Movie: “Crossfire” – suspense and antisemitism

3 08 2010

From the latter half of the 1940s, “Crossfire”  is a movie that can be seen as a murder and detective movie. But it can also be seen as comment on civilian life after the horrors of World War II, where people attack other people for what they are, not for what they do. In this case, it is about antisemitism as a trigger for murder. A solid movie that delivers well.

"Crossfire" -- poster

"Crossfire" -- poster

Short résumé

We see someone murdered in a room, but we do not see who the murderer (or murderers) are. An unassuming Army Cpl. Arthur Mitchell (George Cooper) quickly becomes suspected by the police. A buddy of Mitchell, Sgt. Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) cannot believe this, and sets out to get in contact with Mitchell. Mitchell’s commanding officer, Montgomery (Robert Ryan) also expresses doubts, but starts to behave strangely. A buddy of Montgomery is later found murdered. The investigating detective, Capt. Finlay (Robert Young), suspects Montgomery, and sets up a trap. Finally the perpetrator receives his punishment.


Richard Brooks write the novel “The Brick Foxhole” (1945) about how a group of soldiers murder a homosexual man. That book was the basis of the script for “Crossfire“, but it was transformed from being about homophobia to being about antisemitism.

Presumably, homosexuality was in the 1940s still a no-no topic, not suitable for Hollywood. Antisemitism, on the other hand, was well suited, as the American society had in the years before become aware of what antisemitism could lead to in the Third Reich. There were other movies in that era that addressed the same topic, e.g. “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947).  It could be interesting to explore that sub-area of Hollywood movies, what caused it to emerge, and when it disappeared. But that is for some other day.

"Crossfire": Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum

"Crossfire": Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum

This is a night-time movie, and an urban movie. Only a few short scenes show daylight. Otherwise it is all in the artificial light of the metropolis. A city where strangers encounter each others. The persons we encounter are either visitors to the city or city residents offering services to others — mainly visitors. No-one is really happy. We see the rootless service-men that have just come back from the war abroad, and have not succeeded in connecting to a the civilian society at home. Ginny Tremaine (Gloria Grahame) is working as a hostess in a bar, and is completely disgusted with her life … a life where she sees no future. The investigating police detective is tried and worn-out, and only now and then has enough energy to get proactive.

It seems that the only two persons who take decisive and immediate action are Keeley and Montgomery. Such targeted behaviour is most likely due to their experiences in combat, where they had to make decisions quickly and get others to follow them in some goal-driven action. In that role — in action — they were probably both effective and appreciated and behaved in similar ways towards the enemy. But now —  in a civilian context — their differ in terms of what they believe they have a right to do, and why they have that right (or not).

Therefore, we can surely call this a film noir, as it has several of the ingredients associated with that film genre.

"Crossfire": Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Young

"Crossfire": Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Young

Plot-wise, the movie keeps the audience in suspense, as it takes some time to understand who we should not suspect, and who we should suspect. There are no extended action sequences, so the suspense in the movie is based on the context and the uncertainties and options that remain until the very end.

Hollywood movies typically has to end in a happy or morally acceptable manner. Here, the culprit gets punished. But we get reminded that there is a fine line between those that actually commit some immoral act and those that are capable of doing so but have not yet crossed that line.


This a a suspenseful film, but action-wise quite low-key. It expresses the suspense of the police investigation and the way various soldiers get involved in this investigation. But at the same time it constantly reminds us about the antisemitic basis for this specific murder, and also illustrates that intolerance is a basic reason for much inter-personal violence in our society. It is worth seeing as an example of a Hollywood movie with a conscience.


Crossfire”  (1947).  Directed by: Edward Dmytryk;  written by: John Paxton (screenplay), Richard Brooks (story); starring: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame; length: 86 min; (Movie at imdb).

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