Directed by Edward Dmytryk, written by John Paxton, and produced by Adrian Scott, Crossfire (1947) will be screened as the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' series “Oscar Noir: 1940s Writing Nominees from Hollywood's Dark Side” on Monday, August 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
Crossfire, which stars Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Gloria Grahame, will be introduced by Oscar-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), with a post-film discussion with actress Jacqueline White, who plays Mary Mitchell in the film.
Based on future filmmaker Richard Brooks' novel The Brick Foxhole, Crossfire is a taut, effective thriller focused on the evils of bigotry – in this case, anti-Semitism. Chiefly because of Crossfire's subversive sensibility, I find it more powerful than Elia Kazan's genteel Oscar winner Gentleman's Agreement, another 1947 release dealing with anti-Jewish prejudice.
Released two years after the end of World War II, the Good War for freedom, Crossfire presents “one of us” – a US serviceman – who turns out to be a viciously bigoted, murderous psycho not at all different from the enemy his side had just vanquished.
Also considered subversive by some at the time was the fact that a group of demobilized soldiers – however disillusioned – work together to try to uncover the identity of the murderer among them. Socialism!
It's no wonder that director Edward Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott got in trouble with the right-wing patriots at the House Un-American Committee shortly after Crossfire's release. Dmytryk and Scott, in fact, would become two of the Hollywood Ten.
What's actually surprising is that screenwriter John Paxton escaped the blacklist, especially considering his close association with the Scott-Dmytryk duo (Crossfire; Murder, My Sweet; So Well Remembered; and Cornered).
Three other great reasons to recommend Crossfire: Robert Ryan is, as usual, outstanding as the murderous U.S. soldier; Gloria Grahame (right) is flawlessly sultry-slutty as a sex worker; J. Roy Hunt's strikingly moody cinematography.
Note: Brooks' The Brick Foxhole dealt with anti-gay bigotry, but liberals in the 1940s could go only so far in Hollywood movies. Hence, the gay victim became a Jewish man – though one could read between the lines in the film version.
Crossfire earned Academy Award nominations for Best Motion Picture (RKO Radio), Actor in a Supporting Role (Robert Ryan), Actress in a Supporting Role (Gloria Grahame), Directing (Edward Dmytryk) and Writing - Screenplay (John Paxton).
At 7 p.m., the Columbia cartoon short Mother Hubba Hubba Hubbard (1947) and the “Valley of Death” episode from the 1941 serial Adventures of Captain Marvel will be screened as part of the evening's pre-feature program.
“Oscar Noir” is a summer-long series featuring 15 film noir classics from the 1940s, all of which were nominated in writing categories.
Tickets to individual evenings are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. They may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600 or visit www.oscars.org.
Photo: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library