A celebrated early noir that is essentially a police procedural with a message about anti-Semitism. Somewhat disappointed in this one; time has diminished its impact.
It's a good-looking flick. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, with cinematography by J. Roy Hunt, the movie makes a virtue of stripped-down minimalist sets and lighting designed to look like it is coming from real-world sources. The alternating angles in certain sequences, like the savage beating that opens the movie, are striking indeed. Robert Ryan is superb of course, but John Paxton's script leaves his character pretty one-dimensional, an anti-Semite with no background, explanation or even other characteristics, aside from cunning and sadism. Mind you, that is quite realistic in itself. Raging bigots in real life frequently don't have "reasons;" they simply are shits. Movies, however, thrive on fleshing things out, and Ryan's obvious dreadfulness allows the audience too much distance from his bigotry.
Robert Young was as good as he could be with the policeman character, quietly waiting for Ryan to hang himself. The Siren often finds Young underrated. Not much he could do with a lengthy speech about prejudice, however. It involves Young's Irish grandfather and the bigotry he faced, and the Siren wasn't quite sure of the point: "Oh my GOD! you mean they discriminated against CHRISTIAN WHITE PEOPLE too?" Seemed sufficient to the Siren that the victim was killed for being Jewish. Even in 1947, did they have to drag larger segments of the audience into the Great Oppression Sweepstakes so they would understand that this was wrong? Perhaps so, the Siren afterthought, as she recalled that same year's Gentleman's Agreement, in which we learn about anti-Semitism by watching a Gentile suffer from it.
It is mentioned often, but worth noting again, that in the novel Crossfire is based on, the victim was a homosexual. He was changed to a Jew to get past the censors. In the movie, despite the presence of a girlfriend, the murder victim gives a distinct impression of picking up a young soldier in a crucial early scene in a bar. Doubtless this did not register with many 1947 audience members, but the Siren still thinks it was deliberate.
Ryan's guilt is telegraphed early and the script does only a so-so job of stretching out suspense concerning his fate. Instead of furthering gripping the audience, developments like a sequence involving Gloria Grahame playing (what else) a floozy just seem like padding. The Siren's favorite part of the movie was Robert Mitchum, whose presence is a touch ironic considering some intemperate anti-Jewish remarks he made when well into his sunset years. But here he looks great, sounds great and does a lot with a smallish part that is also somewhat underwritten. The Siren will long treasure the look Mitchum gives his own shoulder, seconds after Ryan's character has given it an unwelcome, brotherly pat.