Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The Big Combo. A-
Despite John Alton's famous shot of the silhouetted figures surrounded by fog and shadow, The Big Combo remains one of the most overlooked of all noir films. While it has most of the classic noir elements in place, the movie distinguishes itself with a more contemporary plot and villain, plus an awesome jazz score by David Raskin. The story is one of a detective (Cornell Wilde) obsessed with tracking down a big time criminal named Brown (Thieve's Highway's Richard Conte), whose devious scheming allows him to keep alluding his prey without actually hiding out. The noir hero often overshadows the villain, yet The Big Combo I believe started a long standing tradition of making the villain someone fascinatingly evil rather than just pure evil in a plain and ordinary way. Brown's philosophy is to harm people without actually physically hurting them, which results in one of the best scenes of torture the movies have seen, involving an earpiece and a microphone. The idea that a villain does not need to be prototypical is vital, not just because it makes for a more interesting antagonist, but because it makes the satisfaction so much greater if he does end up suffering defeat. If there's a problem with the The Big Combo it's that while I was watching it, I kept thinking how much better it would be if there was a Robert Marlowe-type playing the detective rather than the bland one we get from Wilde. But I can't complain, because when you get a truly great villain in a black and white noir that more than compensates for whatever shortcomings the hero brings.