Film noir doesn’t get much murkier than Robert Siodmak’s 1948 New York-set immigrant story, back in cinemas as part of a retrospective of his work at the BFI. And anti-heroes don’t come much more morally bankrupt than Marty Rome (Richard Conte), a cop-killer and petty thief riddled with bullets and recovering in a prison hospital. The only thing Marty cares about is his girl, Teena (Debra Paget), the kind of apple-cheeked innocent that crooks in classic crime movies always seem to go for. There’s a cop on his case, too: Candella (Victor Mature), who grew up in the same neighbourhood but managed to stay on the straight and narrow.
‘Cry of the City’ is hardly original, and the script has a tendency to wander off the point: a subplot involving a crooked lawyer and a safe-full of stolen diamonds never quite comes into focus. But the performances are strong – Conte captures his character’s moral balancing act perfectly, while Shelley Winters has a memorable cameo as a scatterbrained prostitute – and the details of place and period are squalidly convincing.
A German immigrant himself, it’s Siodmak’s sympathetic interest in day-to-day life in the Italian-American ghetto of Hell’s Kitchen that makes ‘Cry of the City’ feel so ahead of its time. Rome’s family – his protective, minestrone-serving Mama (Mimi Aguglia) and tearaway little brother Tony (Tommy Cook) – could have come straight from a Scorsese movie.