Thursday, January 26, 2012
Thoughts on "The Big Combo"
This is my reaction paper from a college film noir class. Originally written in 2003.
"The Big Combo" (1955) is a great film noir because it is not only stylish and innovative, but also entertaining.
The protagonist, Police Lt. Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde), is a fascinating character because at first he seems very one-dimensional, but as the movie goes on we begin to see that his character has many layers. When we first meet Diamond, he is nothing but a stereotypical workaholic cop. We know he’s a workaholic because he is shaving in his office, which means he hasn’t been home in sometime. Diamond’s captain comes in and scolds him for continuing to put so much time into trying to bust the gangster, Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). The captain claims Diamond’s in love with Brown’s girlfriend, Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), and that’s why he won’t give the case up. At this point, I groaned because I couldn’t deal with another poorly acted, and even more poorly written, love subplot, but thankfully I was spared that fate. The beauty of this movie was that we never really find out if Diamond has romantic feelings for Lowell. All we know is that he is deeply concerned with her well being. Notice when Diamond and Lowell talk during a piano recital, he tells her, “My captain thinks I’m in love with you.” However, many things do point to his feeling being romantic. For instance, after Rita, an old flame, and Diamond have sex, she tells him, “when she (Lowell) hurts you again, don’t wait six months.”
The villain, Brown, is very interesting because for the first time we have a villain who is a true sociopath, which makes him unpredictable and sadistic. His very first scene sets his tone for the rest of the movie. Mr. Brown talks to a boxer that he owns after the boxer loses a fight. Brown insults Joe, his hearing-aid wearing henchman, to his face and then tells the boxer that hate runs the world. Brown gets angry when the boxer doesn’t seem to understand this and so Brown fires the boxer. From this scene, we already know that to Brown, people exist only to serve him and therefore are all expendable. The only thing that matters to Brown is his unquenchable thirst for power. Brown’s next important scene is when he goes over to Lowell’s apartment. He sees what she is wearing and says, “A woman dresses for a man, go put on something white.” His sociopathic nature is reinforced by his treatment of Lowell as a belonging.
There are two scenes of violence in this movie that were just so wonderfully put together that they are truly artful. The first is the scene where Brown puts an earphone in Diamond’s ear and tortures him by turning the music to full blast (Obviously none of them had ever been to a rock concert.) The second scene is when Brown turns the tables on what Joe thinks is his coup-d’etat. Joe screams for mercy, Brown takes off Joe’s hearing-aid, and for the rest of the scene, the audio is cut. You see the machine guns going off and Joe dying, but hear nothing.
The two henchmen is this film, Fante and Mingo, were so hilariously stupid. When Brown tells Fante and Mingo to find him some alcohol, Mingo shouts, “how about some paint thinner?” I also enjoyed the Swedish antique dealer, Nils Dreyer, who claims that, “nothing will kill me, I’ll die in Stockholm like my grandfather.” Of course, he gets killed about two minutes later.
Another scene that is definitely a classic is when Diamond arrests 96 of Brown’s employees even though he has absolutely nothing to charge them with, and then manages to somehow convince Brown to take a lie detector test. The proctor tells Brown to do word association. “Woman,” he says, “expensive,” says Brown.