VOD film review: The Big Combo (1955)
Ivan Radford | On 27, Nov 2020
Director: Joseph H Lewis
Cast: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Jean Wallace
Watch The Big Combo online in the UK: Amazon Prime
Where does a professional quest for justice end and a personal passion begin? That’s the balance being navigated by police detective Diamond (Cornel Wilde) in 1955’s cracking The Big Combo. What’s striking, though, is that in this black-and-white of clear-cut morality, Diamond doesn’t think twice about the difference between the two – he just charges forward with a determination that’s almost fanatical, an epitome of the film’s gripping appeal: this is a noir thriller where each character is as complex as the next.
Diamond’s obsession is Mr Brown (Richard Conte), a crime boss on the rise who appears to have hit top of the heap. Played by Richard Conte with a ferociously cruel streak, he’s a fantastic – and fantastically horrible – villain, confident in his own clout and ability to avoid the law. He spends his days bullying his henchmen and half-charming, half-intimidating his girlfriend, Susan (Jean Wallace), with whom Diamond is in love.
What ensues is a love triangle that’s a brutal as it is absorbing, and Philip Yordan’s script makes up for familiar narrative beats by drawing his central trio with wonderful complexity. They’re caught by DoP John Alton with smoky, shadow lighting that emphasises their far-from-straight-cut ethics, surrounding them with gorgeously choreographed fog and shadows.
The script cuts through that atmosphere with razor-sharp dialogue – “If they take you to the police, shoot yourself in the head. It’ll make everything simpler.” – and director Joseph Lewis crafts some excellent set pieces, including one standout interrogation sequence involving a hearing aid.
The result is a veritable classic, mixing a cool, swooning soundtrack with a fatalistic mood and a magnetic cast – and one of the most striking final shots in movie history.
The Big Combo is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.