Sunday, December 8, 2013

THE BIG COMBO (1955- U.S.) Blu-Ray

D: Joseph Lewis.  A unique, stylish film noir from my favorite period (late 40s-early 50s) where I think the style (its actually not a genre) really hit its stride.  Cornell Wilde is Diamond, a hard-boiled, caffeine-fueled, crystal-focused detective obsessed with bringing down philosophical but super-sadistic mob boss Mr. Brown (Richard Conte- THE GODFATHER, CALL NORTHSIDE 777).  Diamond also has his eye on  Susan, Brown's listless, depressed, platinum blonde moll (Jean Wallace- STORM FEAR ) to the detriment of neglecting his stripper girlfriend (HELENE STANTON- PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES).  As Diamond starts to tighten the noose around Brown's shady activities, Brown's mob associate (Brian Donlevy- Hammer's CREEPING UNKNOWN/QUATERMASS XPERIMENT) and two neurotic hit men (Lee Van Cleef- THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY and Earl Holliman - TVs POLICE WOMAN) start to get reckless and can't repress their sadistic side.  Brown has to reprimand them but still finds time to sonically torture and almost drown Diamond with hair tonic!  When Brown's estranged, insane wife (Helen Walker- NIGHTMARE ALLEY) is persuaded to testify against him, Susan musters the courage to cooperate and uses herself as bait to lure the mobster into a fog-shrouded dragnet that provides the downbeat, ambiguous climax.  The real star of COMBO is virtuoso cinematographer John Alton (HE WALKED BY NIGHT)  who creates stunningly atmospheric and iconic back-lit images that will stay with you forever.  The UCLA restored print utilized here is transferred to 16x9 (1.78) and boasts a nice sharp fine grain image with minor speckling and some light scratches throughout.  It's a shame it wasn't properly digitally restored because it could have been rendered pristine.  The film deserves that much and more.  The downbeat, jazzy score is by David Raskin (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS) and features a memorable soprano sax melody that is effectively reprised throughout.  From the great auteur Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY, TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN), with memorable tough guy dialog by Phillip Yordan (JOHNNY GUITAR, EL CID) and a great cast of ragged B-character actors like Whit Bissell (HE WALKED BY NIGHT, TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN), Jay Adler (MURDER IS MY BEAT, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD) and John Hoyt (SPARTACUS, FLESH GORDON).  Van Cleef as Fante and Holliman as Mingo are creepy and must have provided the template for hitmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd in 007's DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971).  Ex-model Jean Wallace was the real-life Mrs. Wilde and her sad personal exploits were even more lurid than her character's!  On Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films whose catalog features mostly great but neglected library titles (including more classic noir!) sub-licensed from major studios at rather steep retail prices.  THE BIG COMBO has previously been available in full frame (1.33) transfers on VHS and DVD from various PD labels.  This new release is like experiencing the movie for the first time.  Crack open a bottle of hair tonic and enjoy!