A Light Noir
Where He Walked by Night was conservative, occasionally icy and suspenseful, The Big Combo takes a more relaxed approach. Jean Wallace -- the wife of co-star Cornel Wilde -- looks lovely, yet her role in this light noir offers few opportunities for development. It’s the ultimate mouse-trap of a performance, the kind which lingers in apathy without any hope for escape.
Meanwhile, Richard Conte’s Mr. Brown steals the picture effortlessly. His Savile Row presentation reaches its apex with the quintessential line: “First is first, and second is nobody.” These words convey a reckless disregard for others in business and commerce.
Overworked cop Leonard Diamond (Wilde) has stretched department resources to the breaking point in an effort to trap Mr. Brown (Conte). He also cares deeply for Susan Lowell (Wallace), a former piano hopeful, who can’t escape the crime lord’s ever tightening grip.
The film’s architecture serves only one master: John Alton. A cinematographer with a gift for black and white, he leaves his fingerprints all over The Big Combo. For example, one shot of a piano player echoes the style of great jazz photography from the 1950s.
Although He Walked by Night features better camerawork and storytelling, there’s enough style within The Big Combo to make up the difference.
(Released by United Artists Pictures; not rated by MMPA.)