The Build-Your-Own-Blogathon: Richard Conte in Cry of the City (1948)
But when he’s front and center in a 1940s noir, I really go into orbit!
Case in point: Twentieth Century Fox’s Cry of the City, a 1948 film noir feature with a top-notch, can’t-miss cast that, in addition to Conte, includes Victor Mature, Debra Paget, Fred Clark, Shelley Winters, Barry Kroeger, Hope Emerson, and Betty Garde.
Conte stars as Martin Rome, who is not, shall we say, a nice guy. Charismatic, intelligent, and fearless, he’s also completely and utterly self-absorbed – everything is all about Martin, all the time. Except when it comes to the girl he loves.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When Cry of the City begins, it plops us down in the middle of the action: small-time hood Martin Rome is close to death, receiving the Last Rites in the hospital after a botched robbery and shootout left him riddled with bullets and a cop dead. Before he’s taken to surgery, he receives two visitors – one is a beautiful young girl, Teena (Debra Paget), who sneaks into his room and sobs piteously over his body, and W.A. Niles (Kroeger) a crooked lawyer who tries – without success – to coerce Martin into giving a deathbed confession to another murder, this one involving the theft of jewels and the torture of the elderly owner. Both of these characters figure prominently later on.
Another major figure in Martin’s life is Lt. Candella (Victor Mature), who grew up with Martin on the streets of New York. Along with Lt. Collins (Fred Clark), Candella is working the case of the shooting of the cop, and seems to have made Martin’s capture his life’s work – even Collins points out that his partner has developed a “vendetta” against Martin. Candella haunts the halls of the hospital, monitoring Martin’s progress from the brink of death to recovery. He also suspects that Martin may have been involved in the jewel heist – which involved a female accomplice – and he hounds him for the name of the mysterious woman who was seen in his room on the night of his shooting.
Back to the crooked lawyer. As Martin recovers, Niles pays another visit to the hospital, this time to offer Martin a cool 10 grand to take the rap for the jewel theft and old lady murder. Martin declines – at first with relative civility (he spits at Niles and calls him a crook), but later with considerable more vehemence (he literally falls out of his bed trying to strangle him) when Niles threatens to find Martin’s girl: “Maybe we can even make the police believe she did it. They might not. Not the way she is now, Martin. But if we worked on her for a couple of days. Maybe she wouldn’t be so sure herself. Maybe she wouldn’t look the same. Maybe you wouldn’t even recognize her.” A short time later, Martin is transferred to a prison hospital but, with Niles’s threat plaguing him, and with the fortuitous aid of a prison trusty, he manages to break out.
Once he’s back on the streets of New York, all roads lead to Rome, as it were. I don’t want to give away the whole plot (well, I do, but I won’t) so, instead, I’ll shine the spotlight on a few more characters who come within Martin’s orbit.
There’s Brenda Martingale (Shelley Winters) an old girlfriend of Martin’s, who he employs to locate and take him to Rose Given, the woman who was actually the female accomplice in the jewel robbery/murder. The unlicensed doctor that Brenda finds to treat the ailing Martin – or, at least, he fixes him up (with whiskey and spit, I suppose) enough to keep him going for a while.
Then there’s Rose Given (Hope Emerson), a solidly built masseuse with a deadly technique – Martin shows up on her doorstep, tells her he has the jewels from the robbery, and offers to exchange them for “a car, five thousand dollars, a way out of the country, and a good night’s sleep.” And Martin’s kid brother, Tony (Tommy Cook), who hero worships Martin and would do anything for him – even if means breaking the law. And his parents, who love their son, but ultimately turn him out of their home. And we come full circle when the final road to Rome links up where we started – with Candella, his ever-determined, never-say-die pursuer, and Teena, the beautiful young girl that is Martin’s entire raison d’être: “I’ve kept you in my heart always,” he tells her. “Wherever I went, you were my strength. . . . You’re my life, I’ll do anything in the world for you.”
The film’s final scene shows MartIn trying to convince Teena to join her in his plan to flee the country – like the figure with an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, we see Teena torn between her love for Martin, and his long list of misdeeds, bluntly and graphically delineated by Candella. What will she do? What will happen to Martin? Will Candella finally get his man???
If you’ve never seen Cry of the City, make like Lt. Candella and hunt it down. Filmed on the streets of New York and helmed by noir director extraordinaire Robert Siodmak, this underrated feature is a dark and shadowy jewel in the noir canon, rife with vivid characters, seedy corruption, and locations so real you can practically feel the rain-slick streets. Of all Richard Conte’s noir appearances, this is one of his best. Trust me – it’s a must-see. And see it again.
You only owe it to yourself.
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This post is part of the Build-Your-Own Blogathon, hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe. Visit the site to check out the many great posts being presented as part of this unique and innovative event!