Don’t know about you reader but I love me old black and white, 1940s crime noir. This is the first time watching or indeed ever hearing about Cry of the City, I’m not aware of how famous the film might be around cinephile circles but the movie can stand just as tall as any other great noir films from this early cinematic era.
The film stars Richard Conte who’s known for roles in movies like the original Ocean’s 11 as well as playing a Don in the very first Godfather. As an ex-con who’s done time before, Marty is resting in hospital where he is being kept both as a patient and a suspect in a jewellery heist that leaves a police officer dead.
Marty is innocent of the heist but he is now implicated in a police officer’s killing in self defence. A corrupt lawyer Niles tries to blackmail Marty to confess for the heist or else Marty’s love Teena Riconti will be implicated in the crime as well. Marty eventually escapes and goes after the people who would endanger his and Teena’s life. Detective Candella ends up going after Marty, leading to a great cat and mouse chase with Marty always trying to be a step ahead.
I love a good noir chase film and Cry of the City is astonishingly well written, noir writer Ben Hecht isn’t credited for his work here but his influence is clear. His characters are easy to get and broadly drawn, but that’s part of what makes the film so universally poignant and succinct. Despite a slow start the further you get into the film the better the editing is, holding on shots just long enough to give you enough information and keep the story beating. Whereas some movies from this time show their lack of skill when shots hold on for so long you realise how fabricated the studio lot looks, Cry of the City is always trying to motivate camera movement and editing to keep you gripped in your seat.
This film pre-dates a lot of crime films that deal with the dichotomy of living poor and resorting to crime, or fighting towards an honourable profession including upholding the law. Candella and Marty know each other, they know each other’s families, they’re both descended from Italian immigrants who had to fight and sweat for them to live in the urban New York setting. Yet these two men find themselves on two sides of the same fence as Candella is forced to chase Marty down.
While this story isn’t anything you probably haven’t seen before and the first act can be a bit slow going, there is a gripping and effective crime thriller to be found. Even though the film’s morals end up favouring Candella’s side of the argument, the film does its damndest to make sure you know how emotionally resonant it feels to be on the wrong side of the law. This is such a solid crime film that holds up just as well as any Humphrey Bogart or Orson Welles classic.
Dir: Robert Siodmak
Scr: Richard Murphy, (uncredited) Ben Hecht
Cast: Victor Mature, Richard Conte, Fred Clark, Shelley Winters, Betty Garde, Berry Kroeger, Tommy Cook, Debra Paget, Hope Emerson, Roland Winters, Walter Baldwin
Prd: Sol C. Siegel
DOP: Lloyd Ahern Sr.
Music: Alfred Newman
Runtime: 95 mins
Cry of the City is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, all thanks to the BFI.