Sunday, May 06, 2018

Cry of the City (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Cry of the City. Berry Kroeger, Richard Conte.

Robert Siodmak, US 1948
Print source: Museum of Modern Art, New York
Running time: 95 minutes
Viewed at The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 6 May 2018

NPS: "About the print

This film’s striking black-and-white cinematography is highlighted through the nitrate print’s excellent condition—there is minimal scratching or damage throughout the copy. Shrinkage: 0.65%

About the film

“Except for a couple of unlikely incidents, this film is a realistic and exciting story of a man hunt. The principals are two men who had the same start in life—they were both of Italian parentage, came from poor families, and lived in the same rundown district; one made easy money the wrong way, the other earned a small salary and did it the hard way. . . . All the settings have an authentic flavor, the dialogue is terse and natural, and the direction gives the film both pace and punch.”
– Mae Tinee, Chicago Daily Tribune, October 21, 1948

“Cry of the City at the RKO Boston Theatre is another thriller of realistic crime school, obviously patterned by 20th Century-Fox to appeal to those huge and enthusiastic audiences who liked this company’s Kiss of Death, Call Northside 777 and Boomerang. It is tough and hard and stark, full of red-blooded action, yet so well developed in characterization and plot that it will appeal to mature film-goers. . . . Men will love it, and even if the romantic scenes are few and far between, no woman who likes good pictures should stay away from RKO Boston because the hero doesn’t marry the heroine in the last moments of the story.”
– Daily Boston Globe, October 29, 1948

“Understatement is the keynote of both Robert Siodmak’s direction and Richard Murphy’s pithy script. And Victor Mature, an actor once suspected of limited talents, turns in a thoroughly satisfying job as a sincere and kindly cop, who not only knows his business but the kind of people he is tracking down.”
– A. W., New York Times, September 30, 1948

This screening is supported by Friends of the Nitrate Picture Show." (NPS)

AA: Cry of the City was a film noir produced by Sol C. Siegel at 20th Century-Fox and directed by Robert Siodmak in the middle of his cycle of eight films noirs for Universal (Phantom Lady, Christmas Holiday, The Suspect, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, Spiral Staircase, The Killers, Criss Cross, and Dark Mirror). Oddly, it seems that Cry of the City has never been seen in Finland except at our screenings in Orion in 1996 (which I missed as I was in Hollywood). It was banned here when Fox first tried to release it.

The standard plot concept is familiar from crime films since the silent period. We have two childhood and family friends from the same neighbourhood. One of them is a criminal, the other a policeman. They share an Italian background, a taste for minestrone and an adherence to the Roman Catholic church.

But Cry of the City, a handsome production, is an original interpretation. Inspired by neorealism, there is some vibrant location footage in the streets of New York. A documentary passion is evident.

In a film festival, films influence the reception of other films, and having seen The Red Shoes last night I see Cry of the City this morning also as a dance of death. It starts with the criminal Martin Rome (Richard Conte) on his deathbed, facing either death from his wounds or the electric chair because he has killed a policeman.

There is a genuine feeling of tenderness and sorrow in the hospital sequence as Martin receives the last rites. A mysterious girl, like a dream, like an angel, visits him after all others have gone. "I can die now". The sense of agony is genuine. But having been threatened by the police and a crooked lawyer representing another criminal Conte gets so furious that he partially recovers and breaks out.

The film is full of humoristic and interesting detail. A staring contest between Lt. Candella (Victor Mature) and a child turns into a smiling contest. A key document for the police is Martin's little book with all his girls. The trusty of a temporary prison shows Martin how to escape with the help of a simple spoon. Immigrant doctors, top experts in their countries, work illegally since they get no work permit. Madame Rose's Swedish Massage is a formidable operation, and Madame Rose demonstrates to Martin how easy it is for a masseuse to kill a patient.

Robert Siodmak directs his film with an assured sense of tempo, alternating slow scenes with rapid action sequences. On display is the excitement of the big city as well as the silence and sorrow in the presence of imminent death. Further, this story is one of those where "the streets were dark with something more than night", to quote Raymond Chandler. The finale is a bit of a letdown with some prolonged action and needless morality-clarifying dialogue.

Alfred Newman creates a superb score based on his "Street Scene" standard from 1931 which he reworked in at least seven 20th Century-Fox productions, most memorably in How to Marry a Millionaire in the prologue of which we see Newman himself conducting his orchestra. Impressive in this film is also what might be called "a slow theme of destiny".

The casting is brilliant and proves that bit parts matter. Betty Garde is wonderful as the senior nurse Pruett as is the junior nurse (Ruth Clifford) in her walk-on part. Not forgetting Berry Kroeger's crooked lawyer, the formidable Madame Rose (Hope Emerson), a pre-stardom Shelley Winters as Brenda Nightingale, or Konstantin Shayne (Pop Leibel in Vertigo) as the illegal doctor. Debra Paget gets her debut role her as Teena Ricante, Martin's mysterious girlfriend.

Lloyd Ahern had been promoted into a director of photography the year before, and his work is brilliant in Cry of the City. He was a veteran of film noir, including as a second camera operator for Laura, and the experience shows in an assured sense of darkness and dynamic composition.

An excellent vintage print.

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