THE BIG COMBO (1955) – Mr. Brown comes to town

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About the only thing wrong with the sizzling film-noir The Big Combo is its title. The cast is uniformly excellent, but it doesn’t make you think of a combo, because there’s plainly one standout: Richard Conte as a showy gangster known to one and all only as Mr. Brown.

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Conte plays this guy smooth as silk. You keep waiting for somebody to find Mr. Brown’s Achilles’ heel, and occasionally it happens. But even when it does, Mr. Brown never loses his cool; he just jumps back for a split-second, as though a spider had fallen off the ceiling onto his sharply creased jacket, and then he goes right back into his gangster patter. This is another of those old movies that’s meant to teach you that crime doesn’t pay, yet you end up rooting for the bad guy.

It’s not for lack of trying on the good guy’s part, though. Cornel Wilde plays Leonard Diamond, a police lieutenant determined to blow most of the city’s budget in trying to bring down Mr. Brown. Every element of the story seems ripe for parody, but the entire cast underplays so perfectly that you end up taking the movie at face value and loving it. Jean Wallace and Helen Walker as Brown’s lovers present and past, Brian Donlevy as Brown’s put-upon stooge — they all put the movie’s point across without forcing things.

The icing on the cake is David Raksin’s jazzy score (What a turnabout from Laura!) and John Alton’s ultra-stylish photography (SPOILER ALERT: Does the movie’s final shot remind anyone else of Casablanca?). The Big Combo is indeed quite the film-noir platter.

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2 responses to “THE BIG COMBO (1955) – Mr. Brown comes to town

  1. The Big Combo (and you’re right about the name — true of so much noir, quickly made and so plentiful that finding any title at all that was properly suggestive and not already used was probably an effort) has become one of my top three noir favorites. Conte is perfectly sadistic and Wallace droops like a flower in the heat. I’d argue that she is his Achilles heel, and he shows it, especially in the scene where he is begging to do anything for her, sinking to his knees and off screen to do something down there we can’t see but only imagine — oral sex? leg licking? foot kissing?

    I have only one fault to point out in your review: Where are Fante and Mingo?! Possibly my favorite aspect of the film, I find these two one of the best examples of homosexuality in noir ever. Mingo looks up to Fante, and Fante leads the way. When Fante dies, Mingo is destroyed. And oh, that hotel scene where Fante answers the phone shirtless from his bed and just across the night table, there’s Mingo, just like all nice married couples in films of the era.

    cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re quite right. I did rather shortchange Fante and Mango (Earl Holliman, 20 years before “Police Woman”!), though I honestly didn’t think of them as closeted gays — they reminded me more of George and Lennie in OF MICE AND MEN. Frankly, I wasn’t quite sure *what* to say about them, but you nailed them pretty well! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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