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Cry of the City
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by Jay Seaver

"Nothing to cry about (except it not being on DVD)."
4 stars

"Cry of the City" offers up traditional heroes and anti-heroes, making for a decent if unremarkable film noir, and if that's all it had, it's current unavailability on home video would just be unfortunate. Its last act is pretty clever, though - director Robert Siodmak and his fellow filmmakers know how to use a sledgehammer with finesse.

Marty Rome (Richard Conte) is going to the chair; he killed a cop in his latest robbery. Lt. Candella (Victor Mature) grew up in the same Italian-American neighborhood and is watching him like a hawk, and with good reason - corrupt attorney W.A. Niles (Berry Kroeger) wants him to take the fall for one of his clients, and though Rome initially says no dice, he thinks again when he escapes from prison and sees in the payoff the possibility of starting a new life with his sweet girlfriend Teena (Debra Paget). Thing turn sideways on him, though, and even though his little brother Tony (Tommy Cook) and old flame Brenda (Shelley Winters) will help him out, he's got to move faster than some crooks a lot meaner than him, the relentless pursuit of Candella and the police, and the bullet wound he sustained during that last robbery.

Siodmak and screenwriter Richard Murphy start the movie where they do for a reason - rather than being engaged in a shoot-out, Marty is being rushed through the hospital, preyed upon by an opportunistic lawyer; it's not hard to muster up a little sympathy for him then, especially once we see the angelic Teena at his bedside. Conte milks that initial good impression for all it's worth, but he also needs it, because he plays Marty like a shark, a carnivore always moving forward. He's got an easy charm and charisma, but there's always a sneer ready to come out when he thinks he's got the best of someone.

Mature, meanwhile, has an idealist to play, the sort of guy who has pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, and he captures the best and worst of this sort of man. He believes in the system, almost desperately, and he projects that air of a good and honest man who wants to help everybody he encounters. But, even when the script isn't having him say so explicitly, it's clear that he holds the rest of the world to his own high standard, and there's a little impatience when the rest of the world doesn't quite follow suit.

That's what makes the movie a fair amount of fun as the noose tightens around Rome - it's clearly a movie made under the auspices of the Hays Code, so the final outcome may be a bit of a foregone conclusion, but Siodmak and Murphy subvert a bit - justice may eventually be served, but it's a harsh and unforgiving justice. It's an unblinking Crime Does Not Pay flick that does an impressive job of simultaneously pointing out that a life of crime has consequences not just for the criminal, but those around him while simultaneously making the audience wonder if unbending adherence to the letter of the law is necessarily true justice.

It happens in little moments, and that's a big part of what makes Cry of the City impressive. Yes, it's got a solid core in the contrast between Candella and Rome, but the story has enough twists to keep it interesting and some fun supporting characters, especially Hope Emerson as the crook Rome tries to blackmail toward the end. She's a massive, intimidating figure with a dry and confident delivery who makes a great foil for Rome; it's almost a shame that the movie didn't get to her sooner.

It's enough good bits to push the film into the category of solidly above average - maybe not the greatest film in Siodmak's filmography (he did some great crime flicks), but quite far from the worst.

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originally posted: 06/15/11 14:07:07
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Directed by
  Robert Siodmak

Written by
  Richard Murphy

  Victor Mature
  Richard Conte
  Fred Clark
  Shelley Winters

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