Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire is definitely a subversive film, but I can’t tell to what? By telling the story of an anti-Semitic sergeant who murders an innocent vet because of his Jewish heritage, is he exposing the sordid sides to our military? Or, by emphasizing the military’s quick reflexes in bringing a falsely accused soldier to innocence and bringing justice to the guilty party, is Dmytryk only adding fuel to the military’s propaganda bonfire?
Robert Ryan is clearly the highpoint of the film. Violence, for Ryan, isn’t an outward emotion, it is something inward that is projected, it has to come through your eyebrows and your elbows, not just your fists and your words. His face is unsettlingly calm, his limbs almost mechanical, and his composure sure and unrevealing: the epitome of militaristic professionalism. His perfection exudes the façade it seeks to hide. Never given the opportunity to be the hero, Ryan was able to perfect the role of “villain” even when the scripts were deficient (as in Crossfire). He doesn’t rest on dialogue and screen-direction, he makes acting something deeply personal, in the process wresting the character from the writer/director, and making it truly a creation of the actor. For this reason, many of Ryan’s character exhibit certain similarities; needless to say, they are always well acted, and always make the films a worthwhile venture.
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician, and curator whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Moving Image Source, Bright Lights Film Journal, Beat to a Pulp, NoirCon, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Spinetingler, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review. He records instrumental music as Modern Silent Cinema and plays in the hardcore band Night Squad.