on September 25, 2002
Quentin Tarantino owes his career -- or what's left of it, anyway -- to Joseph L. Lewis' *The Big Combo*, from 1955. Fans of *Resevoir Dogs* will be surprised to see that the villain of the piece (a hissable Richard Conte) is named "Mr. Brown" (which was Tarantino's color-coded name in his own film). They will also be shocked to discover that Tarantino is something of a rip-off artist when they see the scene here where Conte and his goons torture a cop tied to a chair. In 1955, force-feeding someone booze, splashing it all over him, and cramming a hearing-aid into his ear with the other end attached to a radio was considered sufficient torture. In 1992, our sensibilities required the removal of the ear and splashes of gasoline. Progress. At any rate, my point is that *The Big Combo* was a very influential film noir among connoisseurs. It still packs a wallop. I take issue with the fellow from Canada below on several points. As for his sniping about the low budget here . . . yeah? So? If anyone can name a classic film noir that had an extravagant budget to play with -- with the possible exception of *Double Indemnity* -- I'd be interested to know about it. And my answer to his complaints about the dialogue is to suggest that perhaps he has confused *The Big Combo* with, well, *Double Indemnity*. I personally find the dialogue to be compact, lean and mean, and reasonably free of superfluous verbiage. (Unlike in Wilder's "classic", wherein insurance agents talk like lifelong Hell's Kitchen hoods, to say nothing of nattering voice-over narration.) There are certainly no page-long, single-space monologues in this movie. In any case, the absolutely stunning cinematography provided by the master John Alton should mute any misguided criticisms. This will be one of the best-shot black & white movies you will ever see. It ranks with the Expressionist milestones of Murnau and Welles. The pulsing alternation between shadow and sudden clarity is particularly impressive. A word of praise also goes to the performers: Jean Wallace is a walking blonde veneer steaming with sexual degredation beneath the surface; her real-life husband Cornel Wilde is the quintessential New York City detective. The supporting players are great, too. [The DVD is not so great. No extras, but who cares? -- it's the transfer that's really lacking. *The Big Combo* needs, and deserves, a thorough clean-up, in the Criterion tradition. We're still missing the entirety of Alton's photographic achievement with this product.]
on October 22, 2001
Movie about a dedicated detective hot on the trail of a gangster while at the same time hot for his girl. The leads consisting of Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, and Jean Wallace are excellent. Wilde stars as the obsessed (in more ways than one) detective who will stop at nothing to get his man. Conte plays the deadly calm and strangely seductive psychopathic gangster who gets under Wilde's skin. Blond beauty Wallace is the delicate and sensitive good-girl moll whom both men desire in a memorable performance as the conflicted girlfriend of Conte who knows he is thoroughly rotten and whose moral streak is repelled, but yet is powerlessly drawn to him. An amusing aside--the scene between Conte and Wallace where he kisses her on the face and then starts sliding down the length of her body, almost got cut from the movie when the Hay's office accused director Lewis of allowing oral sex to be implied onscreen. They asked him, "when Conte's character slips off camera range, where is he?" To that Lewis replied, "I don't know, maybe he went to get a cup of coffee," accused them of having dirty minds, and that put an end to that. Also good are Brian Donlevy as a crime kingpin rendered powerless by ambitious, cunning Conte; Helen Walker as Conte's stashed-away, troubled wife; and Helene Stanton as a tough yet tender sleazy dance hall dame. Just as much a star of this film has got to be one of the most wonderfully gritty cinematography in the history of movies: full of shadows, harsh lighting and dark recesses which serve to perfectly emphasize this world of mean streets, hard-boiled detectives, murderous thugs and gorgeous molls--all this, the previously mentioned performances, and a most unusual way to torture someone make this film-noir at its best!
on October 13, 2001
Movie about a dedicated detective hot on the trail of a gangster while at the same time hot for his girl. The three leads consisting of Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, and Jean Wallace are excellent. Wilde stars as the obsessed (in more ways than one) detective who will stop at nothing to get his man. Conte plays the deadly calm and strangely seductive psychopathic gangster who gets under Wilde's skin. Blond beauty Wallace is the delicate and sensitive good-girl moll whom both men desire in a memorable performance as the conflicted girlfriend of Conte who knows he is thoroughly rotten and whose moral streak is repelled, but nevertheless is powerlessly drawn to him. An amusing aside--the scene between Conte and Wallace where he kisses her on the face then starts sliding down the length of her body, almost got cut from the movie when the Hay's office accused director Lewis of allowing oral sex to be implied onscreen. They asked him, "when Conte's character slips off camera range, where is he?" To that Lewis replied, "I don't know, maybe he went to get a cup of coffee," accused them of having dirty minds, and that put an end to that. Also good is Brian Donlevy as an impotent (figuratively speaking) crime kingpin made powerless by ambitious, cunning Conte; Helen Walker as Conte's stashed-away troubled wife; and Helene Stanton as a tough yet tender sleazy dance-hall dame. Just as must a star of this film has got to be one of the most wonderfully gritty cinematography not just in film noir, but in movies period: full of shadows, harsh lighting, and dark recesses which serve to perfectly accentuate this world of mean streets, hard-boiled detectives, murderous thugs, and gorgeous molls--all this, the previously mentioned performances, and a most unusual way to torture someone make this film noir at its best!
on February 25, 2002
This is tough, muscular film noir delivered by a master of the genre, director Joseph Lewis, whose master touch in low budget mystery gave us the unforgettable "Gun Crazy." The camera work is excellent in this epic about a large city at night, when two obsessive men do battle for turf control, giving us a microscopic view of its fierce underbelly and the ferocious mobsters who tenaciously seek to control it.
