Disappointing take on anti-semitism
SPOILERS AHEAD -- Don't read this unless you've seen the film.
I had heard a great deal about "Crossfire" over the years but had never seen it until recently. I have to admit to being underwhelmed.
"Crossfire," like "Gentleman's Agreement" (also released in 1947, about five months after "Crossfire"), came along at the right time to receive the attention that garnered five Academy Award nominations. Mainstream Hollywood had occasionally done films that touched on anti-semitism in other countries ("Disraeli," "The House of Rothschild," "The Life of Emile Zola," "Mr. Skeffington" -- all from Warner Brothers), but in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, "Crossfire" was the first major American film to acknowledge that anti-semitism was an American problem too. For that, it was, and is, hailed as a breakthrough "social problem" movie.
It isn't surprising that producer Adrian Scott and director Edward Dmytryk were among those singled out by the House Committee on Un-American Activities for investigation into their Communist affiliations and beliefs. "Crossfire" also belies the myth -- largely created by Hollywood from the 1920s through the early '40s -- that all Americans in uniform are uniformly heroic and upholders of all-American ideals. No wonder some conservatives considered such a viewpoint to be unpatriotic and, of course, Communist-inspired.
But the real problem with "Crossfire" -- especially after 60 years of additional revelations, cinematic and otherwise, about anti-semitism in the United States -- is that the film doesn't explain "why." The most interesting character in "Crossfire" is the bigoted murderer, but we learn hardly anything about the source of his prejudice, or why it drives him to murder. Montgomery's hatred of Jews simply provides a means of solving the crime.
(Interesting that Montgomery is shot trying to escape the police. One wonders if Detective Finley really had adequate evidence to convict him in a trial. A decent lawyer might have gotten him freed, or at least pleaded him down to manslaughter.)
As many posters have noted, the source novel for "Crossfire" -- "The Brick Foxhole," by Richard Brooks -- was about a murder motivated by anti-homosexual bigotry. Prior to the late 1950s, the Production Code prohibited even subtle references to homosexuality (although some filmmakers managed to work gay "subtext" into their movies -- even in "Crossfire"). It certainly was easier, and more acceptable to moviegoers of that period, for the makers of "Crossfire" to equate anti-semitism with anti-Catholicism and other religious/ethnic prejudice, than to try and argue for tolerance of homosexuals.
Perhaps one shouldn't expect too much too soon. At least "Crossfire" broke the Hollywood ice about anti-semitism in the United States. But viewed from a perspective of an additional six decades' worth of films about the subject, "Crossfire" is now more of an historic relic than an enduring social comment. Whatever its strengths as a film noir thriller -- and those should not be discounted -- as a critique of bigotry it's simplistic and shallow.