This review of ‘The Big Combo’ is the thirtieth in the continuing Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series at Wonders in the Dark.
by Allan Fish
(USA 1955 89m) DVD1/2 (Spain only)
First is first and second is nobody
p Sidney Harrison d Joseph H.Lewis w Dalton Trumbo ph John Alton ed Robert S.Eisen m David Raksin art Rudi Feld
Cornel Wilde (Lt.Leonard Diamond), Richard Conte (Mr Brown), Brian Donlevy (Joe McClure), Jean Wallace (Susan Lowell), Robert Middleton (Capt.Peterson), Helen Walker (Alicia Brown), Ted de Corsia (Ralph Bettini), Lee Van Cleef (Fanty), Earl Holliman (Mingo), John Hoyt (Nils Dreyer), Jay Adler (Hill),
One of the last great hurrahs of American noir and one of the pivotal films of the 1950s in the depiction of screen violence, The Big Combo is a film that gets more and more enjoyable with each passing year. Six years after his masterpiece Gun Crazy, Combo probably doesn’t quite match its predecessor, but there’s so much to enjoy, so much to revel in, that it comes pretty darn close to matching it.
Lieutenant Diamond is a thirty-something detective who’s spending too much money for his sympathetic captain’s liking trying to achieve the impossible. His target is the enigmatically named Mr Brown, the head of an organised crime racket in New York known as ‘The Combination’. With the help of his former boss, Joe McClure, now affected with hearing problems and forced to pay lip service to Brown, and two favourite hoodlums, Fanty and Mingo, he runs things in New York. Diamond tails his girl, Susan, in an attempt to get some information, but when she attempts suicide, Brown starts to get annoyed by the Lieutenant’s harassment and steps up the heat himself. Diamond comes to realise that there’s a dark secret in Brown’s past, which may revolve around his missing wife, Alicia, an anchor, and his equally conspicuous by his absence partner Grazzi, who had led the Combination back in the old Prohibition days.
Watching the two principles stand toe to toe against each other, though it’s perfectly clear where the evil lies, the tactics used by the Lieutenant are left-of-field at best, almost as bullying and intimidating in their way as his foe’s. He would argue, and not without due cause, that things had changed little since the prohibition days, and can be seen to be policing in a way that Sean Connery’s old Scots-Irish Chicago cop in The Untouchables would have approved. What Brown really is, however, is not so much Capone as Rollo Tomasi, the iconic man who always gets away with it. We know he won’t always get away with it, and from early on we can see the untouchable nature of Brown slowly become unraveled like the fabric in his designer suits.