Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1947. RKO Radio Pictures. Screenplay by John Paxton, based on the novel The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks. Cinematography by J. Roy Hunt. Produced by Adrian Scott. Music by Roy Webb. Production Design by Albert S. D’Agostino, Alfred Herman. Film Editing by Harry W. Gerstad. Academy Awards 1947. Golden Globe Awards 1947.
A man is murdered after leaving a bar with a few soldiers, getting Robert Mitchum pulled into police headquarters where Robert Young questions him about the incident. The lead suspect in the murder has disappeared, which means Young must ask questions about the night of the incident that inspire flashbacks, which eventually helps clear up the devastating motivation behind the killing itself. The search for the killer takes us into divey nightclubs, the dingy apartment of a taxi dancer (an unforgettable Gloria Grahame) and involves another soldier (Robert Ryan in his starmaking breatkhrough) with a bad temper and some even worse secrets. Shot like a film noir with stark, gorgeous cinematography that employs a great deal of focused points of light piercing through harsh dark backdrops (a technique actually chosen because it kept the budget low), this murder mystery investigates American bigotry and is wholly involving until a rather abrupt ending (movies of the forties generally undo the moral knot that has been tied and leave it at that, there’s no need to contemplate the undoing). The film deals with anti-Semitism (in place of the novel’s original theme, which dealt with homophobia), and become very unpopular very quickly when director Edward Dmytryk refused to name names to the HUAC in the earlier days of the Red Scare, earning the film’s creative team frosty treatment at the Academy Awards ceremony where it was nominated in five major categories; it lost to that more popular film on a similar subject, Gentleman’s Agreement, made by the far more HUAC-amenable Elia Kazan.