The moving simplicity of the Pietro Di Donato novel, Christ in Concrete, has been brought to the screen with rare sincerity. It is two hours of genuine human drama, which makes no concession to convention.
– Variety (1949)
The camerawork by C. Pennington Richards is some of the best of the era, with the city streets, darkened hallways, and construction sites void of any softened corners guaranteed by Hollywood of the 1940s. With Dmytryk, Richards gave Christ in Concrete an astonishing look, which manages to straddle and suggest both film noir and Italian neo-realism. The deep focus crisp black-and-white photography evokes a handful of strong movies yet to be made, including On the Waterfront, Edge of the City, America, America, Sweet Smell of Success, Touch of Evil, and Pickup on South Street. Visually, Christ in Concrete looks like the most influential movie nobody ever saw… Christ in Concrete shares its rough-edged moral outrage with Visconti’s La Terra Trema but its gilded professionalism with Wilder’s Double Indemnity. It’s a knockout combination. Dmytryk found some kind of artistic voice in exile in England unlike any heard from him before or since.
– Matthew Kennedy, Bright Lights Film Journal (Nov 2003)
Based on the novel by Italo-American Pietro Di Donato, Christ in Concrete (aka Give Us This Day), a powerful leftist denunciation of capitalism from director Edward Dmytryk, had to be filmed in the UK, and was buried a few days after its US release by a reactionary backlash. Telling the story of Italian immigrant building workers and their families in Brooklyn during the Depression, the film is the closest an Anglo-American movie ever got to the aesthetic and socialist outlook of Italian neo-realism. Teeming tenements and residential streets are shot with a provocatively gritty realism and film noir atmospherics.
The cast is superb with particularly powerful performances from the two leads, Sam Wanamaker and Lea Padovani, who embody the immigrant experience, which is so imbued with vitality and compassion that the film soars above any other similar work of the period. Enriched by a poetic script, the innovative cinematography of C.M. Pennington-Richards, outstanding art direction from Alex Vetchinsky, and a brilliantly evocative score by Benjamin Frankel, the movie is a revelation.
The opening scene in a deprived urban locale that follows a drunken man from the street and up the stairs of a dirty tenement building is a tour-de-force. An inspired mise-en-scene and a moving camera that follows the action from below Ozu-style, framed by the drama of the musical motifs, had me enthralled. This scene and the rest of the movie, except for panaromic shots of New York shown in the opening credits, were filmed in a studio lot in Denham, England!
Film as art, Christ in Concrete is simply a masterpiece.