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The Big Combo (Cinema Deluxe)

Richard Conte , Jean Wallace , Joseph H. Lewis    NR (Not Rated)   DVD
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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The Big Combo (Cinema Deluxe) + The Dark Corner (Fox Film Noir) + Fallen Angel (Fox Film Noir)
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A prime example of the American film noir style that flourished during the 1940s and '50s, The Big Combo is now highly regarded as a stylistic milestone for its innovative use of deep shadows and harsh, singular light sources to define its visual strategy. This look is largely credited to the rule-breaking brilliance of cinematographer John Alton, who turns a standard plot of the era into a richly atmospheric experiment in visual invention. Ignoring conventional approaches to lighting, Alton defines the screen in terms of blackness, often framing characters as silhouettes cast in ominous grays or thick, roiling fogs. Moving from clarity to abstraction with masterful grades in between, Alton's trend-setting style has been celebrated by cinematographers since the film's release in 1955.

The film's plot keeps brisk pace with the visuals, focusing on the obsessive efforts of a tenacious detective (Cornel Wilde) to destroy a sadistic mobster (Richard Conte) whose vicious influence has nearly ruined the life of the woman (Jean Wallace) he keeps under his dark wing. Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman are nicely cast as the villain's toady henchmen, and Brian Donlevy's usual limitations serve him well as the humbled, frustrated kingpin who's been stifled by Conte's ambition. Director Joseph H. Lewis previously demonstrated his raw, stylistic vigor with the earlier cult favorite Gun Crazy, and here he's in peak form with a perfect match of subject and sensibility. The result is hard-boiled entertainment that still packs a punch. --Jeff Shannon


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Brown. Sept. 25 2002
By A Customer
Format:DVD
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. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Combo Is Fine, It Just Needs Another Script June 24 2002
By Mad Dog
Format:DVD
Fans of the Noire B-Picture can learn a lot from this movie. Joseph Lewis (the magnificent "Gun Crazy") helms it, John Alton ( "T-Men", "Railroaded", and the astounding "Raw Deal") photographs, and the cast includes Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, and the young Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman.
Film students take note:
There's obviously no money to spare here: the sets are all recycled from other B-pictures. What's impressive is how Lewis uses the same locations for multiple shots without and significant re-setting, he keeps his angles down and holds the long take. Alton helps with the right atmosphere and his wonderfully graphic compositions, and the cast get on board for the ride. You can almost see another "Gun Crazy" or "Raw Deal" emerging.
But the script is awful. In B-Movies, "Talk Is Cheap" - much cheaper than action, or scene changes. That's why Reservoir Dogs spends so much time in a warehouse (the similarities don't end there: in a scene of remarkable brutality Wilde is taped to a chair and tortured via a hearing air placed near his EAR!). But one of the problems with shooting few locations fast, is you need the dialog to fill the scenes.
It's just not here. The speeches (there isn't any conversation here, just hard-line pronouncements) are all tough-guy cliché: "he's the kind guy that blah blah blah, and blah blah, but blah blah, because mark my words, blah blah". They're not very good and they always go on for a few sentences -- or a page -- too long. Someone's always trying to stretch the analogy, or extend a metaphor, or get with the poetry of the streets. Nothing they say has anything to do with character. This the kind of juvenile dialog that turns up in parodies of old noire B-pics.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tough, Muscular Film Noir Feb. 25 2002
Format:DVD
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Must own item, great Price, great service
Solid transfer of a must own movie. Great to see it looking this good. Price is better than anywhere else at the time of this review too. Delivery was prompt. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Shopgirl
1.0 out of 5 stars Bad DVD
Great movie and one of the best examples of film noir but this release is awful. The image quality is terrible and it looks like it is copy off an old print with bad scratches,... Read more
Published on Dec 18 2001 by dwdp
5.0 out of 5 stars Stark, Dark and All To Disturbing!
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... Read more
Published on Nov. 20 2001 by A*
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Big Combo" is a big treat!
Movie about a dedicated detective hot on the trail of a gangster while at the same time hot for his girl. Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2001 by Axolotl
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Big Combo" is a big treat
Movie about a dedicated detective hot on the trail of a gangster while at the same time hot for his girl. Read more
Published on Oct. 13 2001 by Axolotl
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Big Combo" is a big treat
My review is already above.
Published on Sept. 27 2001 by Axolotl
3.0 out of 5 stars Dark crime drama delivers the goods
Gritty, entertaining story is nevertheless upstaged by excellent cinematography and direction. However, not for those who can't take an unrelenting grim tone. Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2001 by Joseph P. Menta, Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Stuff!
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... Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2001
2.0 out of 5 stars Great Noir--terrible video
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. Read more
Published on May 30 2001 by George R. Willeman
5.0 out of 5 stars NOIR FOR CONNOISSEURS!
It doesn't get any better than this. The delicious writing and cool, gritty "look" of the film is perfect. Read more
Published on June 13 2000 by papyrus beetle
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