21 December 2004 | bob the moo
Classic crime thriller with noir leanings and memorable scenes
Police Lieutenant Leonard Diamond is a driven man; he has seen the Organisation grow in strength daily with Mr Brown at its head. He has seen innocents being sucked into crime by the syndicate and he has had enough. With his expenses spiralling out of control, he is put under pressure to close his investigation but his anger at Brown and his love for his girl, Susan, keeps him going. A chance discovery of a mysterious woman called Alicia starts a trail of information that offers Diamond the chance to cut off the head and kill the snake if, that is, he can stay alive long enough to do it.
Although it has been many years since I first saw this film it has stayed with me ever since, a classic crime thriller with elements of noir and some very memorable moments. The basic plot is about a crime syndicate and the cop who is trying to bring it down and this is very well done throughout. The plot is a bit of a mystery in this regard as Diamond tries to build a puzzle with most of the pieces missing but the plot is only a part of this film working as well as it does. One of the main factors making it so good is the consistently tough tone of the material that can be seen in many ways. It has all the usual stuff in the tough characters spouting quotable dialogue with the rat-a-tat-tat rhythm of a tommy gun but also has many tough scenes of brutality, my favourite being the unforgettable execution that takes place in total silence the perfect conclusion to a scene that had been built up with such tension.
The film adds to this with elements more suited to noir than gangster movies. The "hero" is a deeply flawed man driven more by hate than righteousness, unable to get Brown's girl he turns to a low rent show girl (although it is clear that she is a prostitute) meanwhile we have corruption within the authorities hinted at it is all nicely twisted, not quite a fully blown noir but it takes elements and blends them well to produce a superb mix. The cast match this with some great performances. Conte gets the headlines because he gets the cool character and the toughest dialogue but for me it is Wilde that makes the film his own with a convincing portrayal of a man who is driven by hate as much as love until, finding neither, he uses a "lesser" woman to satisfy his lust only for it to sink him deeper into apparent self-loathing. He is a bit wild-eyed at times but generally he gets it spot on with a complex performance that says as much with his expressions as he does with his dialogue. Donlevy is good in a small role and the female characters are well done (for different reasons) by Wallace and Stanton. Lee Van Cleef was a surprise find in a minor role but really the film belongs to Wilde and Conte who really go to town with the chance.
Overall this is not a normal crime syndicate thriller as the title suggests, but nor is it a traditional noir. Instead it is a fine blend of the two with the best elements of each working to produce a classic crime thriller with atmospheric direction, tough dialogue, brutally memorable scenes and great performances. Complex characters and a morally ambiguous hero only helps the film's impact making this one well worth hunting down (can you believe it has only had a few hundred votes on this site? I despair.)