Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 14, 2021)
Expect an unprecedented level of Roberts in 1947’s Crossfire! As it stars Young, Mitchum and Ryan, we get more Roberts than you can shake a stick at.
When someone beats Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) to death, police Detective Finlay (Young) investigates. He quickly learns that this was a hate crime related to Samuel‘s status as a Jew.
Finlay soon figures out that one of a group of demobilized GIs committed the crime, and Cpl. Arthur Mitchell (George Cooper) becomes the main suspect, largely due to the testimony of bigoted Sgt. Montgomery (Ryan). Finlay seems less sure of Mitchell’s involvement, so along with Army Sgt. Peter Keeley (Mitchum), he attempts to learn the truth.
Fancypants movie critics like me love to toss around discussions of the “Rashomon Effect”. It means a story told from multiple – and often contradictory – perspectives.
Crossfire predates Rashomon by three years, so we can’t accuse its creators of theft. Crossfire doesn’t offer a true representation of the “Rashomon Effect” anyway, as it provides varying stories told in flashback, but they don’t usually follow the “same event from multiple viewpoints” framework. They do offer distorted interpretations, though.
I find it interesting to note the similarities, as Crossfire brings a tale told mostly from the retrospective angle. That allows it to provide a good mystery path, as we get to track the investigation via a mix of perspectives.
Crossfire also reminds me of another era film: Gentleman’s Agreement. Both came out in 1947, and both earned Best Picture nominations, an award that Agreement won.
The two echo each other in their focus on anti-Semitism as a factor, though in different ways. While Crossfire takes on a more violent form of bigotry, Agreement looks at more subtle kinds of discrimination.
Of the two, Crossfire addresses the subject in a much more satisfying manner. Agreement tends to feel heavy-handed and preachy, but those same issues don’t damage Crossfire.
Basically Agreement took its social themes and built a story around these, whereas Crossfire delivers a much more plot-oriented affair. Not that it eschews all moralizing, as we do find a scene with the obligatory anti-bigotry lecture.
Still, Crossfire mainly concentrates on the murder and its investigation, and it does reasonably well in that regard. At no point does this threaten to become the most compelling murder mystery, but it moves at a good clip and digs into events with gusto.
The movie’s brevity helps. At a tight 85 minutes, Crossfire never wears out its welcome, so it keeps us involved and never bored.
The cast helps, as all those Roberts offer effective work. In particular, Ryan does well as the angry Montgomery, and Mitchum and Young create a good pair as well.
All of this adds up to a fairly compelling mix of drama and crime investigation. Nothing here turns Crossfire into a classic, but it still works well after nearly 75 years.