The Big Combo (1955)

“The Most Startling Story the Screen Has Ever Dared Reveal!” Although the title sounds like a meal deal at McDonald’s or Burger King, The Big Combo is actually a low-key, tightly paced film noir directed by Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy) with superb cinematography by John Alton that features Cornel Wilde as obsessed cop “Leonard Diamond” out to get sleazy crime boss “Mr. Brown” (Richard Conte, in training for his future role as sleazy crime boss “Barzini” from The Godfather). Things start to get complicated when Diamond starts falling for Brown’s girlfriend “Susan Lowell” (Jean Wallace). Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman portray Mr. Brown’s two dimwitted thugs “Fante” and “Mingo” (who seem to have an extremely cozy relationship to say the least!). Also look for Helene Stanton (the mother of Dr. Drew Pinsky from Celebrity Rehab fame, believe it or not!) as Diamond’s ill-fated stripper girlfriend “Rita” and Helen Walker as Mr. Brown’s “insane” wife “Alicia.” As “Mr. Brown,” Conte gets the opportunity to deliver some great lines such as “I’m trying to run an impersonal business. Killing is very personal. Once it gets started, it’s hard to stop.” The sadistic Brown even removes the hearing aid of one of his hapless victims “Joe McClure” (Brian Donlevy) before whacking him (“I’m gonna give you a break … I’m gonna fix it so you don’t hear the bullets”) and also delivers a box of dynamite to the two goons, Fante and Mingo (they think it’s a box full of money for them to split!). I enjoy the Casablanca vibe of the final scene. Jack Palance was reportedly originally hired as “Mr. Brown” but had a falling out with producers and actually suggested that Conte replace him. Born Jean Walasek, Wallace was married to actor Franchot Tone from 1941 to 1948 and to Wilde from 1951 to 1981. 

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