As we continue with Noirvember, I bring one of my favorites from the era, Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire. I read one critic who said it is more of a “message film” than a film noir and I think that is kind of a ridiculous statement, as it assumes the two are mutually exclusive. If you’ve seen The Celluloid Closet, then you know that originally the crime in this film was perpetrated out of homophobia, rather than anti-Semitism. Under the Hays Code, clearcut mention of homosexuality was prohibited because it was consider “sexual perversion.” I’m going to write a little more about the origins of the film after the cut. Crossfire was nominated for five Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor Robert Ryan, Best Supporting Actress Gloria Grahame, Best Director and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best picture that year were The Bishop’s Wife, Great Expectations, Miracle on 34th Street and winner Gentleman’s Agreement (which is also about anti-Semitism). Crossfire was one of the twenty highest-grossing films of 1947, along with three other noirs: Body and Soul, Possessed and Dark Passage.
Ginny: Okay, where were you when he needed you? Maybe you were someplace having beautiful thoughts. Well, I wasn’t. I was in a stinkin’ gin mill, where all he had to do to see me was walk in, sit down at the table and buy me a drink and that’s all I know about it. I didn’t ask him if he killed anybody.
This is an interesting film. It’s a satire, for sure. But I can’t help but think its satirical tone was probably lost on many a person when it first came out (and anyone who’s watched it since). That or it made them uncomfortable because it’s satirical about religion, but not in a Monty Python kind of way. Regardless, I thought it was fantastic. I think Richard Brooks is one of the great underrated directors of the transitional period from Old Hollywood to New Hollywood. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning three: Best Score (Comedy or Drama), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Actress Shirley Jones (won), Best Actor Burt Lancaster (won), Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Alamo, Sons and Lovers, The Sundowners and winner The Apartment.
Margaret “Maggie” Pollitt: You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.
Brick Pollitt: Then jump off the roof, Maggie. Jump off it. Cats jump off roofs and land uninjured. Do it. Jump.
Margaret “Maggie” Pollitt: Jump where? Into what?
Brick Pollitt: Take a lover.
Margaret “Maggie” Pollitt: I don’t deserve that.
This is one of my favorite classic films. It’s a masterful adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play of the same name. Like many a Williams play, it is hot and steamy and filled with tension. Richard Brooks is such an amazing director and he hits every note of the film perfectly. Somehow this masterpiece lost the Best Picture award to the overblown, boring musical adaptation Gigi. I watched Gigi recently I was aghast that it had won nine Oscars. I thought it was absolutely one of the most boring, overwrought films I’d ever seen. Then to add insult to injury I discovered it beat Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. This is definitely a case of pomp winning over substance. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof was nominated for six Academy Awards, but didn’t win a single one: Best Actor – Paul Newman, Best Actress Elizabeth Taylor, Best Color Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director – Richard Brooks and Best Picture. Aside from the two acting categories, it lost all the awards to Gigi. The other nominees for Best Picture that year were Auntie Mame, Separate Table and The Defiant Ones.
I know there is at least one book on this subject and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but thanks to TCM showing several movies from that year, I have to agree completely. What I mean by Cinema, is Hollywood and American Cinema, because a lot of how it changed was based on things French New Wave directors had already been doing for almost ten years.
One way to see this change is by looking at the five films that were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars that year. Four of the films are harbingers of the new Hollywood. One is old guard and because of that in addition I want to talk about another film that, although nominated for four Oscars, was not up for Best Picture.
The five films up for Best Picture were Bonnie & Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and In The Heat of the Night. The film sixth film I’m going to discuss is In Cold Blood.