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Crossfire | The Nation

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Crossfire

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Hollywood turns a novel about a gay murder into a call to action against anti-Semitism. Homophobia would have to wait.

Stars: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame.
Director: Edward
Dmtryk
Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures
Academy Awards: none

About the Author

James Agee
James Agee, author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (with photographer Walker Evans) and the screenwriter of The African...

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Crossfire is a gruesomely exciting story about some soldiers, one of whom murders a Jew. It is extremely well played by Roberts Young, Mitchum and Ryan, very notably Ryan; by Sam Levene and Paul Kelly; and by practically everyone else in the cast. It is excellently written and directed by John Paxton and Edward Dmytryk, respectively. In part, I don't doubt, because the picture is about something, which everyone making it can take seriously, it is, even as melodramatic entertainment, the best Hollywood movie in a long time. (Chaplin doesn't make Hollywood movies; he makes Chaplin movies.) Much of its more serious stuff, about Anti-Semitism, is very good and very heartening too, but I think the following qualifiers must be recognized: 1) In a way it is as embarrassing to see a movie Come Right Out Against Anti-Semitism as it would be to see a movie Come Right Out Against torturing children. 2) Few things pay off better in prestige and hard cash--granted you present it in an entertaining way--than safe fearlessness. 3) This film is not entirely fearless, even within its relatively safe terms. They have the sardonic courage to preach the main persuaders to a Southern boy, taking painfully embarrassing care never to mention Negroes; but they lack the courage to make that omission inescapably clear to the audience.

Largely because of this film and his recent statement that he believes in making other movies that take chances, RKO-Radio's vice-president in charge of production, Dore Schary, is likely to be regarded by many people as a white hope and a hero. I do not question the goodness of his deepest motives, and I certainly wish him well; but it may as well be remembered that, at best, Hollywood's heroism is calculated to land buttered side up. Movies about Anti-Semitism aren't so desperately chancy, after all. Millions of people will look forward to them if only for the questionable excitement of hearing actors throw the word "Jew" around; Fox and Goldwyn are coming out, respectively, with Gentleman's Agreement and Earth and High Heaven, and Goldwyn has astutely postponed production, not to be snowed under by his competitors. The murdered Jew in Crossfire was a murdered homosexual in the original novel, Richard Brooks's The Brick Foxhole, and I learn from a reliable source that this quick shift was made, and Crossfire was rushed through, in order to jump the gun on the two more pretentious films. I am sorry to spend so much time on such matters, but I suspect they will be generally neglected in the pleasure of awarding Hollywood a sprinting-prize for taking Baby's First Step; and they shouldn't be neglected. All that aside, however, Crossfire is an unusually good and honest movie and may--I hope, will - prove a very useful one.

The Hucksters comes right out against radio advertising, and in the Hollywood scheme of things this is doubtless much more heroic than attacking Jew-baiters, who are not so well organized as advertising men to fight back. Some of the singing commercials are very funny, and some of the minor characters are drawn with medium shrewdness. Clark Gable seems well at ease, most of the time, but something soft and unfortunate has happened to his mouth; Deborah Kerr struggles prettily but, I'm afraid, rather compliantly, against a thorough job of packaging. I dislike the movie as I disliked what little I could read of the book for I find uniquely nauseating the spectacle of incurable corruption laboring under delusions of honesty.

I agree with Shirley O'Hara of the New Republic--that the period of the original Perils of Pauline is good for a lot more than patronizing laughter. I am also astonished that so many people find the new "Perils" so howlingly funny. People who can accept such stuff as solid gold have either forgotten a lot, or never knew first-rate slapstick when they saw it, twenty to thirty years ago, when it was one of the wonders of the world.

I am with Miss O'Hara again, and everyone else who knows what a beautiful film could be made about jazz. For years, I wished I might make a movie about New Orleans, centered on Louis Armstrong and his colleagues. I like New Orleans because, barring Djon Mili's rather too alligatorish short, it is the only movie ever to show any real feeling for jazz; and because the Negro musicians are much more nearly at ease than is usual in movies; and because of Armstrong, who seems to me one of the most likable people in the world, and certainly as fine a musical talent as this country has ever had. (Some unknown Negroes and whites have developed music even finer.) All the same, the movie is a crime. Not only is it horribly inept and unimaginative in everything that does not center on jazz; the jazz itself is too often cut short, or smothered as background for pictures which fail to carry it out; and as the ultimate triumph, jazz wins over a full-dress audience--which is a little as if St. Francis and his Fifty Thousand Feathered Friends became headliners at the Bronx Zoo.

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