Cornell Wilde is a tough, uncompromisingly honest cop who is belittle by his equally determined adversary, Richard Conte, for being so bright yet ending up with such a small paycheck at the end of the week. Wilde has two reasons for bringing down the cocky Conte, that earlier expressed of seeking to make the city a more decent place with the mobster's loss of influence. The other is that he holds a passionate love for the beautiful blonde controlled in such a tight vise by Conte that she attempts suicide. The blonde is Wilde's real life wife, Jean Wallace, and Wilde is determined to pull her away from the egomaniacally dominating Conte before she is destroyed.
For a large part of the film Conte laughs at Wilde, taunting him over his ineffectuality, telling him he is wasting his time attempting to put him away. This is largely a bluff, though, since he recognizes Wilde's zealousness and competence. At one point his henchmen kill a lovely young stripper going with the policeman, intending to terminate Wilde instead.
Wilde is able to crack the case when he learns about the existence of Conte's wife, thought to be dead, played by Helen Walker. When Wilde gets the goods on the mobster and is ready to arrest him Conte begs his adversary to kill him. Wilde will have none of it, telling Conte that he will instead be tried, convicted, and sent to prison, where he will be a man devoid of power. Wilde knows that this is a much sterner punishment to Conte than death by execution.
on November 20, 2001
The Big Combo is a film every viewer needs to own not only did it set the standard for almost every film since its release it also set a bench mark for the imagination of the viewer! Never has a film needed the viewer to belive in it's worl so much and The Big Combo paints one hell of world men are all disguting women are drugged tourted and slept with more than a pillow! The film is so dark in it's overall apperance that the charater's are bathed in the night's air. Shoes and cars glisten ever so brightly and the women more than know how to manage themselves they seem to be ahead of th emen in terms of vices! But the most ingenious scene in the whole film is between Conte and his lady love not only does it makes your eyes pop with disbelief it is an exaple of how brilliant a film can be if it trusts the film's viewer is smarter than ear-wax! Nothing at all slows down The Big Combo the dialogue rattle and the scenes of unending torture are impressive. Time has made The Big Combo aged with such a sharp cutting brillance that fims today seem only to copy its style, with a less than thrilling outcome.
on May 30, 2001
It is sad that such a tense, gritty and beautiful little film has been given such an awful presentation. The picture quality is passable, but tends to be murky. John Alton was noted for his use of shadows, but this transfer leaves much to be desired. It can be lived with, however, since this was an independent film and possibly nothing else survives. The sound howver, is another story. It is TOTALLY unacceptable. Throughout the entire film, quite loud at time, is an audio problem known as "motorboating". This occurs when the edge of the picture frame gets into the track area and you "hear" the frame lines in the soundtrack as a constant humming, like a boat motor. It RUINS this films, especially in a scene where silence is key. Although this problem is present in the original material used to make this transfer, it should have been corrected. I cannot recommend this video to anyone unless you are a die-hard J.H. Lewis fan. It's sad, because this is a highly enjoyable film, a fascinating counterpoint to Lewis's raucous "Gun Crazy".
on April 7, 2000
First and foremost I would like to congratulate and say thank you very much to IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT for having the sense to make available a great overlooked, and underappreciated classic on VHS and DVD. "The Big Combo" is one of the best film noirs ever made, and one of the best films of the 1950s. It is one of the most brutal films both visually and in its depiction of the violence that lies beneath the surface of society. It also has many great performances by Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde, and Conte's two psychopathic aids Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman. This is definitely a must-see for either fans of dark, violent films, or for fans of great artistic films also. I congratulate, applaud, and thank very much, IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT for remembering and making "THE BIG COMBO" available on DVD and VHS as it should be. Here are some forgotten classics that aren't available on video or need a better transfer, that definitely should: NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950), GUN CRAZY (1949), BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956), NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), CRIME WAVE (1954), WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950), TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), EDGE OF DOOM (1950), SCARLETT STREET (1945), THE RED HOUSE (1947), DETOUR (1945), CAUGHT (1949), THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1948)
on April 18, 2000
Wow ! That's the kind of film noir I like. Firstly , the villain is really a villain. Richard - Mr Brown - Conte is the kind of bad guy you don't want to have against you. The way he uses a radio to torture the poor Cornel Wilde is...weird, it's the least one can say.
One also will recognize Lee Van Cleef, the future spaghetti star of the italian westerns of the 60's, in the role of a vicious bodyguard. And Jean Wallace as the fragile blond girlfriend of our vicious psychopath. And Brian Donleavy, the former mob boss, whose ear infirmity gives to director Joseph Lewis the opportunity to imagine a scene that is part of Movie History.
The quality of the DVD is above-average with very good images but no extras. Just a scene access.
A DVD for your library.
on August 10, 2001
Noir fans know this one, but many more people beyond that select group should know it, too. This is a gripping tale about two men obsessed with destroying each other while they are also simultaneously obsessed with the same woman. It plays like the great pulp novel it most have been, with lurid slices of after dark, gritty urban life: a hardboiled cop who is out of control; a maniacal, singleminded and powerful crook; a confused and desparate blond beauty: a hard-hearted stipper with a soft underbelly; a gay male couple who pay the bills as guns for hire; a syndicate leader in hiding; and a woman driven insane by true revelations. These characters and the intriguing drama that links them are carried off in beautiful, shadowy black and white.
on June 1, 2000
It doesn't get any better than this. The delicious writing and cool, gritty "look" of the film is perfect. No one's more male, sexy or gorgeous than Richard Conte at his height, an icon of 1950's style and attitude, in love with a young, blonde femme fatale. But once she (Cornel Wilde's real wife Jean Wallace) finds out that he's married, God help him.