Perhaps the first of the social injustice movies Hollywood began turning out in the late Forties, Crossfire is one of the few in my opinion which still hold up. That's because the social message, against hate in general and anti-Semitism in particular, doesn't become too preachy and get in the way of the story. Unlike Gentleman's Agreement (anti-Semitism), Boomerang (legal and class injustice), Pinky (racial prejudice) and others, Crossfire tells a taut story first, in this case about a murder, and features some first-rate acting, especially from Robert Ryan.
The murder mystery is straightforward and there's little doubt about who the killer is. We know a man named Samuels (Sam Levene) has been beaten to death. We know the suspect, Corporal Arthur Mitchell (George Cooper) is one of four recently discharged soldiers who met him in a bar. We know one of the four is a big, edgy guy, Sergeant Montgomery (Robert Ryan), who laughs too much and likes to verbally poke at people he thinks are weak. The body is discovered, evidence points to Mitchell as the killer and police Captain Finlay (Robert Young) goes to work. One of Mitchell's buddies, Sergeant Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) doesn't think Mitchell could be a killer. In a cautious way he starts working with Finlay to establish an alibi for Mitchell, and then to concentrate on Montgomery. One of the biggest issues is what could Montgomery's motivation be. It turns out Montgomery doesn't like civilians, doesn't like "hillbillies," and hates Jews. He's a bigot. When Montgomery complains about "those kinds of guys", Finlay asks, "What kind of guys?"
"You know the kind." Montgomery says. "Played it safe during the war, keepin' themselves in civvies, nice apartments, swell dames...you know the kind."
"I'm not sure that I do."
"Some of 'em are named Samuels, some of 'em have funnier names."
It isn't long before we realize that Montgomery is a psychopath who hates just about anyone who is different. With Keeley's help, Finlay finally is able to lay a clever trap for Montgomery.
Young does a fine job as the cop. He's seen probably too much. He's tired. He's a decent man who relies on his training. "I've been at this job too long," he tells Keeley. "I go about it the only way I know how. I collect all the facts possible...most of them are useless." Mitchum, laconic but alert, makes a nice partner for Finlay. He's ready to stand by a buddy he thinks is incapable of killing, and he really doesn't like Montgomery.
Robert Ryan makes you feel uncomfortable from the moment you see him. There's something too friendly about him, something too hidden, something too ready to explode. You're not surprised when he suddenly beats Samuels to death with his fists. The difference between the part of Keeley and the part of Montgomery is, I think, the difference between a role that can lead to a reputation as a movie star and a role that can lead to a reputation as a movie actor. I think it was only when Mitchum took on unsympathetic roles in Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear that many critics realized he was a first-rate film actor, not just a star. By that time, Ryan already had the actor reputation, but major stardom had eluded him.
In a smaller part, Gloria Grahame is excellent as a dance hall hostess who might give Mitchell an alibi. With her cat eyes and pouty lips, Grahame always was distinctive. She and Paul Kelly as a man who may or may not be her husband bring an uneasy and almost surreal quality to their scenes.
Crossfire is a solid looking noir. The DVD presentation is very good.