review for Crossfire on AllMovie

Crossfire (1947)
by Michael Costello review

Edward Dmytryk's classic noir on anti-Semitism in the military was adapted from a Richard Brooks novel, The Brick Foxhole, whose actual subject was homophobia in the army, which RKO found too hot to handle at the time. Like many noirs, it's steeped in the malaise of returning GIs, still recovering from the trauma of war and trying to adapt to a changed world. Dmytryk evokes a miasma of angst with the noir vocabulary of looming shadows, oblique angles, and low-key lighting. Robert Young's professorial detective leads the investigation, which takes on a collective quality as Robert Mitchum's sergeant becomes involved, the film counterpointing their quiet sanity against the disorientation of the mustered-out soldiers and the raging paranoia of the murderer. Robert Ryan is most impressive as the latter, a matrix of festering resentments of which his anti-Semitism is only one. The residue of the original story remains in a slightly off-kilter scene, apparently detached from the narrative, in which a GI (George Cooper) discusses his alienation with a sympathetic stranger (Sam Levene). The first film to address the subject of anti-Semitism, it remains effective despite moments of preachiness. Test screenings of the film for Jewish audiences revealed their well-grounded concern that the association of such blatant pathology, as the murderer's with anti-Semitism, would allow viewers to ignore the far more commonplace and insidious forms of that prejudice. Due to the film's content, in October 1947, producer Adrian Scott and director Dmytryk were called to testify before HUAC and became the first two members of the famed Hollywood Ten, a group of producers, directors, and writers, including Ring Lardner Jr. and Dalton Trumbo, all of whom initially refused to testify against their colleagues, and were sentenced to prison terms. In return for an early release in 1950, Dmytryk identified former colleagues as Communists, and in 1951, named Scott, his friend, and the producer of his three best films, as a member of the Communist party. Scott never produced another film, while Dmytryk resumed his career, never to repeat the quality of his earlier work.