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    Wednesday, September 06, 2006

    Movie: The Big Combo (1955)

    Now this is the B-movie in all its wild, unfettered glory. Crazed energy, raw emotion, and plot twists that make you question what you just saw. Cornel Wilde as a big city cop taking down a hoodlum primarily because he’s sexually obsessed with the hoodlum’s moll. Richard Conte as said hoodlum, able to drive people around the bend simply by staring at them. Lee van Cleef and Earl Holliman as a pair of Mutt-and-Jeff gunsels who live together. Helene Stanton as a burlesque queen who looks like a burlesque queen. Yowza. And Brian Donlevy with one of the all-time great death scenes. (This is the second corker I’ve seen recently featuring both Donlevy and Helen Walker. They should have worked together more.)

    Joseph Lewis (Gun Crazy) directed. More importantly, it was written by Philip Yordan, one of the great mystery men of Hollywood. Yordan has an impressive roster of credits, including films like Dillinger, Detective Story, and Johnny Guitar, and he won an Academy Award for 1954’s Broken Lance. But throughout his career he made a practice of hiring “surrogates” to flesh out his scripts, and in the 1950s he frequently served as a front for blacklisted writers. To this day, it’s unclear which if any of the films that bear his name he actually wrote. The most extensive interview with him, in Patrick McGilligan’s Backstory 2, features a “Philip Yordan anti-filmography” in which McGilligan attempts to determine who is actually responsible for some of the screenplays.

    In the McGilligan interview, Yordan says he doesn’t care for The Big Combo. I’d say he’s not the best judge of his work, but the movie may not even be his work, so who knows?

    When I went to rent the movie online, I was presented with two possible matches, Combo and Big Wind on Campus. I don’t know about you, but I had to know more about that latter title. One previous renter noted that BWoC “is the exact same movie as F.A.R.T. The Movie. Literally. They just changed the name ... I wish someone would have told me.”

    It’s that plaintive note at the end that got me.

    Making matters worse, the IMDb lists F.A.R.T. The Movie as Artie, making no mention of BWoC at all. I’m afraid the renter above may end up with the movie a third time and do himself a mischief.


    Words cannot describe my admiration for Combo, from the John Alton cinematography to the rampant sexuality of the whole piece. How Lewis ever got away with the Earl Holliman-Lee Van Cleef homosexuality ("I can't swallow no more salami")--not to mention the Dick Conte-Jean Wallace fellatio--is a mystery for the ages.


    LOL. I had forgotten that line, Ivan. I never forgot "They'll be looking for us in all the closets", however.


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