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Home Classic Movies ‘Crossfire’ Movie: Bleak Post-War Mood in Anti-Semitism Drama + Joan Fontaine-Charles Boyer Rarity Revisited

‘Crossfire’ Movie: Bleak Post-War Mood in Anti-Semitism Drama + Joan Fontaine-Charles Boyer Rarity Revisited

Crossfire Edward Dmytryk film noir
Crossfire movie.
Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Robert Young, CrossfireDirected 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. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600 or visit the Academy’s website.

Photo: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library.

The Constant Nymph Joan Fontaine Charles Boyer

Edmund Goulding ‘The Constant Nymph’: Rare Screening

The Constant Nymph, Edmund Goulding’s hard-to-find 1943 romantic drama starring Charles Boyer and Joan Fontaine, is the highlight of the August 2010 screenings at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theater in Culpeper, Virginia.

Joan Fontaine received her third and last Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role as a teenager in love with a musician (Boyer). Rights issues have kept The Constant Nymph – which has a few elements in common with Fontaine’s marvelous Letter from an Unknown Woman – out of the television/home video markets.

Among the other notable August offerings at the Packard Campus are:

  • 1969 Best Picture Oscar winner Midnight Cowboy, in which Jon Voight delivers what’s probably the most memorable performance of his distinguished career;
  • Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, a 1990 crime saga about the mafia that some consider one of the best movies of the ’90s;
  • and William A. Wellman’s overly earnest (and thus ineffective) but curious The Ox-Bow Incident, a 1943 Oscar nominee dealing with lynching mentality. Henry Fonda stars.

After The Thin Man, William Powell, Myrna LoyAll shows are free, but children twelve and under must be accompanied by an adult. The theater is at the Library of Congress Packard Campus located at 19053 Mt. Pony Rd. in Culpeper.

Reservations are encouraged and can be made one week in advance (for Saturday shows the previous Friday.) Call the information line at (540) 827-1079 ext. 79994 or (202) 707-9994 Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 p.m. Reservations are held until ten minutes before show time.

The theater lobby will open 45 minutes before showtime. Programs are preceded by an informative slide presentation about the film and music selected by the Recorded Sound Section of the Library of Congress. Short subjects will be presented before select programs. Titles are subject to change without notice.

Syd Chaplin, The Better 'Ole
Syd Chaplin, The Better ‘Ole

Packard Campus’ August 2010 Schedule and Film Information (from the Campus’ press release)

Thursday, August 5 (7:30 p.m.)

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY (Paramount, 1938)

A struggling novelist living well beyond his means refuses the financial support of his wife. Comedy-drama with songs. Directed by George Archainbaud. With Bob Hope and Shirley Ross. Black & White, 75 minutes.

Friday, August 6 (7:30 p.m.)

CASABLANCA (Warner Bros., 1942)
An American saloon owner in North Africa is drawn into World War II when his lost love turns up. War drama. Directed by Michael Curtiz. With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid & Claude Rains. Black & White, 102 minutes. Selected to the National Film Registry in 1989.

Saturday, August 7 (2:00 p.m.)

THE BETTER ‘OLE (Warner Bros., 1926)
The adventures of Old Bill and his friends Bert and Alf in the trenches of the First World War.
Directed by Charles Reisner. With Sydney Chaplin, Harold Goodwin & Edgar Kennedy. Black & White, 95 minutes.

Thursday, August 12 (7:30 p.m.)

MIDNIGHT COWBOY (United Artists, 1969)
A would-be gigolo and an ailing con artist form an unlikely friendship. Drama. Directed by John Schlesinger. With Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Brenda Vacarro & Sylvia Miles. Rated R. Black & white/Color, 113 minutes. Selected to the National Film Registry in 1994.

Friday, August 13 (7:30 p.m.)

GOODFELLAS (Warner Bros., 1990)
A young man works his way up through the New York City mobs. Crime drama. Directed by Martin Scorsese. With Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta & Joe Pesci. Rated R. Color. 146 minutes. Selected to the National Film Registry in 2000.

Saturday, August 14 (7:30 p.m.)

PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (Warner Bros., 1985)
When his prized bicycle is stolen, a small-town boy searches the country for it. Family adventure, comedy. Directed by Tim Burton. With Paul Reubens & Elizabeth Daily. Color. 90 minutes.

Thursday, August 19 (7:30 p.m.)

THE CONSTANT NYMPH (Warner Bros., 1943)
A teenage girl falls in love with a family friend, a musician, who eventually marries her cousin. Based on the novel by Margaret Kennedy. Drama, romance Directed by Edmund Goulding. With Joan Fontaine, Charles Boyer & Alexis Smith. Black & white, 112 minutes.

Friday, August 20 (7:30 p.m.)

Nick and Nora Charles’ friend Selma is accused of murdering her fiancée. The detective duo investigates to clear her name. Comedy, crime, mystery, romance. Directed by W. S. Van Dyke. With William Powell, Myrna Loy & James Stewart. Black & white, 112 minutes.

Saturday, August 21 (7:30 p.m.)

THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (20th Century Fox, 1943)
A loner gets caught up in a posse’s drive to find and hang three suspected rustlers. Western crime drama. Directed by William A. Wellman. With Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews & Anthony Quinn. Black & White, 75 minutes. Selected to the National Film Registry in 1998.

Thursday, August 26 (7:30 p.m.)

GIGI (MGM, 1958)
A Parisian girl is raised to be a kept woman but dreams of love and marriage. Comedy, musical, romance. Directed by Vincente Minelli. With Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier & Louis Jourdan. Color. 115 minutes. Selected to the National Film Registry in 1991.

Friday, August 27 (7:30 p.m.)

WILD AT HEART (PolyGram, 1990)
Two lovers trek to California while being pursued by a hit man. Crime, romance, thriller Drama, Rated R. Directed by David Lynch. With Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe. Color. 124 minutes.

Saturday, August 28 (2:00 p.m.)

During the Great Depression, a teenage girl leaves Chicago to search for her father who went west to find work. Along the way she meets a friendly wolf and a young man who protects her. Family adventure. Directed by Jeremy Kagan. With Meredith Salenger & John Cusack. Color. 101 minutes.

Photos: Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Five Easy Pieces movie Jack Nicholson
Five Easy Pieces movie with Jack Nicholson.

Bob Rafelson’s biting social critique Five Easy Pieces (1970), starring Jack Nicholson and Karen Black; Adrian Brunel’s silent romantic drama The Constant Nymph (1928), a tale of “forbidden love” starring stage and movie idol Ivor Novello and Mabel Poulton; and Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave classic Breathless (1959), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, are some of the features to be screened on Friday, Aug. 20, at London’s bfi Southbank.

Five Easy Pieces remains one of the most impressive accomplishments of the more mature Hollywood cinema of the 1970s, with Jack Nicholson and Karen Black delivering relentlessly raw performances.

It’s unfortunate that American cinema, now senile, is going through its second infancy. In other words, movies such as Five Easy Pieces hardly ever get made – if they get made at all. Even current independent filmmakers rarely bother to aim their lenses at the clogged arteries found in the heart of bourgeois society and its values.

Adapted by Adrian Brunel and Alma Reville (later the wife of Alfred Hitchcock) from Margaret Kennedy and Basil Dean’s play (based on Kennedy’s novel), The Constant Nymph revolves around the relationship between a young, married composer (Ivor Novello) and a teenager (Mabel Poulton) who happens to be madly in love with him. Benita Hume (who’d later marry both Ronald Colman and George Sanders – though not at the same time) plays the composer’s jealous wife.

And to think that today the teen-girl/adult-male-composer attraction would be even more scandalous than in the 1920s – or in the 1940s, when the Hollywood remake starring Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, and Alexis Smith was released.

Novello, who was both gay and fey, had no problem being a top romantic star both on the British stage and the British screen. That’s kinda surprising.

Mabel Poulton, whose strident voice didn’t match her looks at all, turned out to be a British version of Lina Lamont, the character Jean Hagen played in Singin’ in the Rain. According to film historian Anthony Slide, who met with the actress, Poulton was totally clueless as to why her career sank following the advent of talking pictures.

Photos & film information: bfi website

Five Easy Pieces

Undeniably one of the finest (and most influential) films made in Hollywood during the glorious 70s, Bob Rafelson’s modern classic – lovingly restored for its 40th anniversary – also boasts what is probably Jack Nicholson’s greatest performance.

Despite his claims to the contrary, oil-rigger Bobby Dupea (Nicholson) remains torn between the aimless trailer-park existence he now shares with waitress girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black, also superb) and the constraining middle-class mores of the musically gifted family he left behind. A trip up the West Coast only exacerbates his sense of alienation… Brilliantly written by Carole Eastman and evocatively shot by the great László Kovács, the film is both a piercingly astute character study and an unusually subtle exploration of how class plays out in American society. Caustic, witty and finally deeply moving, it also offers a memorable lesson in how to order the simplest of snacks. – Geoff Andrew

The Constant Nymph

Based on a best-selling novel of the period, this controversial story of forbidden love was voted the most popular film of 1928. Novello is the bohemian composer in denial about his passion for the teenage Tessa, the fulfilment of which necessarily ends in tragedy. Poulton is perfectly cast as Novello’s muse; her free spirit flourishes in the picturesque Austrian mountains of the film’s opening scenes, but is gradually sapped by ‘civilisation’, in the form of her cousin’s London home. Live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney.


Godard’s first feature and the film that (perhaps misleadingly) came to define the novelty of the New Wave. Petty crook and poseur Michel Poiccard kills a traffic cop and goes on the run. He takes refuge with American paper-seller and aspirant journalist Patricia. Godard’s elliptical story-telling and the hero’s seeming amorality were equally puzzling – even shocking – to audiences at the time. Now it’s a (recently restored) classic.

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1 comment

Graceann Macleod -

This is an excellent film. I happened to be watching and my husband arrived home earlier than expected. I restarted it and said “if you don’t care for it, I’ll watch the rest another day.” He was wrapped up in it and we discuss it to this day.


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