Movie review: New York Confidential (1955)

What did you watch? The 1955 mobster melodrama New York Confidential.

Was there some kind of series, “(city) Confidential?” This is not related to the well regarded Kansas City Confidential.

Likely because I watched and typed about Broderick Crawford in Scandal Sheet, YouTube had NY Confidential ready on the queue. Crawford is Lupo, part of the Syndicate, that kind of capitalized term for organized crime. He and everyone in at the top of their region in the Syndicate talk & act like boring corporate boardroom businessmen. He’s polite and cordial for the most part, and laments how many dummies work for him at lower levels in their various criminal activities. This must be a commentary on a thin blurring line between actual business and crime, especially because the heat on the federal level is closing in on the Syndicate’s actual seemingly legit business leanings.

(Think of The Informant!, about the top of big business in the food industry nonchalantly colluding to price fixing, where every one of us is a victim of fraud on massive scale just by having breakfast. That’s like this, but without mobster henchmen pulling off hits or discussing protection rackets.)

There’s a sloppy execution hit with innocent bystanders killed, a reminder to the criminal businessmen of the petty lowlife nonsense that can drag them down. So Lupo has another mob group send in Nick Magellan, played by Richard Conte, who we saw in the Roger Corman sinkhole Highway Dragnet. Magellan smoothly knocks off the goons who took part in the sloppy hit mentioned earlier, and Lupo is impressed by Magellan’s cool attitude and semi-literacy. Magellan also strikes up a rapport with Kathy, Lupo’s daughter (played Anne Bancroft), despite his shooing off her date one evening when another good attacks Lupo one night. Kathy resents her father, especially when Lupo suggests her clean boyfriend take a job in one of his businesses. Kathy leaves one night and assumes a regular person identity working at a doctor’s office while Lupo is in DC trying to encourage lobbyists and government officials to speed up a business deal for the Syndicate.

There’s drama between mob goons fighting it out – Magellan finds Kathy but agrees to let her be. Magellan is roughed up and then roughs up the people who sent goons to rough him up. I guess we’re wondering with him why he’s in such a racket and can’t be with someone like Kathy? Meanwhile one of the Syndicate guys is targeted by the feds or something, it threatens to blow up the normal business event on the Syndicate’s to-do list, so Lupo & the rest of the gangsters masquerading as businessmen agree to have the member executed. Magellan offers to take the member out but Lupo decides that Magellan is too smart for that, and to leave it to the other goons.

So three goons to go the hotel where the member is hiding and take the member out. Getting out of the hotel with its slow moving elevators and growing number of witnesses and police presence in the lobby becomes an ordeal with more innocent casualties, with one of the goons ready to spill the beans and point to Lupo and the rest of the Syndicate.

The hotel escape for the goons is the most exciting part of this movie and none of the main characters are involved, which is kind of a disappointment, but it highlights how the you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Magellan on behalf on Lupo to take out the goons, but is too late for one of them, who goes straight to a judge’s home in the evening to spill the beans. Again, a bunch of dummies, the hitman thinks the judge can absolve him for the crime for a deal. (Can that happen? He’s plainly named a judge, not a federal prosecutor or lawyer.) Lupo is fingered and the hit is too explosive for any friendly government official to look the other way this time. The Syndicate orders a hit, and suggests Magellan. Things don’t go well for everyone, starting with Kathy committing suicide off screen after news gets out that her dad is a wanted man, and the Syndicate not wanting any witnesses regardless of how well Magellan carries out his instructions.

Crime don’t pay, the narration reminds us.

It’s a downer ending but is it noir if it’s about criminals from the getgo doing criminal things? I don’t think Magellan or Lupo ever find out about Kathy’s death, which (as far as we know) isn’t caused by any criminal as a warning to Lupo or at Magellan’s hands like Lupo. It just ends with death. Does Magellan know he’s about to get his as a result of being a loose end the Syndicate can’t take a chance on? There’s some missed opportunities there to tie these things together or maybe that’s too dark a tale to tell for a story about an endless loop of violence and death if you’re in that realm, no matter how smart you are.

I enjoyed this one. It’s a little heavy on the melodrama with Kathy, there’s some missed opportunities with poetic justice, I’m a little confused about the polite society of mobsters at the top. Or maybe that’s the point, where they’re indistinguishable from the normal business types they’re working with. Anyway, it’s still a bit of fun, and Richard Conte is great. I forgot that he was in Highway Dragnet, likely because that film is pretty forgettable – he’s such a strong villain in The Big Combo (I don’t know if I’ve ever covered that here) that I’d think I’d recognize him in anything once I’d see him. He also starred in a number of movies featuring Frank Sinatra, including the original Ocean’s 11, and had one of his last roles in The Godfather. There’s a number of movies that I see on his wiki entry that I recognize from Youtube recommendations so hopefully we’ll see more of him in upcoming entries.

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