins), Shelley Winters (Brenda Martingale), Betty Garde (Miss Pruett, nurse), Berry Kroeger (W. A. Niles), Tommy Cook (Tony Rome), Debra Paget (Teena Riconti), Hope Emerson (Rose Given), Tito Vuolo (Papa Roma), Mimi Aguglia (Mama Roma), Roland Winters (Ledbetter), Walter Baldwin (Orvy), Howard Freeman (Sullivan, drunk), Konstantin Shayne (Dr. Veroff), June Storey (Miss Boone); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol C. Siegel; 20th Century Fox; 1948)
“Top notch film noir.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Top notch film noir along the same mode as Manhattan Melodrama, that’s passionately directed by Robert Siodmak (“Criss Cross”/”The File on Thelma Jordon”). It’s based on the novel “The Chair for Martin Rome” by Henry Edward Helseth and scripted by Richard Murphy. It tells the story of impoverished childhood friends from New York’s Little Italy ghetto who take different paths: one grew up to be a ruthless gangster named Martin Rome (Richard Conte) and the other, Lt. Candella (Victor Mature), an honest policeman.
In the gripping opening scene ladies man cop killer Martin Rome receives last rites as homicide police Lieutenants Candella and Collins (Fred Clark) observe the badly wounded thug. He’s visited by a mysterious young girl, Teena Riconti (Debra Paget), whom he will not reveal to the officers her identity. There’s the possibility the girl could have been part of a jewel robbery murder case, where a man and a woman accomplice tortured to death Mrs. de Grazia. Martin charms the single Nurse Pruett into hiding the girl in her apartment (which I found hard to believe, and unfortunately a key part of the film depends on us accepting that). Martin’s also visited after surgery by crooked shyster Niles (Berry Kroeger), whose male client is arrested for the de Grazia murder. Niles wants Martin to take the rap so his client can get off and he in turn will give him $10,000. If he doesn’t agree, Niles threatens to implicate Teena as his client’s accomplice. Martin’s answer is that he tries to strangle the shyster.
Martin’s transferred to the prison hospital ward, and with the help of a retarded trustee named Orvy escapes. He breaks into the shady lawyer’s office and forces him to open up the safe, where he finds the de Grazia jewels. When Niles pulls a gun on him, Martin knifes him to death.
Candella is obsessed with catching Martin, whose teen brother Tony looks up to as a hero. In the apartment of Martin’s parents, Candella nearly nabs him but the killer escapes. With the help of one of his girlfriend’s, Brenda (Shelley Winters), the badly wounded Martin receives medical aid in a car from an unlicensed foreign doctor. Martin then visits the surly heavy set masseuse Rosa Given (Hope Emerson), whom he learned from Niles was the accomplice and offers to sell her the stolen jewels. His plan is to get enough money to go with Teena to South America.
Before it ends we learn the lesson that crime doesn’t pay and hopefully Tony has learned that after discovering his older brother really isn’t such a good guy but a hardened criminal who will use anyone to get what he wants and discard them whenever he has no need for them.
Though the story is all too familiar and nothing new is added here, what Siodmak brilliantly does is cinematic poetry of using the dark rain-splattered city streets and the constant noise from the traffic and police sirens to evoke from the urban landscape a human cry depicting the squalor and cruelty of ghetto life and the ever present city corruption. Siodmak, who admittedly, was more comfortable working in the studio, here uses the vivid location shots to perfection to give the film a powerful semi-documentary feeling and still maintain his trademark expressionistic studio look. It’s a bleak tale, but is so well executed and the acting by Conte and, surprisingly, by Mature is superb. But the film’s coup de grâce in acting honors has to go to Emerson, in one of the all-time great sinister sleaze heavy roles.
REVIEWED ON 2/1/2007 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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