Chicago Confidential (MGM LE Collection) Review
Chicago Confidential is almost yawningly basic, the sort of picture that resembles a large handful or more of others. Those well versed in organized crime dramas from the 1950s (and the television show The Untouchables) may feel like they've seen Chicago Confidential even prior to watching it, and then have little recollection of any distinguishing characteristics after the viewing. It's not bad and, at just 73 minutes, the experience is painless, but the film is doing little more than gnawing at the bones of its subgenre. The main draw - an interesting cast that includes Brian Keith, Beverly Garland, Dick Foran and Elisha Cook Jr. - is hampered by the bland direction of Sidney Salkow. A persistent narrator tries to add some docudrama intrigue but this misguided device instead seems like a cheap way to cut corners of exposition and plotting. When Walter Winchell was brought in to serve a similar purpose on The Untouchables a couple of years later it proved to be much more effective.
Though it's several minutes in until he begins to feel like a part of the film, Brian Keith plays an Illinois prosecutor with his sights set on the governor's mansion. It's a little funny that the character is sometimes treated like a crusader when there are multiple occasions that make him out to be more ambitious than dedicated. Keith is contacted early on by a man desperate to see him right away. Before the meeting takes place the man is intercepted by the mob, murdered, and deposited into the river. The set-up will pin the killing on a union leader (Foran) but not before a minor complication involving Cook, described by the narrator as a derelict named Candymouth Duggan. Cook is good here, overdoing his portrait of a drunk who'd been kicked out of the union but probably more fun and interesting to watch than anyone else (with the possible exception of Garland). Attorney Keith thinks Foran's union leader is guilty and pushes for a conviction. When he finally sees the light, it seems like it might be too late. Those involved in the mob cover-up begin dropping like flies.
The last half or so of Chicago Confidential picks up a bit, just as the narrator suddenly gets a welcome case of laryngitis. Keith is far too restrained here and seems lost without any cause to brood. Garland, though, as the romantic interest of Foran and the real catalyst for getting Keith involved again, is lovely to look at and effective in her role. A couple of gangster heavies, played by Jack Lambert and Anthony George (who'd soon enough be one of Ness' T-men on The Untouchables), are textbook but kind of fun anyway, and certainly more intriguing than the nondescript Douglas Kennedy as their boss. A quick supporting turn by Buddy Lewis as a nightclub impersonator also deserves mention. His character is actually quite important in the central frame and Lewis' performance on stage is impressively full of sweat and unease as he tries to nonetheless continue his act.
Unimaginative framing and storytelling really do Chicago Confidential in but it does have some nice moments of tension to appreciate. The villains, indeed, are sufficiently amoral and lacking in any indication of humanity. Their way of covering their tracks is to simply kill almost everyone who cannot be trusted. The ultimate downfall for them is, thus, telling since it involves a departure from that philosophy. They've scared a testifying witness (Beverly Tyler) but still allowed her to live, a move that comes back to bite them twice. The initial threatening of this witness is one of the more dramatic and visually striking sequences in the film. It's disappointing that little else rises above TV-level visuals and narrative complexities.
The MGM Limited Edition Collection disc is a single-layered DVD-R that presents the film in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen televisions. It's a progressive transfer. Detail is acceptable and not filled with as much grain as, for example, the MGM disc of The Captive City. Dirt or damage is never an issue. Contrast, while still favoring some greenishness, is also not bad. What's most disappointing is the prevalent ghosting seen in the little halos ringing out in medium and long shots. I'd read about this ghosting being present in earlier MGM made-on-demand discs but this is the first time it's actually occurred on something I was reviewing. It's definitely distracting if you're looking for or at it, though I suppose a CRT display might show it less. Click this link to see an unaltered screen capture that shows the haloing, particularly around the actor's right ear and right sleeve of his coat near the elbow.
Audio is clear and fine, not hampered by any hiss or similar problems. Subtitles, as with all of these DVD-R releases, are completely absent.
There are no special features on this release.