YouTube Noir: Noirvember Day 11: The Big Combo (1955)

If I’ve said it once on this blog, I’ve said it 10 times – I’m a HUGE Richard Conte fan.

I don’t care if he’s filing his nails, doing his taxes, or working a crossword puzzle, if he’s doing it on my screen, I’m there.

And I’m especially there for today’s YouTube noir: The Big Combo (1955), which stars Conte in one of his baddest bad-boy roles: so bad that he doesn’t even need a first name. He is simply “Mr. Brown.”

Also on board is a whole busload of artists turning in memorable performances, including Cornel Wilde, Brian Donlevy, Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman, Ted de Corsia, John Hoyt and Jay Adler. And let me not forget Jean Wallace, Cornel Wilde’s then-wife, who was no Sarah Bernhardt, but was absolutely perfect for her role in this film.


Conte and Wilde’s real-life wife, Jean Wallace.

Wilde plays police Lt. Leonard Diamond, who is on a one-track mission (some might even say “obsession”) to bring down mob boss Mr. Brown. He’s not just doing his job; he also just happens to be in love with Mr. Brown’s neurotic, suicidal girlfriend, Susan (Wallace).


The film’s director and cinematographer boasted quite an impressive noir pedigree. Director Joseph Lewis also helmed My Name is Julia Ross (1945) and Gun Crazy (1950), and cameraman John Alton was responsible for the painterly lights and shadows seen in more than 10 noirs, including T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and The Crooked Way (1949).

Helene Stanton: Dr. Drew’s mom!

A small but memorable part in the film was that of Diamond’s sometime galpal, Rita, played by Helene Stanton. Stanton was the eighth wife (out of nine) of silent screen star Kenneth Harlan, and the mother of Dr. Drew Pinsky. Pinsky hosted a popular syndicated radio show, Loveline, for more than 30 years, and produced and starred in such reality shows as Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

The Big Combo marked the final film appearance of Helen Walker, who’d been well on her way to a promising career in such gems as Cluny Brown (1946), Impact (1949), and Nightmare Alley (1947), when a tragedy unexpectedly intervened. On New Year’s Eve 1946, while driving from Palm Springs to Los Angeles, Walker picked up a solider and two other hitchhikers. Near Redlands, California, her car hit a dividing island and turned over six times, killing the soldier, seriously injuring her two other passengers, and leaving Walker with a broken pelvis and collarbone. Manslaughter charges against Walker were later dismissed for insufficient evidence, but she was sued by both passengers, one alleging that she’d been intoxicated and driving at more than 90 miles an hour when the accident occurred. She was eventually absolved of all guilt, but it was the beginning of the end for the actress, on screen and off. Sadly, by the time she died of cancer at the age of 47, she was all but forgotten.


Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 12 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 11, 2020.

4 Responses to “YouTube Noir: Noirvember Day 11: The Big Combo (1955)”

  1. I first came across The Big Combo on TV during my “tween” years. It was around the same time I first saw Three on a Match. I don’t believe these films messed with my mind in any way, but that is for others to judge.

    PS: A few years ago I crowned Richard Conte my King of Noir and he remains undeposed.

  2. Gosh, that’s sad about Helen Walker.

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