Joseph H. Lewis' masterpiece, The Big Combo, stands alongside Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour and Fritz Lang's The Big Heat as one of the truly great film noir classics. This dark film is an unrelenting and tormented catalogue of savage violence, grotesquely black irony and dangerously obsessed sexuality.
Police detective Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) has two dangerous obsessions. He's on a reckless, hell-bent crusade to bring down smooth and sadistic gangster, Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) and wracked by insatiable desire for good-girl-gone-wrong Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), Brown's captive lover. In mortal terror, Susan is helpless to escape from the lust-filled nightmare of her life. Meanwhile, Brown's lieutenant-in-crime, McClure (Brian Donlevy) plots with cruel hoods Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) to overthrow their boss. In Brown's unforgiving world, however, defection and disloyalty are punishable by cruel and unusual death.
Photographed by legendary master of sinister shadows, John Alton (I, the Jury; He Walked By Night; The Lady and the Monster), The Big Combo is shocking and hard-boiled Hollywood noir, and not for the faint of heart.
Shocking cruelty and explosive performances by Wilde and Conte make this a favorite of film-noir cultists. The plot revolves around Wilde's determination to smash the rackets with the help of the gang boss' ex-girlfriend. As in this outing, director Lewis's deft use of low budgets made him a critical favorite.
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The Big Combo
Movie Lover: Stone Wallace from
Winnipeg, Canada -- October, 1, 2005
What a classic noir thriller!
This crime gem features an amazing performance of unbridled sadism by the great Richard Conte as syndicate head Mr. Brown. Conte was one of cinema's best yet underrated tough guys, and in "The Big Combo" he really shines. It is without question his best gangster role. Brian Donlevy likewise turns in a super performance, a complex role as the despicable yet oddly sympathetic one-time Combination big shot, now reduced to playing Conte's "yes man".
As gangster films go, "The Big Combo" is at the top of the list - providing a dark, perverse storyline featuring a determined but flawed hero (Cornel Wilde), a troubled dame (Jean Wallace) who is the object of Wilde's obsession, and two mob enforcers (Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman) who share more than a little affection between them. Rounding out the cast is Robert Middleton, adding authority in one of his rare good guy roles.
The film is highlighted by many memorable scenes and innuendos that were considered quite daring for the time.
Director Joseph H. Lewis was a master of the crime genre, having previously helmed the classic "Gun Crazy" (1950). But I feel that "The Big Combo" stands as his best work, as it certainly oversteps the cliches often found in crime dramas - even in its depiction of cop vs. hood.
Brutal, taut and exciting, "The Big Combo" is a must for all fans of film noir!
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