Park Circus Film Noir Blogathon — Obscure Noir: New York Confidential (1955)
In 1955, five years after they penned the first-rate noir D.O.A., writers Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse offered up another winner with New York Confidential. This seldom-seen noir features a truly stellar cast – including Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, J. Carroll Naish, Mike Mazurki, and Barry Kelley – in a fast-paced, hard-hitting story about organized crime in New York. It’s my favorite obscure noir gem.
The film opens with a series of shots of New York City, and the narrator tells us that NYC is the heart of the financial world, the greatest port on the face of the earth. But it’s also “the nerve center of an organization that controls crime throughout the country . . . whose fingers dip not only into vice, murder, narcotics, but whose tentacles reach into gambling, the waterfronts – that corrupts and intimidates the world of sports. Here, in a city of millions of decent, industrious people is a handful of men who form the top echelon of organized crime. Hoodlums? Yes. But now clothed in respectability to form a cartel know as THE SYNDICATE.”
The plot of New York Confidential is set in motion with the murder of a hood on a quiet side street in midtown Manhattan. “The law was violated,” the narrator intones. “Not only the law of the city, but the law of the syndicate – killing for personal vengeance.” We see a behatted fellow lighting a cigarette in front of a pizzeria. Seconds later, he is gunned down in a smoothly executed drive-by. The next voice we hear is the booming, unmistakable bellow of Broderick Crawford, as New York syndicate boss Charlie Lupo, who is none too happy about the murder. From his swank, impeccably appointed high-rise office, Lupo orders a contract killing on Pete Andratto, the “trigger-happy pig” who was responsible for the hit. The man tapped for the contract is hired from Chicago: Nick Magellan, played by noir vet Richard Conte.
Magellan, as he is described in the film, is polite, quiet and inconspicuous – “like a cobra – always relaxed, yet always ready to strike.” He’s also cool as melting ice. In his first meeting with Lupo’s crew, he receives an extensive run-down on the plot to kill Andratto from one of the gang’s top men, Arnie Wendler (Mike Mazurki). As Wendler lays out the plan, complete with blackboard diagram, a tip-off from Andratto’s blonde ex-wife, and such unimaginative signals as gunning car motors and lighting cigarettes, Magellan sits studiously and thoroughly cleaning his gun. At the end of the lesson, Magellan asserts, “When I make a hit, I don’t like a lot of company – especially blonde dames. Just give me a driver. I’ll do the rest.”
And, boy, does he. In fact, he does such a good job that Lupo offers him a position in his crew, which sets up the rest of the story, full of crooked government deals, gangland hits, familial angst, and double-crosses. Before the film’s end, we are treated to no fewer than 12 murders, two serious beat-downs, one suicide, and a deportation. And the film concludes with the narrator’s solemn warning that “the Syndicate still exists. The rules still hold. This is how the cartel works. This is New York Confidential.”
Greene and Rouse’s hard-hitting screenplay is highlighted by its well-written, fully realized characters. First, there’s Lupo, who is characterized not only by his ruthlessness and hair-trigger temper, but also by his devotion to his mother, who lives with him, and his sensitive stomach – in one scene he complains about his doctor forcing him to eat food that “tastes like something you put wallpaper on with,” and in another, he grouses, “Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a salami on rye and a kosher pickle.” Despite his background, he has all the trappings of a wealthy businessman – he resides in a $300,000 home, buys $30,000 paintings, and he sent his daughter “to Europe and through the best schools.”
Speaking of Lupo’s daughter, she is portrayed by Anne Bancroft as the beautiful but tortured and bitter Kathy, who loves her father, but despises him – and herself, by association – for his criminal pursuits. “Decent people don’t want me around – it’s as though I had a disease,” she tells her father. “I’m a freak because I’m Lupo’s daughter. I’m ashamed of the name of Lupo and I’m ashamed of you.” Later, after another argument, Lupo slaps Kathy’s face, and she rejoins, “That was typical, Papa. You’re still a hoodlum. You’ll never be anything else.”
Another character of note is Iris Palmer (Marilyn Maxwell), Lupo’s ice-blonde, high-class moll, who drinks dry martinis, wears exquisite gowns, and is an enthusiastic patron of the theater. She also throws herself at Nick from the first second she meets him. But Nick isn’t having any. “You’re a beautiful dame, Iris. One of the best I’ve seen,” he says. “And you treat me like it was Christmas Eve. But, no thanks. I see through you like those silk dresses you wear. . . . I told you before and I’ll tell you again. I’m not interested.”
But maybe the best part of New York Confidential is the dialogue – it’s quick-fire, well-written, and smart. In one of my favorite scenes, Kathy and Nick are having breakfast and Nick chides her for her disrespectful behavior toward her father the night before. This leads to the following exchange:
Kathy: “You know, Mr. Magellan, you have a penchant for interfering in other people’s affairs.”
Kathy: “Exactly. Penchant means a strong inclination towards. And I’d appreciate it hereafter if you’d mind your own business.”
A few minutes later, after Kathy storms from the table, Charlie instructs Nick to meet with his tailor for a set of new clothes. Nick expresses his gratitude, and then adds, “I have a penchant for nice things.”
If you like noir and you haven’t seen New York Confidential, check it out – you only owe it to yourself. The film’s story, characterizations, dialogue, and perfect noir ending make it a real must-see!