A friend today posted a review of “Schindler’s List” which he had just seen for the first time, 30-years after the acclaimed movie’s release. My friend talked about the film’s haunting power, its narrative about one man’s brave quest to save a number of Holocaust victims from death. It’s based on a true story and Schindler holds a special place in Israel for his efforts.
Stephen Spielberg said he made the film to honor its hero, Oscar Schindler and remember all the Holocaust victims, those who were saved and the many who weren’t. The film — with current headlines about neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rallies in the U.S. — seems more relevant than ever and leave us wondering: “Have we forgotten?”
Wounds are still raw from the ugly Charlottesville KKK rally that claimed one life and left our-then so-called president issuing comments about “perpetrators on both sides.” Antisemitism and racism continue as headline stories more than 75-years after millions gave their lives in a war that should have ended those injustices.
Obviously they didn’t get it done. There have been a few “message” movies that dealt with those still festering issues. Many people used to insist those issues no longer exist. I don’t think most people would say that now except the many ostriches with their heads in the sand.
The other night I revisited the movie “Crossfire” which was released by RKO in 1947, the year before the more acclaimed “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was released. This drew public attention and “surprise” about antisemitism in post-war America.
“Crossfire” is an excellent, understated film about this virulent subject matter. Its director, Edward Dmytryk (a victim of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous blacklist used the plot of a small group of GI’s, just mustered out of the war and trying to fit back into society.
They encounter a friendly civilian at a bar who listens to their complaints about readjustment and offers sympathy where others just tune them out. One of the GI’s — lonely for his wife and exhibiting PTSD symptoms — is befriended by the civilian who invites him home for drinks and quiet conversation.
The other soldiers — uninvited — crowd into the apartment and lap up the booze. One of them, a very obnoxious vet — sneers at men who avoided combat, yet who got rich running banks and law practices. He looks at one of his confused pals and yells: “Jews, man! You know those people! They get rich while we fight and die. Jews!”
The civilian referred to as “Sammy,” is tolerant. Veteran actor Sam Levene who played many similar roles is perhaps overly patient with the bigoted GI. This is Robert Ryan in one of his most chilling villain roles.
The secondary plot has Sammy murdered by one of the GIs. The PTSD soldier is fingered as the suspect but we know better. Robert Young, in a pre “Father Knows Best” role, plays the tough, weary cop who sifts through all the alibis.
This is one of Robert Mitchum’s early films. He is excellent as the soft-spoken, no-nonsense veteran who is suspicious of the venomous Ryan character. Ryan is ultimately outed as he rants about “those people.” He gets what he deserves and is gunned down during a police chase on a rainy New Orleans Street. The final scene with Young and Mitchum in conversation about Ryan’s demons ends quietly as they go their separate ways, both wondering what World War Two was really about.
In an early 1970s interview, Robert Mitchum remembered “Crossfire.” He was in Boston shooting “The Friends Of Eddie Coyle,” so I had the good fortune to spend a long afternoon into the evening over drinks with Mitch.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Mitchum recalled what it was like working in the 1940s, especially with “the Blacklist hovering over Hollywood. He said pals urge him not to do “Crossfire” because it would hurt his career.
Mitch grinned at me “You know what that was all about, Don’t ya?” I nodded. Mitchum continued, “There were so many hateful bastards — there were always dissing Negroes (he looked at me and I nodded an ‘okay’) and Jews. They always thought I was with them. I had a few fights and dumped a few jobs because I couldn’t stand the two-faced bastards.”
I looked at Mitch and confirmed: “Not much has changed.” He shook his head sadly and ordered another round.
That was almost 55 years ago. Little has changed, neither on the silver screen or in reality.