Wednesday, January 30, 2019

New York Confidential (1955)

February 18, 1955, release date
Directed by Russell Rouse
Screenplay by Clarence Greene, Russell Rouse
Based on the novel New York: Confidential! by Jack Lait, Lee Mortimer
Music by Joseph Mullendore
Edited by Grant Whytock
Cinematography by Eddie Fitzgerald

Broderick Crawford as Charlie Lupo
Richard Conte as Nick Magellan
Marilyn Maxwell as Iris Palmer
Anne Bancroft as Katherine Lupo
J. Carrol Naish as Ben Dagajanian
Onslow Stevens as Johnny Achilles
Barry Kelley as Robert Frawley
Mike Mazurki as Arnie Wendler
Celia Lovsky as Mama Lupo
Michael Ross as Ed Barnes
Robert Keys as Stan, Katherine Lupo’s boyfriend
Herbert Heyes as James Marshall
Steven Geray as Morris Franklin
William (aka Bill) Phillips as Whitey
Henry Kulky as Gino
Nestor Paiva as Martinelli
Joseph Vitale as Batista
Carl Milletaire as Sumak
Gloria Dadisman as Sumak’s girlfriend
William Forrrest as Paul Williamson
Ian Keith as Waluska
Charles Evans as Judge Kincaid
Mickey Simpson as Leon Hartmann
Tom Powers as District Attorney Rossi
Lee Trent as Ferrari
Leonard Bremen as Larry
John Doucette as Shorty
Frank Ferguson as Dr. Ludlow
Hope Landin (aka Hope Landon) as Mrs. Wesley
Fortunio Bonanova as Senor
Ralph Clanton as the narrator

Distributed by Warner Bros.
Produced by Edward Small Productions, Greene-Rouse Productions

New York Confidential begins with a mob hit on someone named Peter Andratto. He is killed on a New York City street, an event that leads to three murders: Andratto’s and two innocent bystanders. The New York City crime syndicate can’t let Andratto’s death go unpunished, and law enforcement authorities feel the same way about the two innocent bystanders.

The New York crime syndicate, headed by Charlie Lupo, hires a Chicago hit man, Nick Magellan. As a Chicago gangster and an outsider, Nick should be an unknown in New York City. He should thus find it easier to take his prey by surprise and then skip town. Political forces, who start by acting on the side of law enforcement, organize a commission to investigate the murders of the two bystanders and the violent street crime in general. When Nick Magellan arrives in New York, he and Whitey, a driver for the New York City syndicate, tail the object of their hit briefly until Nick can carry out the execution.

(This blog post about New York City Confidential contains spoilers.)

The rest of the film follows the two threads: the actions of the crime syndicate and the investigation by law enforcement. The investigation by law enforcement is not shown much on-screen. Viewers learn about it because of its effects on the members of the crime syndicate and because some in law enforcement cannot resist the financial gain that corruption and bribery can bring. As politicians and members of law enforcement are drawn into the corruption, they sometimes make an appearance on-screen, but the criminals’ conversations and their budding “business” relationships with the people they are bribing are what reveal most often the law enforcement side of the narrative.

One of the details that I find fascinating about the film is that the crime syndicate is headquartered in an office building. The head of the syndicate, Charlie Lupo, has a desk, an intercom, a secretary, a lawyer, and an accountant. At home, he has a servant, Ed Barnes. Barnes acts like a member of the family, which includes Charlie Lupo’s mother and daughter. The servant, in fact, offers a little bit of comic relief. Charlie Lupo is a lot like the business leaders he is bribing. I wonder if this was a subtle commentary on the state of business and white-collar crime in the United States in the 1950s. It makes me think that not much has changed in the white-color criminal underworld.

It’s not law enforcement that brings down Nick Magellan for all the murders that he has committed. It’s his own penchant for violence. (The word penchant is actually a small plot detail that I find amusing.) Eventually, everyone connected with the syndicate knows too much, and hits are ordered on the hit men who have been executing hits for a living. Nick ends as a victim of his own professionalism and expertise.

Anne Bancroft is another reason to see New York Confidential. She is great as the daughter, Katherine Lupo, of the crime syndicate leader. Katherine is a young woman at the start of the film who is realizing what kind of man her father is and the kind of people he does business with. Her part of the story could be called a subplot, but I found her part in the story the most fascinating. She is desperate to escape a life that she never created but one in which she is nonetheless trapped. She even manages to get away briefly and start leading her own life, but her father just can’t stop himself from interfering. Her story, like so much about the film, is tragic and reveals a lot about how far her father will go to exert his control over everything around him.

Did you happen to notice the long list of actors at the start of this blog post? The number of characters in New York Confidential is very confusing at times, and I had trouble keeping track of all of them. The fact that the lines between the criminals, politicians, and law enforcers are blurred repeatedly did not help. The DVD commentary by film historian Alan K. Rode and film writer Kim Morgan filled in many gaps in this regard. They also talk a bit about something that I noticed on first viewing and already mentioned in this blog post: the level of corruption in the white-collar world, past and present.

Morgan and Rode did not seem to have a script or any notes prepared in advance, which makes all the information they provide even more impressive. Their observations about the character actors playing the various parts helped me keep the identities of at least some of the characters straight and added to the fun. My favorite comment (and I paraphrase) comes from Kim Morgan: “Even the servant Ed is a goon!”

I’ll have to see the film and listen to the commentary again. New York Confidential is a tight film noir that shows crime doesn’t pay and isn’t particularly glamorous. And it’s such a satisfying story, even if it does show modern viewers that human nature hasn’t changed too much when it comes to money and power. Seeing it again will give me a chance to keep better track of the corruption on both sides of the law.

2 comments:

  1. This sounds like an interesting film, even though there are a zillion characters. I also like that the Bad Guys' headquarters is in an office building – like you said, that really does sound like an indictment.

    Hey, I know this will appear as self-serving, but three of us in the CMBA are hosting "The Great Villains Blogathon" at the end of May, and I was wondering if you'd like to join us? Kristina at Speakeasy has the details on her site:
    https://hqofk.wordpress.com/2019/03/06/villain-blogathon-2019/

    We'd love to have you join us. :)

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    Replies
    1. I saw information about your blogathon at the CMBA site and you know what my biggest problem is: trying to pick just one Great Villain! I'll give it some more thought and post an idea soon. Thanks!

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