A dark and shadowy room, from a low angle. Sounds of fighting are heard; shadows of struggling figures are seen. A lamp is knocked over, casting even crazier shadows. A man falls, not moving. A door opens and two indistinct figures rush into the light outside. They might be wearing uniforms.
This is noir at its best. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, written by John Paxton, from a novel, The Brick Foxhole, by soon-to-be director Richard Brooks, and starring Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Robert Young, and Robert (no, sorry) Gloria Grahame, this is a crackerjack little movie. It details the hunt among a group of soldiers and ex-G.I.s to find which one of them killed a Jewish man. It is quite procedural, with no un-needed flourishes, which makes it all the more powerful. It was so good, in fact, that it was the first (were there others? I don’t know) “B” movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, along with four other nominations. Ironically, it lost out to Gentleman’s Agreement, also about anti-Semitism. And another odd note: In the book, the victim was killed because he was gay. But the perverted old Hayes Office wouldn’t let that happen, dirty-minded idiots that they were. But it works just as well to have the man be Jewish, and would have worked okay if he was black, too.
The acting, the writing, and the shooting are the best things here. All the top stars are very good, as is the supporting cast, but the stand-out is Robert Young. In an unusual role for him, he plays a cop, quiet, worn-out, self-contained, but dogged. He has a really terrific long speech about prejudice, telling how his grandfather was beaten to death because he was Irish and Catholic. It’s filmed in one take, and at one point the camera dollies in until his face fills the whole screen. It’s quite moving, not what you expect in a B-movie. I thought he deserved the Supporting nomination that Robert Ryan got. My only objection, in fact, is that I have no idea what the title, Crossfire, means. It must be symbolic of something, but I have no idea what.