Across the Bridge (1957)

“Where there’s business, I have connections.”

International financier Carl Schaffner (Rod Steiger) is in New York when he receives the news that Scotland Yard is investigating him for the disappearance of huge sums of money. He decides to flee to Mexico (where he has a million dollars conveniently stashed), and then travel from there to yet another destination. To ensure anonymous travel, he takes the train across America to Mexico. On the last leg of the journey, he meets a middle-aged man, Paul Scarff (Bill Nagy) who says he’s traveling to Mexico to be reunited with his wife and baby. Schaffner concocts a scheme to kill the stranger and assume his identity. After carrying out his plan, Schaffner realizes that he has assumed the identity of a wanted man. From this point, Schaffner’s plans rapidly unravel, and soon he finds himself stuck in Mexico.

Rod Steiger as Schaffner is perfect in the role. When the film begins, Schaffner is arrogant–obviously a powerful man who is used to ordering his minions around. He’s polished and ready with a smooth plan for escape, and the plan represents in Schaffner’s mind “an opportunity” and little hardship. Once outside of his powerful world, Schaffner finds himself in a situation that levels him to the position of an ordinary person. He is literally stripped of his power and position, and he finds himself in a situation where no one really cares who he is or what he wants. He just doesn’t matter any more. He attempts to hold onto his autocratic ways in a pathetic denial of the facts. Steiger carries off this transition from wealthy, privileged businessman to a struggle for survival with aplomb, and he delivers an incredible, riveting performance.

Across the Bridge is a black and white film based on a Graham Greene story. As with many of Greene’s complex stories, the characters must deal with a range of moral dilemmas. In the film, Schaffner is basically an amoral person whose god is money. Schaffner obviously isn’t a very nice person. He’s an embezzler, treats his employees brusquely and he’s ready to murder to steal someone else’s identity. But Schaffner’s character is also revealed in his relationship with Dolores, the dog owned by Paul Scarff. At first, Schaffner has no interest whatsoever in the dog, and he’s ready to abandon her quite cold-heartedly. Schaffner’s misfortunes, however, result in his recognizing the inherent faithfulness of Dolores, and it is in the relationship between Schaffner and Dolores that he finally finds his humanity.

The DVD also includes a 30-minute interview with director, Ken Annakin. Annakin recalls meeting Steiger in later years, and Steiger expressed that he considered Across the Bridge to be his second best work after The Pawnbroker. Across the Bridge is a phenomenal entry in the genre of British Noir, and I recommend this gem of a film wholeheartedly.

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