Combustible Celluloid
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With: Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Marilyn Maxwell, Anne Bancroft, J. Carrol Naish, Onslow Stevens, Barry Kelley, Mike Mazurki, Celia Lovsky, Herbert Heyes, Steven Geray, William 'Bill' Phillips, Henry Kulky, Nestor Paiva, Joseph Vitale
Written by: Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene
Directed by: Russell Rouse
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 87
Date: 02/18/1955

New York Confidential (1955)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Corruption in Close-Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This rare crime film from the writer of D.O.A. (1950) finally makes its DVD debut. With hindsight, it seems like an inspiration for many subsequent films, including The Godfather and Pulp Fiction, though it's unclear how many people actually saw it (aside from the fact that star Richard Conte also went on to appear in The Godfather). It's a richly layered and dense, yet compact movie that sadly loses a bit of its force in the final stretch.

Conte stars as Nick Magellan, a cool-headed, highly skilled hitman whose father was a famous gangster. He successfully does a job for a major New York crime lord, Charlie Lupo (Broderick Crawford); Lupo likes him and decides to keep him around. Since Lupo operates as a legitimate businessman on the surface, he must constantly please several corrupt politicians, which sinks him deeper and deeper into a complex quagmire. When it becomes necessary to bump off a powerful lobbyist, Lupo decides not to send Magellan. Instead he hires three bunglers who mess up the job and get Lupo into a bind that could be his last.

Meanwhile, Magellan has run-ins with Lupo's daughter (Anne Bancroft), who wishes to get out from under her father's shadow, and Lupo's blond girlfriend (Marilyn Maxwell), who flirts with Magellan. A third, crucial female character is Lupo's own mother (Celia Lovsky), who continually warns Lupo about his actions. Magellan must maneuver through these women in his quest to stay loyal to the boss, which may eventually become impossible.

As the film goes on, the story moves to ever-increasing ensembles of politicians, lawyers and gangsters holding meetings and trying to decide the best course of action, which is a poor substitute for action itself. Understandably, while effective, these scenes tend to dampen the film a bit. But things wind up again for the finale.

Writer and director Russell Rouse concentrates on characters here, and he draws very strong performances from Crawford, Conte, and Bancroft, and especially focuses on the bond between the men. Crawford's character is big and takes over a room, but also appealingly vulnerable; he's shown to have a stomach ailment. Conte perfectly matches him, standing quietly in the shadows, and slithering out his lines with careful measure. Even when shooting or pummeling his enemies, he remains cool.

It's fairly remarkable how much detail and depth Rouse was able to cram into just 87 minutes, though a little more visual strength on his part could have tightened up the excessive amounts of talking. Nonetheless, it's refreshing to finally have this influential classic on DVD.

VCI Entertainment has released it, and their disc comes with a commentary track by historian Alan K. Rode and film critic Kim Morgan. Extras include a photo gallery, trailer and a restoration comparison.

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