Crossfire is a B-Movie at its Best



Directed by Edward Dmytryktryk

RKO, 86 minutes, Not-rated




There was no rating system in 1947, but a “funny” thing happened on the way to making Crossfire. It was adapted from The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks, a novel about prejudice against homosexuals. That topic was utterly taboo under the infamous Hollywood Hays Code. That meant that the film eventually directed by Edward Dmytryk had to find another angle: antisemitism. Dmytryk turned out the first B-movie to be nominated for Academy Awards, five of them to be exact. (A “B-movie” was a low-budget film that was often the opener for a double feature.)


The war against fascism was over and Hitler’s plan to wipe Judaism from the face of the Earth collapsed, though he did slaughter about half of the world’s Jews. Remember, though, that GIs were not sent home the day after Germany’s surrender. It took time to demobilize millions of troops. Many former combatants remained in uniform lingering around bases and nearby cities until they could be processed. They had been through hell together and the tight bonds forged by war remained in place. Loyalty and fealty to superiors play big parts in Crossfire.


The movie opens with the murder of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levine) and Captain Finlay (Robert Young) is helping track down the killer. Soldiers were officially under his supervision and it was known that several had been with Samuels before he died. Samuels, a Jew, met GIs Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie) Corporal Mitchell (George Cooper) and several others at a bar. As an ex-soldier who had fought in the First World War, Samuels kindly invited them to his apartment for drinks. They were joined there by Private “Monty” Montgomery (Robert Ryan).


Crossfire is a case of too many suspects and investigators. Soldiers cooperated with Captain Finlay’s queries, but they were also protective of their mates. Sergeant Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) begins an informal investigation of his own with the goal of clearing Mitchell and Leon (William Phipps), the latter a not-too-bright GI whom Keeley feared would be framed. Montgomery is outraged by the entire investigation and thinks the police and Finlay may be trying to pin the murder on his friend Bowers.


As things like this go, suspicion leads to deflection and breeds more suspicion. Mitchell, a square egg who wants little more than to reunite with his wife Mary (Jacqueline White), admits that he got so drunk that he didn’t remember much other than a disagreement between Monty and Samuels. He embarrassingly admits that he spent the evening in the company of Ginny Tremaine (Gloria Grahame). He insists he simply slept off the booze and left the next morning when her husband came home. Is he on the level?


Things get messier when one of the suspects ends up in the morgue, a victim of foul play. Finlay is convinced that antisemitism was the reason Samuels was killed and speculates that the second murder was a cover up. He devises a successful entrapment plan worthy of Miss Marple (though she never carried a gun!)


Strong performances help hide the low production values of Crossfire. Give credit to the Roberts: Young, Mitcham, and Ryan. They complement each other superbly. Young was calm and rational; Mitchum perplexed and inquisitive; and Ryan furtive and determined. It should also be noted that Grahame got a Best Supporting Actress nomination, through her role was a bit too thin to warrant it. (Crossfire did not win any Oscars because it lost to a better film about antisemitism, Gentlemen's Agreement.)


Dmytryk proved an old adage. If a director has great actors and knows how to handle them and keep their egos in check, the external look of the film matters less than you might think. As I noted in another review, Dmytryk gained notoriety during the Hollywood Red Scare because he cast suspicion that some in the movie industry were communists. How ironic, given that the Red Scare broke out the same year Crossfire was released, a film that deals with similar themes of fear, suspicion, and accusation. He might have been a fink, but the man knew how to direct. Crossfire is a forgotten gem worth resurrecting.


Rob Weir


Aftersun is Quiet and Powerful



Directed by Charlotte Wells

A24, 101 minutes, R (For ridiculous rating!)






 Aftersun is the directorial debut of Charlotte Wells that, with considerable merit, accumulated heaps of critical praise including a few Oscar nominations. It is usually tagged as a coming-of-age film, which it certainly is, but it’s also an incisive portrait of depression. Not the dark, angry kind, more like the sort that sets in when you realize your life never seems to go in the direction that you hoped.


It is a classic small film about a father, Calum (Paul Mescal), who is amicably divorced. His ex-wife got custody of their daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio). Because Sophie lives in Edinburgh and Calum is in London, he’s not even a part-time dad–more like a once-a-year one. He and Sophie set off for a father and daughter vacation in the sun. Their journey takes them to Ölüdeniz, Turkey, so though several reviews wrongly located it in Torremolinos, Spain. (Presumably that’s because the film is British and that’s where the English flock to tan.) Sophie is 11 and a Calum is about to turn 31. Those ages suggest what went wrong: Parenthood at 20 is often a bigger challenge than some can handle. Calum hasn’t found himself and is so afloat that he wonders if he’ll even make it to 40. He can't help but notice the signs that Sophie is growing up fast: her subtle lip blush, her confidence, her worldly awareness, and the gnawing suspicion she’s more emotionally stable than he. She’s still a little girl, but the tide is definitely turning.


This is a good time to say that Aftersun is a quiet film, not an action thriller. In fact, Calum’s biggest problems are inaction and passive decision-making. Part of what we see on the screen comes from the 1990s style DV camera that Sophie uses to record her beach holiday with her dad. He’s the one who is camera shy, as we observe from Sophie’s attempts to interview him. Is it because he’s too empty to emote?


Mescal and Corio won praise for their performances and with good reason. What can you communicate from laying in the sun, rubbing on sunblock, and eating dinner? Quite a lot, but you need to read between the lines and have actors strong enough to send messages without appearing to do so. For example, Calum seeks to improve himself via Tai Chi, self-help books, meditation, and pop philosophy nostrums. The effort is earnest, but imagine the strain when results stall. Sophie, in turn, finds a group of slightly older kids and sits in on rambling banter about sex and romance. She’s not ready for any of that stuff, but she will experience her first non-parental kiss. She also comes away with the knowledge that her dad is a quiet mess who thinks she doesn’t know he smokes or drinks too much. She also realizes that he can’t afford his outward displays of affection, like replacing her lost snorkel mask, buying her sweet treats, the expensive Turkish rug he buys, or the vacation itself.


Eventually we learn that most of the tale we are seeing is the adult Sophie’s remembrance of that summer with her dad. Look for a symbol of what remains now that she’s grown, married, and has a child of her own. Notice also the film’s clever use of music to convey meaning. There is, for example, 11-year-old Sophie’s touching dance with dad to Queen/David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and her letting loose at a rave as an adult. The score of the film works well throughout, so kudos to Oliver Coates for assembling a soundtrack that takes us from The Righteous Brothers to Blur by way of traditional Turkish music.


The film’s title ostensibly references Calum’s comment that he could never move back to Edinburgh and doesn’t want to be in London either. He insists he needs the sun. A metaphor? Yep!


What an impressive debut. In my estimation, Wells succeeded by keeping things manageable rather than aiming above her current reach. Hers is a name to watch, as I suspect is the name Frankie Corio. Aftersun is not a film that will make your heart race, but it might make it break.


Rob Weir


*This movie was rated R because we see Mescal’s naked butt and because of a few F- bombs from teenagers. Really!!? Blur the butt, delete the swears, and this movie is PG.