The Big Combo
Police Lt. Leonard Diamond is on a personal crusade to bring down sadistic gangster Mr. Brown. He’s also dangerously obsessed with Brown’s girlfriend, his captive lover. His main objective as a detective is to uncover who “Alicia” is but cannot immediately find out from Brown or his girl. Mr. Brown later captures Diamond against his will in a role reversal, grilling the Lieutenant under duress as Brown previously underwent a lie detector test in the police station. Brown’s hoods get Diamond intoxicated against his will and attempt to frame him in front of his boss as an irresponsible drunk. However, Diamond’s boss believes his truthful explanation and the investigation continues.
Diamond next learns through one of Brown’s past accomplices that Alicia was actually Brown’s previous wife. He witnessed a fight they had on a boat off the coast of Portugal. The accomplice suspects that Alicia was murdered and then strapped to the boat’s anchor and permanently submerged. However, he only knows that he never saw Alicia again-so it’s not definite this is what actually happened. Diamond then inquisitions a Swede, Mr. Dryer, who was the skipper of that boat (but now operates an antiques store as a front-bankrolled by Brown). Dryer denies involvement, then receives an anonymous phone call after Diamond has left. Suspecting he’s now a target of a hit since the “caller” simmply hangs up, Mr. Dryer arms himself and leaves through the back door. However, this doesn’t prevent him from being murdered within seconds after he closes the door.
It turns out Brown was knowledgeable about Diamond’s visit to Mr. Dryer, but his intent was not to kill but just to apprehend him. His accomplice Joe who was originally instructed not to arm himself tacitly admits “he had no other choice” and it becomes clear Joe went against Brown’s prior instructions. When Diamond discovers Dryer’s note in a lockbox referring to a ship’s log (which apparently has incriminating evidence against Brown), he returns to the antique store but finds that Brown is already waiting there for him. Brown knows what he’s looking for but took the liberty to burn the ship’s log since he now owns 100% of the antique store’s inventory.
Diamond then confronts Brown’s girl who is lost in thought listening to a live performance of passionate classical piano music (her refuge from the domineering Brown). He urges her to leave Brown but Susan says she can’t do it. Diamond then admits he loves her, gives her a photo of Brown and Alicia together on the boat along with an unidentified man and promptly leaves. Susan has a change of heart and finally confronts Brown about his wife. Brown claims his wife is still alive in Sicily, Italy and now wants to come back to the States. However, he admits that Alicia effectively left him for “Grazzi” (apparently the unidentified man in the picture) whom she is “living with” in Sicily.
Brown next orders a hit on Diamond, however his accomplices enter Diamond’s apartment in the evening thinking he’s in there. In fact his burlesque dancer girlfriend was coincidentally let in by the floor attendant (Diamond wasn’t there) so she’s murdered instead. The next morning Susan tells Diamond what’s she’s learned from Brown. But Diamond picks up on the fact that the updated “Sicilian photo” of Alicia Susan shows him has a telling error-snow is on the ground. This leads Diamond to some additional clues to now suspect Brown didn’t kill Alicia but his boss Grazzi instead. A blow up of the “Sicilian photo” reveals a highway sign that leads Diamond to where Alicia lives. Diamond confronts “Anna Lee Jackson” there who breaks down when he shows her the past boat photo.
Brown’s right-hand man, the hard-of-hearing Joe McClure, plots with gangsters Fante and Mingo to overthrow Mr. Brown, but he ends up getting killed himself because Fante and Mingo just initially feigned their loyalty. McClure’s hearing aid, in an earlier scene, is used to torture detective Diamond with amplified sound (so as not to leave marks). Diamond later gets Susan to help recruit Alicia to incriminate Brown. They are successful in getting her consent for cooperation, but at the last second Brown himself shows up with a writ of habious corpus effectively preventing her to testify against her husband. Brown also arranges to give a big stash of “money” to Fante and Mingo while they are hiding out from the police, but the box turns out to be a bomb that apparently kills both of them.
Brown then proceeds to kidnap Susan to prevent more incriminating evidence. Meanwhile, Diamond finds a witness that could finally nail the elusive gangster, Mingo, who initially survived the blast and confesses that Brown was behind it all. Alicia helps Diamond figure out where Brown was likely to take Susan to, the airport where Brown hopes to make a getaway plane. However, the plane doesn’t show up and the film climaxes in a foggy airplane hangar shootout. The very last scene shows the famous silhouetted figures in the fog that is one of the iconic images in all of film noir.
- Cornel Wilde as Police Lt. Leonard Diamond
- Richard Conte as Mr. Brown
- Brian Donlevy as Joe McClure
- Jean Wallace as Susan Lowell
- Robert Middleton as Police Capt. Peterson
- Lee Van Cleef as Fante
- Earl Holliman as Mingo
- Helen Walker as Alicia Brown
- Jay Adler as Sam Hill
- John Hoyt as Nils Dreyer
- Ted de Corsia as Bettini