• Big Combo, The

    Released by: Alpha Video
    Released on: 10/26/2004
    Director: Joseph Lewis
    Cast: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace, Robert Middleton, Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman, Helen Walker
    Year: 1955
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    The Movie:
    Directed by Joseph Lewis (of Gun Crazy) with absolutely gorgeous black and white cinematography by John Alton (T-Men, Slightly Scarlet), this later entry crime-noir still manages to prove to be a disturbing and gripping thriller.

    A police detective named Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde of Constantine And The Cross) is obsessed with bringing down a shifty mobster named Mr. Brown (Richard Conte of The Godfather Trilogy and Tony Arzenta). While at first it isn’t immediately clear why he’s so obsessed with putting Mr. Brown behind bars, it’s soon revealed that it’s related to his equally obsessive occupation with the gorgeous Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace, Corel Wilde’s real life wife!), Mr. Brown’s dame. Lowell is attracted to Brown not because he’s a nice guy or because he treats her well – this is definintely not the case in their relationship – but because of his power.

    When Diamond gets in trouble from his superior officers in the police department for going way over budget in his quest, Diamond decides to turn his case up a bit and he starts shaking down Brown’s employees for information. He finds out that Brown may have been responsible for the death of his first wife and he hopes to use this information against him. Sadly for Diamon, Brown’s two main thugs, Fante (Lee Van Cleef of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly) and Mingo (Earl Holliman of Gunfight At The OK Corral), take the witnesses and stoolies out of the picture before Diamond can get much out of them.

    Susan attempts to take her own life when she can’t take the pressure anymore, and though she survives, this in turn causes Brown to set his sights on Diamond. More worried about the bad guys getting ahold of his occaisonal lady friend, Rita (Helene Stanton), a woman of loose morals. Once Diamond is able to convince Susan to help him out a little bit, he decides to move forward full throttle and force Brown to a final confrontation.

    While the plot is pretty typical double crossing cat and mouse stuff, the movie has a mean streak running through it that really brings this one up a few notches. Having an interesting cast as it does really helps things a lot but there’s this sense of evil that permeates the whole movie, the good guys and the bad guys, that makes The Big Combo more than just a typical crime noir. There are all manner of sexual innuendos in the script, and a torture scene as well making this movie pretty strong stuff by the standards of the day.

    The fact that all of this occurs in some of the moodiest looking sets one can imagine ensures that the movie has a creepy effect to it that again suggests something sinister below the surface. Shadows and light play a huge role in the look of the film, and the lighting makes the low budget sets on which the film was shot look far more intimidating than they would have been were they lit without the shadows and contrasts in mind.


    Alpha’s release of The Big Combo looks surprisingly good for a low budget public domain release. The contrast levels are dead on – the blacks, which play such a huge part in the look of the film, are stable and quite dark and the middle and lighter tones look properly balanced as well. Some of the darker scenes do exhibit some mild compression artifacts but they’re not a constant and prove to be only a minor annoyance, if that. Print damage, while present, is limited to a few nicks and scratches here and there, nothing too severe.

    The film is presented in a serviceable Dolby Digital Mono mix. There are no alternate language dubs or subtitles available of any kind. There are a few scenes that do allow some hiss to come through but overall, for a low budget movie fast approaching its fiftieth birthday, this mix sounds okay. Dialogue is problem free save for one or two slightly muffled lines, and the background music and sound effects are reasonably clear and free of any issues.

    There are no extra features on this budget DVD.

    The Final Word:

    The Big Combo has a great cast of B actors and no shortage of inferred sadism and perversion. The photography brings the sets and shadows to life creating a tense mood and a great look. Alpha’s DVD looks and sounds ok and is worth checking out in spite of the non-existent extra features, especially at the low selling price.