‘The Mob’ or — On The Waterfront… Undercover?
Detective Johnny Damico (Broderick Crawford) is a good cop and a decent man. Maybe a little too decent because after witnessing a shooting in the street one rainy night he trustingly accepts that the badge he’s just been flashed means the gunman is a cop from another precinct. Turns out the victim was a witness who was to appear before the grand jury investigating crime on the waterfront docks and the badge came from the investigating officer who was also killed that night and also where the gunman got the badge from. So when his superiors discover that Damico witnessed the killing and was stupid enough to let the assailant go they threaten to throw the book at him. This could mean Damico’s pension.
His bosses give him a chance, though — go undercover on the waterfront and find out what he can about who operates the racket down there. He’ll be given a new identity, that of Tim Flynn just off the boat from New Orleans, and he’s to make himself known. That means causing a fuss and putting a few noses out of joint to get the attention of the big guys.
Damico can do that. He’s a decent guy but he knows how to act tough. The only question is how long will it be before the big guys figure out that this is all an act?
If you’re thinking that ‘The Mob’ (1951) has all the requisite ingredients for a cracking little thriller then you’d be right. It’s a tight, effective, tough crime film although there are a few specifics which occasionally give ‘The Mob’ a nice little nudge into the realm of the excellent.
For one, the cast is great. Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson appear in early roles and although Bronson has a “blink and you’ll miss him” part Borgnine has more screen time as a nicely effective heavy. But it’s Broderick Crawford who shines here, deftly switching from tender and warm (which is a lovely mode to see him in) to brutish bluster and bullishness (which Crawford always did with consummate ease). You can see the fun he’s having with this character, especially when he realises his Damico has to make himself known which means causing a fuss… which means having fun.
Plus, even though ‘The Mob’ doesn’t contain any major twists or revelations it’s got a number of cool narrative flourishes along the way. The final twenty five minutes or so are particularly fun with Damico coming to the logical destination his undercover role would inevitably lead him to (without giving too much away, think ‘A Scanner Darkly’) and there’s an amazing technique used to trail a car that I’d never seen before in a movie that had me nodding my head vigorously in approval.
Yet I think ‘The Mob’s biggest strength isn’t in anything within the film itself but more a case of what isn’t here because there isn’t the slightest hint of pretension or high-mindedness to be found in a single second of this movie. It’s as straight forward as Damico himself, unencumbered by slavish style. Not that there isn’t a sense of style here, though, with some excellent lighting and cinematography, but Robert Parrish’s brisk directed always ensues ‘The Mob’ never comes close to getting bogged down by excessive artifice.
In fact, ‘The Mob’ maybe moves a long a little TOO quickly by the end with the climax feeling a tad rushed and containing a couple of silly, if enjoyable, moments.
‘The Mob’ is a great thriller that knows exactly what it’s doing and does so with energy to spare. It preceded ‘On The Waterfront’ (1954) by three years although the two films are entirely different, but if the idea of ‘On The Waterfront’ with the social commentary stripped out and replaced with an undercover detective angle sounds in any way appealing then this is one mob you’ll have a blast hanging out with.