In New York, when the cop killer Martin Rome arrives in the hospital badly wounded, the lawyer W.A. Niles unsuccessfully tries to convince him to confess the robbery of a collection of jewels and the death of the owner. Along the night, Martin's girlfriend Teena Riconti sneaks and visits him. Later Niles threatens Martin telling that he would catch Teena to force her to assume the other crime. When Martin escapes from the hospital, Lieutenant Candella, who is an old friend of the Rome family, investigates the case and has to chase Martin.
Victor Mature ... Lt. Candella
Richard Conte ... Martin Rome
Fred Clark ... Lt Collins
Shelley Winters ... Brenda Martingale
Betty Garde ... Miss Pruett
Berry Kroeger ... W. A. Niles
Tommy Cook ... Tony Rome
Debra Paget ... Teena Riconti
Hope Emerson ... Rose Given
Roland Winters ... Ledbetter
Walter Baldwin ... Orvy
Marty Rome and Vittorio Candella both grew up in an Italian neighbourhood in New York. Both are smart, handsome young men. But that's where the similarity ends. Marty became a violent criminal, and now he lies in a hospital bed, riddled with gunshot wounds. Vittorio went straight, and is now the police lieutenant investigating Marty.
It's not as if Marty never had a choice. The film stresses the decency of Marty's upbringing. The family is 'deserving poor' - crucifix on the living-room wall, mother attending Mass every day, display case of war medals in the back room. Marty's girlfriend, Teena Riconti, is also from an honest family. So what turned Marty bad? This is analysed through the treatment of Tony, Marty's kid brother. Tony is on the cusp of manhood and beginning to adopt Marty's warped values. Can he be saved, or will he inevitably gravitate towards the "poolroom hotshots"?
Lest we conclude that moral depravity is the preserve of immigrants or even the urban poor, the film offers us Niles, the crooked lawyer. Played by Berry Kroeger with almost Wellesian flamboyance, Niles is the distillation of nastiness - a man with every advantage in life who still elects to sup with the devil. Twentieth-Century Fox's films noirs exhibited little love for attorneys, but Niles is probably the most unpleasant of them all.
Victor Mature and Richard Conte are in great form as Candella and Marty respectively. There is no real romantic sub-plot - Teena appears briefly at the beginning and the end, but plays no part in the story - and Candella is too busy making himself at home in the Rome household to go out and get a girl. Shelley Winters plays Brenda, one of Marty's dumb broads. For her, here in 1948, the typecasting had already begun.
As always, noir uses external scenery to symbolise internal emotion in the classic expressionist manner. Marty and Teena are filmed through the bars of the hospital bed-head, representing both the imprisonment awaiting Marty and the way in which Society is bearing down on these two, restricting their options. The hospital architecture is much vaster than the human scale, making a similar point - we like to think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, captains of our own destinies, but we are little more than insects, and the nest we have built around us dominates our existence. Marty's journey through the tunnel of the prison hospital is like an expressionist bad dream, a virtual street with pedestrians and vehicles, but no sky. Arches are everywhere. Marty's hospital ward is a forest of arch shapes. Niles' office has two arched windows whose insistent geometry dominates the screen. The church continues this motif with its lines of arches overhead. The city is our nest, and its institutions are the linked burrows through which we are obliged to scurry. Neon signs continually force themselves on our attention - the Gillette ad in the street, and the garage sign intruding through Rose Gibbons' apartment window. Just as with the terrific el-train shot, the city creeps into our consciousness, never allowing us to forget that we are living in its bowels.
Tony's moral crisis centres on the hard decisions which his bad-guy brother forces him to make. We see his hesitation when Marty tells him to take Candella's gun, then later when he is asked to steal the family's savings. In the church, the wall picture shows Christ falling with His cross. When, moments later, Candella the Christ-figure slumps to the pavement, it is Tony who (quite literally) supports the police.
It is not surprising that so much has been written about the sub genre of the "film noir". The execution of a noir film required a tremendous artistry and expertise in all aspects of cinema. The classic noir films are truly works of art; cinema at its best, not relying on star power or big budgets, but rather a mastery of the very rudiments of making movies.
