Cry of the City (12A) Film Review


Dir. Robert Siodmak, US, 1948, 96 mins

Cast: Richard Conte, Victor Mature, Debra Paget, Hope Emerson, Berry Kroeger, Shelley Winters, Fred Clark

Cop and killer playing cat and mouse – it’s hardly been done with more tense economy and eye for intriguing detail than in Siodmak’s noir classic Cry of the City.

Marty Rome (Conte) is a charming sociopath, a gangster turned cop killer lying wounded in a guarded hospital bed. His nemesis is the rather stolid Lieutenant Candella (Mature). They grew up together, on the same Little Italy, NYC streets; a shared connection that both men exploit when Conte escapes. As well as the main-feature cat and mouse, the film follows a series of well-drawn characters who are drawn into helping Conte flee the city.

It’s the sort of story that William Friedkin or Michael Mann would render epic in films like The French Connection and Heat; but Siodmak and his team do the opposite, refusing to sentimentalize the drama or the immigrant environments in which it plays out. Where Heat invites the viewer to empathise with both cop and robber, Cry of the City is much more emotionally sly; you are slowly drawn into rooting for the cop killer – especially in his daring escape – before the base nastiness of his character is revealed and then finally spelled out by Candella to Rome’s young girlfriend, Tina (Paget).

The film has an urgency to it that feels like a conscious refusal of the self-important, the over-dramatic, the heroic; and not just because of the in medias res beginning. Noirish stylings are quite low in the mix here. There are some nicely burnished shadows in key scenes but they never mitigate the urgency that enables the film to focus on details: details of the lives of Italian immigrants, details of the underworld characters who are drawn to Rome’s burning flame.

This is most noticeable in the drift away from the central characters, extending the film’s focus onto outlying, strong characters like Kroeger’s bent lawyer, Emerson’s film-stealing turn as a masseuse-cum-fence and Winters as the too-eager to please good-time girl.

Review by Colin Dibben

Cry of the City is re-released as part of the BFI’s Robert Siodmak: Master of Shadows season.

Colin Dibben

Author: Colin Dibben

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