As 1948 thriller Cry of the City begins, career criminal Martin Rome (Richard Conte) is being held in police custody in hospital, with four bullet holes in him and little expectation he’s going to make it through surgery. Rome’s shot a cop dead, he claims in self defence, and if he survives it’s almost certain he’s heading for the electric chair. He’s got other problems too: a childhood friend, Candella, (Victor Mature) is now the police lieutenant out to get him and there’s a shady lawyer trying to frame Rome for a jewellery robbery which ended in murder that someone else committed. If that wasn’t enough, his secret fiancee Teena (Debra Paget) isn’t so secret anymore, and both the lawyer and the cops think she’s the key to getting Rome. Desperate to get to Teena before Candella or anyone else, Rome conspires to break out from the prison ward and beat everyone to her. Not only that but he needs money for his escape from the city and along the way he just might end up solving the robbery case for the police.
Both film noir and director Richard Siodmak were arguably at their peak in the late 40s. Siodmak’s ‘The Killers’ from 1946 is now considered one of the preeminent examples of the genre. Cry of the City contains many of the hallmarks of the style - a flawed, doomed anti-hero in Rome, the obsessive detective in Candella, the crisp black and white photography, the lean and economical storytelling and the shady ethical centre. Rome is an admitted cop killer but there’s no attempt by the script to paint him as an out and out villain and Conte portrays him with sympathy as a not-very-good man driven to worse crimes by his circumstances. Victor Mature (star of the brilliantly titled ‘I Wake Up Screaming’) was a popular actor considered by his contemporary critics to be of a limited range. Indeed he once joked himself that he was not an actor and he had ‘sixty-four films to prove it!’. Self-deprecation aside, he gives a layered, nuanced performance as the moral, dogged detective determined to get his man because he has to. Conte and Mature are surrounded by a great supporting cast and there’s a good amount of atmospheric location shooting in NYC.
Cry of the City isn’t up there with the best of the genre (either of the previously mentioned films are better examples if you want to start to explore) but it’s above average. On the downside, it’s a slight main story with an ending that’s not unexpected, even though it’s still powerful. It’s also filled with a vivid collection of characters, from the crooked lawyer Niles to Rose, the murderous masseuse, and they’re sometimes more interesting than Rome’s own story. Possibly more for completists than anyone else, overall it’s a commendable example of the noir genre that tells its tale well.
CRY OF THE CITY / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: ROBERT SIODMAK / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD MURPHY, BEN HECHT / STARRING: VICTOR MATURE, RICHARD CONTE, FRED CLAK, SHELLEY WINTERS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW