#133 The Big Combo

Watched: September 16 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace, Helen Walker

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 27min

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Leonard Diamond (Wilde) is a police lieutenant with a vendetta against crime lord Mr Brown (Conte). Despite warnings from his superiors and a distinct lack of evidence, he is hell-bent on bringing the gangster down and to save Mr Brown’s girl Susan Lowell (Wallace), with whom he is a bit obsessed.

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And who can blame him, with her face always being perfectly lit, even in shadows

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When Lowell tries to kill herself, Diamond finally has an opportunity to talk to her in her hospital bed. Not entirely conscious, she keeps muttering about someone named “Alicia,” but when she regains consciousness, she cannot say who Alicia is (or was).

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To the investigation-mobile!

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Mr Brown does not take kindly to Diamond’s interest in him, or his experiments with a lie-detector, so he kidnaps his nemesis, tortures him, and then pours him full of alcohol.

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Pictured: fun new ways of using a hearing aid!

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However, inventive torture devices do nothing to dissuade the investigator, who only increases his efforts to put the criminal behind bars. Following a hunch, Diamond goes out to prove that Brown is a killer, but what he finds is not quite what he expected.

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He does find time to snuggle with dancer Rita – an unlucky Dame with perfect make-up and low standards

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The Big Combo is dark and atmospheric, with great lighting and music. The characters are taken to the extreme; Diamond is exceedingly righteous and stubborn, while Brown is a sadistic psychopath with few redeeming features, apart from maybe his tongue, judging from the look on Susan’s face in one infamous scene.

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Her heart may regret getting involved with a gangster, but her body thinks otherwise…

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We loved the lighting, the smoke and the angles, the jazzy music and the use of sound around a pivotal moment in McClure’s life (which we will not spoil). The Big Combo is also surprisingly progressive sexually, with the aforementioned scene with Susan and Brown, as well as the heavily implied relationship between henchmen Fante and Mingo both being unusually explicit for the time.

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It’s (more than) guy love between two guuuuys

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Definitely worth watching, especially if you’re into noir films with lots of sexual undertones.

What we learned: Even gangster henchmen can find love in each other.

Next time: The Court Jester (1955)

#98 Gun Crazy

Watched: April 21 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Peggy Cummins, John Dall

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 26min

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Barton Tare (Dall) has been obsessed with guns (although incapable of killing anything) ever since childhood, when he was arrested for trying to steal one and sent to reform school. As an adult, shooting is his only real skill, and after seeing the alluring Annie Laurie Starr (Cummings) show off her marksmanship in a travelling circus, he joins them as a sharp shooter and goes on the road.

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We can’t really blame him for going. Anyone capable of pulling off this look is surely worth risking it all for.

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After a short stint with the circus, the two are fired for falling in love while Laurie “belongs to” the circus owner. (Yup, we know…) The lovers go on the road, get married and spend their savings quicker than they probably planned. Laurie has an idea of how they can earn a living and, very much inspired by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, they go on a crime spree, robbing banks, shops and factories.

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Some are more trigger happy than others. See “Deadly is the Female” – original (spoiler) title

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While Bart has a strict no-killing policy, Laurie isn’t as scrupulous. After a factory hold-up gone slightly awry, Bart discovers that Laurie killed two people in the robbery and he is less than pleased.

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“Bitch had it coming though, criticizing my slacks!” – Laurie, probably

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Despite their difference of opinion regarding the value of human life, Bart is unable to leave the woman he loves, and as the FBI gets involved in the manhunt for the robbers-turned-killers, they take increasingly desperate measures to escape the law.

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They even resort to wearing *gasp* GLASSES!

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Gun Crazy was amazing (despite the fact that it pretty much put all the blame for Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes on Bonnie). Laurie may be the Fatalest Femme we’ve encountered so far – not because she is necessarily the most devious one, but because Bart is probably the most “innocent” Noir (anti-)hero in many ways. Sure, he has an unhealthy obsession with guns and firepower, but at the same time he is almost boyishly na├»ve and truly seems to believe they’ll be able to conduct a series of robberies without hurting anyone. Or he’s just telling himself that, which is the more likely scenario.

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She wears the pants AND drives the car. And he won’t even shoot police officers for her…

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A new favourite for sure, we thoroughly recommend this one, and we’re looking forward to Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

What we learned: Women are soulless creatures who will corrupt good boys. Also, boys who’ve never been exposed to girls are easily corrupted…

Next time: In a Lonely Place (1950)