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New York Confidential (DVD Review)

19 Jul, 2010 By: Mike Clark

$19.99 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, Mike Mazurki.

If you don’t expect too much beyond grown-up subject matter and actors who can carry the show, there’s a hefty body count to be enjoyed from what the DVD box art refers to as “the Holy Grail of missing noir films” — which is another way of describing another of those too-common “rights” situations that can keep a movie off screens for decades.

On the commentary by Alan K. Bode and Kim Morgan — one of the most entertaining and certainly the funniest I’ve heard in a while — the 1955 film is not unjustly described as “roots” of The Godfather (and not just before noir deity Richard Conte appears in both). This is one of the first movies I know to deal with the syndicate as a business (which involves throwing a lot of bribe money around Washington, D.C.) — and how it helps if at least one of the two of the henchmen employed has a college education.

Sporting a rare buzz-cut (or as close as he can get to one), Broderick Crawford is a Mr. Big who hires an old associate/friend’s hit-man son (Conte) to take care of some business. What Conte won’t take care of are the needs of Crawford’s daughter (a very young Anne Bancroft, before Broadway re-invented her) who genuinely loves him despite her brittle nature (with a cause). Bancroft brings real depth to what could have been a phoned-in role, and even Marilyn Maxwell gets a little extra out of playing a resident Crawford blonde who’s lonely and not appreciative of being a fixture.

Bode and Morgan make a good team. He knows every character actor’s history (Onslow Stevens a nudist — who outside of imdb.com knew?) and is great with ironic MST 3000-type commentary, though zingers not so much directed at the film itself as at so many of its characters’ uncouth behavior. Morgan sees the action from the woman’s point of view in a genre that (in all ways but seductively sexual) generally dealt with a man’s world.

Confidential was an independent production, distributed through Warner Bros., from producer/writer Clarence Greene and director/writer Russell Rouse — a two-decade team whose work (like director Richard Fleischer’s for a more debatable comparison) deteriorated profusely when they started getting bigger budgets. So whereas resourceful early cheapies such as The Well, The Thief and Wicked Woman are very much worth seeing (Rouse wrote the classic original version of D.O.A. as well), twilight turkeys such as The Oscar and The Caper of the Golden Bulls are mortifyingly awful and all but turned Stephen Boyd into a camp icon.

This one is in the team’s middle period, and you can see that most of the budget went for the actors, including the incomparable Conte, who really knew how to wear dark suits. Crawford’s office consists of a desk, a couple chairs and a window out of which we’re always seeing a transparently phony Manhattan skyline. There’s also a phone into which Crawford incessantly bellows, akin to his breathless good-guy harangues he enjoyed on TV’s "Highway Patrol" — a series that premiered the same year as Confidential and which Fox Entertainment keeps saying is imminent as an on-demand title (promises, promises).

Seen by relatively few at the time though fondly remembered, the movie basically fell off the face of the earth until a recent well-received public showing at the American Cinematheque’s annual noir festival in Los Angeles. When it came out, its first-run engagement in my hometown pitted it against Raoul Walsh’s box office smash Battle Cry, John Ford’s also popular The Long Gray Line and the MGM musical Hit the Deck (this one regarded as a box office disappointment yet a movie that still got held over for a second week). So you can see what Confidential was fighting — especially since the apparent peyote-head who booked it into a 3000-seater double-billed it with a re-issue of Laurel & Hardy’s Utopia

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