It’s Pride Month and, once again, I give you one of my favorites ‘are-they-I-don’t-know-it-was-the-fifties-nah-they-gotta-be-look-at-them-it’s-way-too-obvious’ LGBT couples from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The impossibly cool gangsters Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman), from The Big Combo (1955, dir. Joseph H. Lewis).
I’ve talked about The Big Combo here, here and here, so I won’t bore you again, but here’s the thing. It remains, in my opinion, one of the most exciting, most exhilarating films noir of all time, as well as one of the most complete and well-rounded. I could watch it over and over and over and you will not be surprised to know that I have. Part of what makes it so unique is, of course, what they managed to get past the censors: Mr Brown (Richard Conte) going down on Susan (Jean Wallace) while the camera remains on her face comes to mind, and then there’s Fante and Mingo. Brown’s henchmen are quite clearly a gay couple, and everyone seems to be aware of and OK with that – in the film’s opening scene, Susan hits Mingo, then looks directly at Fante to see his reaction. There are plenty of innuendos, logically (‘The cops will be looking for us in every closet.’), they sleep naked next to each other though in separate beds (even Lucy and Ricky couldn’t get away with that one!) and they seem to always be in synch, no matter what they do. The fact that they are gangsters also goes against old-fashioned expectations and I find that refreshing. I’ve always loved these two and I love that them being a couple wasn’t a joke, in the same way so many characters were in the early days of Hollywood. Everyone in their circle respects Fante and Mingo. And we respect Joseph H. Lewis for it.