What Ford was to the western, Hitchcock to suspense, Sirk to melodrama, so was Robert Siodmak to the noir. While "Cry of the City" is often left out of discussions of the genre, it is, in many ways a near perfect example of the genre.
By 1948 the noir was beginning to hit its stride. Siodmak came to this project with much valuable experience. His execution of this not especially remarkable story has a fluidity and assurance of style that one can only marvel at.
Despite the well worn cop vs. gangster tale, there is a potent psychological complexity at the core of "Cry of the City". Richard Conte's Martin Rome, is charismatic and charming. Not only does he work his magic on unsuspecting females, we the audience are firmly on his side at the start of the movie. As the plot unfolds his ruthless, selfish and manipulative motives become apparent. Yet it will take some time before we are completely convinced. It's a masterly stroke of screen writing. It will take Victor Mature's impassioned indictment to completely convince us.
Victor Mature is surprisingly competent in the lead in what must be surely one of his best roles. Richard Conte is simply superb in a complex and tricky role. His method is one of economy and subtlety and a lesson to screen actors. Despite a host of fine performances, Conte seems to not have garnered the respect he deserved.
Robert Siodmak packs a lot of color and tension into this tale of Martin Rome (Richard Conte), an escaped and wounded murderer who wanders around a city that oozes staged authenticity, bringing trouble to everyone he manipulates into helping him -- a kind of "Odd Man Out" as seen in a schmutzy mirror.
It's a very well-done example of a dark crime drama, and this despite the fact that it lacks a sense of place. The city is a huge presence rendered anonymous by its own incognito. The names of streets and neighborhoods always tell us something about the characters and the life styles as well as about the locations. Hollywood Boulevard, Haight and Ashbury, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, 42nd Street, Beacon Hill, Covent Garden, Montmarte. Even fictional names are evocative, as in Beaver Canal. This movie succeeds in steeping us in seamy urban setting despite the total absence of navigation aids.
The sense of ethnicity helps. We get to know the Italian-American family of Martin Rome rather well. His father wants nothing to do with him. His mother is in the approach-avoidance conflict that all such mothers are in. Marty's younger brother, Tony, at first admires and helps Marty but then, when his back is to the wall, changes allegiances and helps the wounded Lieutenant Candella (Victor Mature).
Mature, I understand, was of mixed ancestry, including Swedish, but I'm sorry -- he LOOKS Italian! He's fine as the business-like but not insensitive cop on Marty's trail. And as Marty, I don't think Richard Conte has ever given a better performance. His range was limited but this role plays into his strong suit -- the underground person who is not big and strong but lives by his wits, a wily man, ferret-like, who scans others quickly and accurately to sum up their weaknesses.
The cast has many familiar names in it. Shelley Winters, Konstantin Shayne, Fred Clark, Barry Kroeger, Debra Paget. If you don't recognize the names, the faces will often register as seen-before.
And then there is the almost unimaginable Hope Emerson, a woman so huge and so smarmy that if she didn't exist it would be necessary to invent her. She's easily a head taller than her patient, Conte, to whom she gives an ominous massage. (She calls him only by his full first name, "Martin.") And she's built along the lines of her contemporary, the pro wrestler, Man Mountain Dean. My God, watch her push pancakes into that mushy face! Look at her cross-eyed and she'd shove her fist down your throat and rip out your pyloric sphincter.
The directorial style is heavily influenced by noir. Most of the story seems to take place at night. Pavements are wet with recent rain. Guns are small but ubiquitous. Siodmak actually inserts some scenes that are strictly speaking unnecessary but nevertheless powerful. Barry Kroeger, for instance, having been stabbed by Conte in the back through the chair he is sitting in. After he's been dead a minute or so and the camera has been on Conte who is ransacking the office, there's a shocking off-screen thump and a rhythmic squeak, squeak, squeak, and the camera moves to show us that Kroeger's body has fallen to the floor and the chair (with a gaping knife hole through the back) is swiveling crazily on its pivot in circle after circle.
There's hardly any musical score but what there is, is used to good effect. Note the steady slow beat of the drums as Conte makes his escape from the hospital.
It's just a gangster story but one of the better ones. Recommended.