Conte, a crime-film fixture from the Forties through the Seventies, is Eddie Rico, aspiring to civilian life as a laundry owner in Florida. He has two brothers, both deeper into the mob than he ever was. As he learns when brother Gino arrives in town, they were hired to kill a man, but things have gotten hot since youngest brother Johnny's new brother-in-law got wind of things and threatened to rat everyone out. Gino wants out of the country as quick as possible but doesn't know where Johnny is. The "organization" wants to know badly. Fronted by old family friend Sid Kubik, they tell Eddie that they want to help his brothers leave the country, too, until things cool down. But it's clear to us long before it's clear to Eddie that the organization really wants to kill Gino and Johnny rather than take any chance that these heretofore loyal men might squeal. Sid reminds Eddie of his longstanding loyalty to the Ricos and prevails upon him to travel the country searching for Johnny, even if that louses up the plans of Eddie and his wife to finalize the adoption of a child. Throughout the film, Eddie thinks he's doing right by his family, but he's actually doing everything in his power to destroy it.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has packaged The Brothers Rico as part of its Film Noir Classics II collection of Fifties crime movies. I'm not sure it belongs in the set. As Martin Scorsese notes in brief remarks about the film, it has little of the trademark expressionistic shadowplay, being instead lit "flat" like a contemporary TV program. Scorsese himself seems at a loss to account for this Fifties trend, but it seems obvious to me that the more artless style is a sort of reaction against the stylization of Forties noir, aiming for a broad-daylight sort of naturalism instead. Somehow this seems more appropriate to the era of the lurid paperback original (Rico itself adapts an American-set Georges Simenon story) and EC Comics than the glamorous chiaroscuro of the previous decade.
More of a disqualification is Rico's use of its hero. I'm inclined to agree with the definition of noir proposed by Otto Penzler in his and James Ellroy's Best American Noir of the Twentieth Century collection, which emphasizes protagonists' inability to restrain their impulses. A noir hero dooms himself by greed or lust, as a rule. But Eddie Rico causes disaster mostly because he's naive and just plain dumb. I wonder, however, if the screenplay makes him look dumber than Simenon's original. The problem with the movie is that we the viewers don't trust Sid Kubik for a second, yet Eddie trusts him implicitly through two-thirds of the picture. Larry Gates gives such a fake performance in his early scene with Conte that we hardly need the proof we get almost immediately that Sid has bad intentions for the Rico brothers. Eddie talks a lot about all that Sid has done for the family, but we needed either a better actor playing Sid or an extra scene or two showing rather than telling why Eddie would consider Sid a friend. Without that, we find it hard to sympathize with or root for someone who just looks stupid.
Worse, once it seems that the only way Eddie can redeem himself is by avenging his brothers, despite an apparently unviolent nature, and at whatever cost to himself, Karlson and his writers go over the top to give a film that seems like it shouldn't have one a happy ending. They also reach past plausibility to give audiences their catharsis, sending a boss like Kubik somewhere he probably shouldn't be just so Eddie can take a shot at him. Then, just as it looks like Eddie will endure a redemptive death, the too-good-to-be-true coda has him and the wife finally picking out a kid to adopt. It may be unfair of me to feel that Eddie doesn't deserve this simply because he was stupid, but the ending just stinks of Hollywood contrivance, and the film would be more noirish without it.
In this nicely staged scene, Karlson plants his hero in the background to make him look as small as he feels as the big men in the foreground nonchalantly discuss his brother's death.
Here's the original trailer, uploaded to YouTube by adlerangriffe.