Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death has a slow and steady burn, just like the protagonist played by Victor Mature. He's a serial criminal with a big heart who tried to turn straight when he became a family man. But Ben Hecht's script has him continually losing out, either through his own mistakes or his shady, unreliable associates. Mature is excellent, and the all-location shooting provides a realistic ambiance. Richard Widmark plays one of the greatest villains in all film, a cackling, psychotic killer, and actors have been copying this performance him ever since. Colleen Gray gives a bright, positive and convincing performance. The supporting cast is outstanding.
Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends features a great story by Ben Hecht, outstanding art direction, and most of all a great performance by Dana Andrews. He's a stoic, hard cop, seething with rage against criminals and often abusing his power. He's a driven man, but what drives him isn't revealed until late in the film. That kind of restraint seems to be a trademark of Otto Preminger. He is smooth and sometimes subtle, letting his audience figure some things out. This is a gritty tale of New York's underworld and of a man's personal redemption.
Anatole Litvak's Sorry, Wrong Number is a great suspense film and crime melodrama. Lucille Fletcher's script is chock full of colorful characters, multiple plot lines, and layers of complexity that are revealed as it moves along. Burt Lancaster is excellent and Barbara Stanwyck outstanding, at the top of her game. The film is shot beautifully, with wonderful panning shots and other camera movements that heighten the tension and provide context and perspective. The close-ups, shadows and other lighting tricks are film noir at its finest.
Robert Siodmak's Cry of the City is a great noir crime thriller and human drama. The movie manages to develop many different characters, so that we feel we know them and understand their point of view. It's set in New York's Italian immigrant community, and a great touch of realism is that many of the supporting cast are real Italians speaking genuine Italian. Victor Mature and especially Richard Conte do a fine job. They are genuine and believable and manage to pull off a morality tale without making it black and white, keeping the nuance and complexity of real people.
John Farrow's The Big Clock is an outstanding crime drama and one of the most beautiful films of its era, with sumptuous Art Deco sets and great cinematography. Art plays a part in the plot, too, which ratchets up the tension and complexity in very satisfying ways. Ray Milland is superb and surrounded with an exceptional supporting cast. Charles Laughton plays the affected, oily and disagreeable media magnate and George MacCready his smooth and efficient deputy, both fine performances.