Martin Rome (Richard Conte), a hardened criminal, is recuperating in a hospital from a shootout that leaves a police officer dead. At the hospital, he is briefly visited by his fiancée, Teena Ricante (Debra Paget). A shady lawyer representing another crook, Niles (Berry Kroeger), claims that he participated in a jewel robbery with her in which a woman was killed. Rome is innocent of the jewel robbery, but the police suspect that he carried out the robbery in conjunction with Teena, and begin a search for her.
With the help of a trusty (Walter Baldwin), he escapes from the prison ward, afraid that the lawyer will try to frame Teena and himself. He is pursued by an old adversary, police lieutenant Candella (Victor Mature), who grew up in his neighborhood and knows his family. Rome, feverish from his bullet wounds, receives help from his brother Tony, who worships him, and an old girlfriend, Brenda (Shelley Winters). Meanwhile, Candella and his partner (Fred Clark), track him down through the streets of New York. He locates the female accomplice of the real jewel thief/murderer, a strongly built masseuse named Rose Givens (Hope Emerson). He tricks her and she is apprehended by the police. In the struggle she shoots at Rome, wounding Candella.
Candella, shot in the shoulder, flees the hospital in his obsessive pursuit of Rome, ultimately tracking him down and killing him. Just before that happens, Tony, in a final break with his brother's criminality, refuses to steal their parents' savings.Victor Mature as Lt. Candella
Richard Conte as Martin Rome
Fred Clark as Lt Collins
Shelley Winters as Brenda Martingale
Betty Garde as Miss Pruett
Berry Kroeger as W. A. Niles
Tommy Cook as Tony Rome
Debra Paget as Teena Ricante
Hope Emerson as Rose Givens
Roland Winters as Ledbetter
Walter Baldwin as Orvy
June Storey as Miss Boone
Tito Vuolo as Papa Rome
Mimi Aguglia as Mama Rome
Konstantin Shayne as Dr Veroff
Howard Freeman as Sullivan
Joan Miller as Vera
Dolores Castle as Rosa
Kathleen Howard as Mrs. Pruett's Mother
Director Richard Siodmak was borrowed from Universal. Filming took place on location in New York originally under the title Law and Martin Rome.
At the time the film was released, The New York Times praised Cry of the City as "taut and grimly realistic". The review praised the performances as "thoroughly effective", and said that "Victor Mature, an actor once suspected of limited talents, turns in a thoroughly satisfying job as the sincere and kindly cop, who not only knows his business but the kind of people he is tracking down."
The staff at Variety magazine liked the film and wrote, "The hard-hitting suspense of the chase formula is given topnotch presentation in Cry of the City. It's an exciting motion picture, credibly put together to wring out every bit of strong action and tension inherent in such a plot. Robert Siodmak's penchant for shaping melodramatic excitement that gets through to an audience is realistically carried out in this one."
The film has been highly praised by modern critics, and is viewed as an important example of the film noir genre. Time Out Film Guide praises the realistic look and feel of the city, "Rarely has the cruel, lived-in squalor of the city been presented in such telling detail, both in the vivid portrayal of ghetto life and in the astonishing parade of corruption uncovered in the night (a slug-like shyster; a monstrous, sadistic masseuse; a sleazy refugee abortionist, etc)."
Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton writing in A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941–1953 comments that director Siodmak had better noir efforts but the film does have one lasting image, "Siodmak will rediscover neither the brilliance of The Killers nor the 'finish' of Criss Cross in the over-rushed, too uneven, Cry of the City: for all that, one will remember the figure of a forever famished masseuse, a real 'phallic woman' who, with a flick of the wrists, has a 'tough guy' at her mercy."
In Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen, Foster Hirsch said that Siodmak's characters "are nurtured by their obsessions". The Candela character, "as Colin McArthur notes in Underworld USA, 'hunts his quarry with an almost metaphysical hatred'."
Hirsch describes Rome's innocence in the jewel robbery, despite his criminal background, as an "ironic variation on the wrong man theme" of some film noir movies. "Branded for a crime he did not commit, the Conte character becomes a true criminal, enmeshed in a web from which there is no escape."
The musical score of the film is Alfred Newman's Street Scene, which had debuted in a 1931 movie of the same name and became iconic in big-city gangster pictures produced during that era.