Thomas Wictor

The snakes are loose

The snakes are loose

One of my all-time favorite films is Crossfire. It’s got everything I love in art: surreality, beautiful women who break your heart, insane authority figures always on the edge of violence, the sense of everything spinning out of control, and fantastic writing: “The snakes are loose.”

The story is about homicidal bigotry, but that’s not why I love this movie. Just between you and me, I’m sick of “social justice” messages being endlessly sledgehammered into my skull. Here’s my own counsel: If a bigot harasses you, laugh at him. If he assaults you, smash his face. Enough of this swooning frailty and blubbering about “hurtfulness.” Bigots fear strength. Do you want bigots to love you or fear you?

To me Crossfire is actually the plight of a man who thinks that either he’s losing his mind or everybody else is. It’s the story of my life.

Yes, the movie’s tagline of “Hate is like a loaded gun!” is true. But when a person hates enough to commit murder, he’s too far gone for a film to change his mind. Screenwriters, directors, and actors give themselves far too much credit for being influential. While the film specifically addresses antisemitism, Robert Ryan’s “Monty” is actually a far more universal archetype. I’ve known many Montys. Plenty of them thought they were blameless and enlightened.

The scenes and dialog in Crossfire are truly unique. The best parts of the movie show the experiences of Mitchell, a disoriented soldier accused of murdering Samuels. We don’t know what’s wrong with Mitchell. Is he drunk? Does he suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder? This film noir was made in 1947, when the US was still reeling from the carnage of World War II.

Mitchell tells his story to Sergeant Keely, but it doesn’t make sense. At one point Mitchell says he looked up to see Monty standing over him.

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“You’re doing all right, kid. You’re doing all right,” the repulsive Monty says with exceptional menace. What does he mean? It’s never explained. But I know that face. I know Monty’s filthy soul.

To escape Monty, Mitchell staggers from the building. He next finds himself in a dance hall sitting with the utterly luscious, inconceivably tragic Gloria Grahame, one of the hottest women in filmdom.

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This is Ginny. Her moods change second by second. When his earnestness gets to be too much for her, she flees outside, where he joins her. Though she’s hard as a diamond and very unhappy, she lets him kiss her, and then she gives him the key to her apartment, telling him that he can go there and sleep. She’ll be home in a few hours to cook him spaghetti.

She seems devastated after he leaves.

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At Ginny’s apartment Mitchell is awoken by someone knocking on the door. He lets in a sardonic weirdo, and the film’s most otherworldly dialog commences. The first person to speak is the weirdo, who walks in and looks around.

Hasn’t she come home yet?

I don’t know. I don’t think so. You mean Ginny, don’t you?

Who do you mean?

I guess I mean Ginny. You belong here or something?

Or something. How long have you been waiting?

I don’t know, I just woke up. I don’t even know what time it is. I got a key somewhere she gave me.

Yeah, I know. I saw you with her at the joint.

Who are you?

I’m a man who’s waiting for her. Is that all right?

Sure.

Want some coffee?

Sure.

I’m her husband. I’m Ginny’s husband. I was a soldier. I conked out. You’re wondering about this setup, aren’t you?

Yeah, I guess I am.

Well, ask her, then. She was a tramp when I married her. I didn’t know it at first, but I knew it before we married. That’s one reason I enlisted, to get away from her. But I couldn’t wait to get out and come back to her. When I did, she didn’t want me. Funny, isn’t it? But I still want her. I still love her. You know what I just told you? That’s a lie.

I see.

I’m not her husband. I met her the same as you did, at the joint. I can’t keep away from her. I wanna marry her, and she won’t have me.

I see.

Do you believe that? Well, it’s a lie too. I don’t love her, and I don’t wanna marry her. She makes good money there. You got any money on you?

No.

She makes good money sometimes. Hey, do you suppose I could be a soldier? Maybe I could in the regular army. Make a good rating and make some dough by the next war.

Why not?

Why not? Because I don’t want to. What do I wanna be a soldier for? I’m too restless. I don’t know what I wanna do. You gonna wait for her?

I don’t know.

Well, wait for her if you want to. As soon as we’ve had some coffee, I’m gonna take a nap. Got any cigarettes?

Mitchell tells Keely all of this, speaking complete nonsense as though he can’t control his mouth.

I remembered what you said when I left you, Keeley. You said, “Meet me at the hotel at midnight.” I said, “Why?” You said, “Meet me. I wanna show you Washington. It’s educational. Maybe you’ll learn something. Meet me, or I’ll murder you.” Suddenly, the whole thing was screwy. I decided to get out of there.

Then Mitchell grabs his own head with both hands to keep it from exploding.

What’s happening? Has everything suddenly gone crazy? I don’t mean just this. I mean everything. Or is it just me?

And Keely gives him a spectacular, relaxed, smiling rejoinder.

Oh, it’s not just you. The snakes are loose. Anybody can get them. I get them myself, but they’re friends of mine.

Without knowing it I became Keely. I still get the snakes, but now they’re friends of mine. Nothing terrifies or confuses me. This makes life easier, no question. Even so, I can’t recommend my school of hard knocks.

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When a police detective and Mitchell’s wife visit Ginny, the sardonic weirdo tells them about Mitchell. They leave; he stands on the stairs and blathers about Ginny long after nobody’s there to hear him.

I’m her husband. We’ve been separated, but I still love her. I don’t want a divorce. I don’t know what to do. We made a lot of plans, but they all fell through. I’ll be around if you want me.

All my plans fell through too. If you want me, I’ll be around. Still talking.


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