Dir: Robert Wise ( West Side Story ; The Haunting )
Ron has recently mentioned that the heist film is a genre with few poor entries. This race allegory from Robert Wise is certainly no exception. Much of it is quite good. Yet it also quite dated, the product of a time when the study of race in film often lacked spohsitication or complexity. Crash this movie is not.
I came across the film after reading that Melville was a fan. Having recently seen two of his movies (see also Ron's review) I was curious about his influences, and I of course love Robert Wise. The uniqueness comes from the fact that the job is not really the point of the film; it only occupies the last twenty minutes of so. Rather, the clashing personalities of the hoods , and how they are forced to participate, are the point of the film.
Robert Ryan plays a bitter ex-con loved by a decent but hoplessly naive woman. He yearns for financial independence and a reclamation of his manhood. He is also a viscious racist. Harry Belafonte is a womanizing lounge singer with a gambling problem. He needs the job to pay off debts and protect his ex-wife and daughter. The racial tension between the two hangs over the job, creating enjoyable tension and adding interesting wrinkles to the plot.
While both of the male characters are very well done, the movie suffers from a lack of depth from the women. They are there merely as plot points, a reason for the men to do what they do. No reason is given why they love these very bad men. Shelly Winters in particular is very talented, but wasted. When the most intersting woman is nothing but a sex object (played very well by Gloria Grahame in classic noir style), then the script is lacking.
The racial message does get a bit over-the-top at the end, a sledge hammer that clubs the audience into recognizing that all of this fighting is going to tear us apart! We have to work together or we are going to blow ourselves up! Literally, as it turns out.
The dialogue is very good, and Belafonte's performance is exceedingly inspired at times. His acting is much better than many people who might have taken this role, and he brings an anger and intensity to the story that makes it worth your time. And he gets beat up with a string of pearls, so there's something new!
Dated, and somewhat awkward. But intersting, with lots to redeem it. Wise as always has filmed and edited the thing very nicely. I recommend it for a Saturday afternoon. You don't have to see it before you die, but you could certainly spend your time in worse ways.