That image…

The-Big-Combo-EndingRecognize this? Of course you do. This is on the cover of every book about film noir, it’s the cover photo on every Facebook film noir page and it has become one of the most iconic images ever. So why does hardly anyone know what film it’s from and who those people are? Doesn’t make any sense, does it? Well, that’s Jean Wallace and her real-life husband at the time, Cornel Wilde and the movie is The Big Combo (1955), directed by Joseph H. Lewis. The reason why this is such an iconic image but not an iconic film is because The Big Combo is an average noir. There’s a villain, Mr Brown, played by the wonderful Richard Conte, whom I adore. There’s a femme fatale, who is possibly the nicest femme fatale ever. So nice in fact, that one could argue that there’s no real femme fatale in this. And of course, there’s the detective. All of whom get tangled up in a ‘Who is this Alicia woman everyone keeps talking about and what does Mr Brown have to do with her?’ puzzle. I personally love it, but effective as it is, it doesn’t come close to the giants like Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, The Big Sleep and… you know the rest. Those ones. The big ones. And it’s not the Plan 9 from Outer Space of noirs either. It’s just a nice little movie, not too remarkable nor too forgettable. So why must that image pop up on every Google search when you type in ‘film noir’? Because of its star. No, not the beautiful Jean Wallace. Not the dashing Cornel Wilde. Not even Richard Conte. The star of The Big Combo is John Alton, the cinematographer. If any movie has ever been dominated by its cinematography, it’s this one. It’s haunting, it’s captivating and the smoke fills the screen. It’s the embodiment of film noir. And considering it’s not a bad film at all, and that it’s not even well-known amongst classic film buffs who usually know everything that happened in Hollywood prior to 1960 and considering how that image is so famous, I hereby declare The Big Combo to be the most underrated movie ever made. Where do I sign?

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