I had started this series back in Grindhouse Purgatory. As a guy who was out all hours back in the late 60’s, early 70’s, I’d get in at half o’clock in the morning and see what was on the tube. A lot of great stuff, some of which is finding new viewers on DVD, Blu Ray and TUBI. The two films I picked for this issue both star Cornel Wilde, who started his career in 1936. He became a leading man in the 40’s and 50’s. 

The Big Combo 1955 stared Wilde as Lt. Diamond, a detective trying to take down mob boss, Mr Brown ( Richard Conte). Brown came into power in a mysterious way. Diamond’s boss, Captain Peterson ( Robert Middleton), tells Diamond that his investigation is costing too much money. He also hints that Diamond seems more interested in Diamond’s girl, Susan ( Jean Wallace). Brown’s actual wife is in an institution.

Brown’s right hand man is Joe ( Brian Donlevy) who would have been next in line to run things. Brown sidestepped him. Brown has two hit men Fante ( Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo ( Earl Holliman) who are gay. That relationship is subtly hinted at. Diamond knows that the former ‘boss”, Grazzi, was shipped back to Italy. He also knows that the ship that he was on had to buy a new anchor. The former captain of that ship, Nils Dyer( John Hoyt) has a nice little antique store now.

Diamond has a lady friend, a showgirl named Rita (Helene Stanton) who visits him now and then. He is also looking for a hood, Bettini ( Ted de Corsia) who is hiding from Brown. Diamond is grabbed by Fante and Mingo. Brown tortures him by using Joe’s hearing aid. They hook it up to a drum solo playing on the radio until he passes out. Then they force a bottle of hair tonic down his throat. 

They drop him off, drunk, at Peterson’s place. The missing link is Brown’s former wife, Elisha. Brown finds Bettini, who thinks Diamond is a hit man. He tells diamond that it wasn’t Brown’s wife that vanished. Diamond finds Elisha in a mental institution. She is under a false identity. She tells him that she’d rather be insane and alive, than sane and dead. Joe had followed Diamond and tells Fante and Mingo that Brown is finished. 

Joe tells them that they better side with him before Brown implodes. Joe sets up Brown, but Brown has already turned the tables. Brown pulls out Joe’s hearing aid telling him that now he won’t hear the bullets. The murder scene is completely silent. Brown now sends Fante and Mingo to kill Diamond. Diamond’s girl, Rita, had let herself into Diamond’s apartment. The two kick in the door, guns blazing before they realize their mistake. Now they have to hide out. Diamond has both brown’s wife and girlfriend now willing to roll over on Brown. 

Fante and Mingo are hiding out. Brown arrives with orders to wait until tonight and he’ll sneak them out of town. He gives them a box of money and tells them to split it up. When they open it, it’s a bomb. Fante is killed and Mingo is badly burned. Mingo won’t tell who did this until they show him Fante’s corpse. Mingo breaks down in tears and tells them it was Brown. 

Brown has now shot a cop that was guarding Susan. He’s going to leave town. Diamond catches up with him. Brown shoots at shadows until his gun is empty. Diamond grabs him, but Brown begs him to kill him. Brown’s back story is that he was a former prison guard. The cops drag him away and diamond leaves with Susan. 

Very powerful film with a lot of elements that shook up the audience. The torture scene was rough for that time. Conte is great as a sociopath mobster with zero empathy. The entire cast pulls it off and art did imitate life as Wilde married Jean Wallace

The gay thing was a really ballsy move in the 50’s. Van Cleef and Holliman were very subtle in the roles. You think they are gay, but are not sure until Fante dies. They didn’t act like stereotypical gay men, they were killers, tough guys. In 1958 Morey Amsterdam ,from the Dick Van Dyke Show ,would play a flamboyant gay character, Fanny, in Machine Gun Kelly. The Kelly character, played by Charles Bronson, costs Fanny an arm. Fanny sets Kelly up and screams in his face about getting even. Again, it took a big pair to play a role like that. 

But these ground breaking roles did influence other actors. L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin were cast as the skuzzy bounty hunters in The Wild Bunch 1969. Both men approached director Sam Peckinpah with an idea about their characters. The idea was to drop a hint about a homosexual relationship between the two men. Sam told them to go for it and that scene made the final cut. Another Peckinpah film, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, had Robert Webber and Gig Young as hit men. Webber went to Sam with the idea of them being very gay. Again, Sam went with it and it played out like a sort of homage to the characters Van Cleef and Holliman played.

Beyond Mombasa 1956 was in color and shot in Africa. It also starred Donna Reed, Leo Genn and Christopher Lee as Rossi. Wilde is Matt Campbell, a drunken slob who was summoned to Mombassa by his brother to help with the mine he had purchased. Arriving, he is told that his brother was murdered by a sect known as The Leopard Men. Ralph Hoyt ( Genn) is a missionary and his niece, Ann ( Reed ), is an anthropologist. Eliot Hastings( Ron Randall) is a “partner” in the mine along with Rossi, a big game hunter. 

Someone is enciting the local natives to violence. The mine was supposedly a gold mine, but it’s not. It’s full of uranium. Hoyt keeps on insisting that the mine is probably worthless, but Matt wants to bury his brother and see the mine for himself. Hoyt and Ann are along for the trip , but after a couple of the natives are killed, the rest won’t go on. At night Eliot is attacked by the Leopard Men, but survives. 

After a lot of scenery, they find the mine. Hoyt shoots Rossi in the back and opens fire on the group in the mine. When they go to shoot back, they find that Hoyt messed with their guns. Hoyt has gone around the bend. He feels that all the whites are doing is exploiting the natives and stealing their natural resources. Sounds like everything we’ve been doing for decades. 

 Anyway, Hoyt resurrected The leopard Man cult and told them to kill George. Hoyt is a complete fanatic and is doing “God’s” work. The Leopard men are moving in to finish the group when the other natives attack them. Seems they weren’t to pleased with The Leopard Men returning. Hoyt gets diced up with machetes for causing the problem.

It is interesting to see Christopher Lee in these early roles. Here he is a swarthy, Italian Frenchman that projects some menace as a big game hunter. . He and Leo Genn worked together again in The Bloody Judge and Circus of Fear. Cornel Wilde was also in The Naked Prey, Beach Red, and Gargoyles. He did some TV appearances in The Love Boat, The New Mike Hammer, and Murder She Wrote. He died in 1989 at age 77.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *