If you’re new to my monthly Film Noir Releases posts, welcome! My goal is to cover all the first-time releases to Blu-ray and DVD, usually passing over reissues unless there’s a good reason to include them. (I also tend to leave out more recent films.) Unless otherwise noted, the following are all North American Region A Blu-ray discs. I often use the terms “film noir,” “neo-noir,” and “noir-stained” rather loosely, so while you may quibble with some of my choices, I hope these are films you’ll at least consider. As always, if you know of any film noir, neo-noir, or noir-stained titles I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
I also have a video version of my New Releases in Film Noir on my YouTube channel. I hope you’ll check it out:
Now you may be disappointed that we don’t have a lot of film noir from the classic era to talk about today, but I do have some nice neo-noir, international noir, and a television series to tell you about, so let’s get started.
The Sniper (1952) Edward Dmytryk - Umbrella Entertainment (Australia, Region B)
The Sniper not only stands as an effective film noir, but also a social commentary on how society treats the mentally disturbed. Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz), a man recently released from a psych ward, has serious issues with women, particularly a club singer named Jean (Marie Windsor). Miller definitely displays violent tendencies towards women and knows he needs help, but can he stop himself? The portrayal of a sex offender, combined with some very frank scenes of violence, make for an effective and shocking experience, especially for the early 1950s. This was also the first American film made by director Edward Dmytryk after his exile to the UK as a result of the blacklist. The Sniper displays much of the callousness we’d come to see from policemen portrayed onscreen in the subsequent decades. It’s a terrific film.
Right now this is the only way you can own this title as an individual release. If you own the Columbia Noir #3 box set from Indicator, you already have this film and don’t need this one. If you only want The Sniper, know that the Umbrella disc contains the Martin Scorsese introduction as well as the Eddie Muller commentary, both of which are on the Indicator release.
Maigret: The Complete Series (1960-1963) Network, 12 BD set (UK, Region B)
Belgian writer Georges Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. Simenon wrote hundreds of books including those featuring his famous detective Jules Maigret, a character who accounted for 75 novels and 28 short stories. As you might imagine, Maigret has been portrayed by many actors of many nationalities: French, British, Irish, Austrian, German, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, and Russian. But according to Simenon himself, the best of the bunch was Rupert Davies. You might remember Davies from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965). Simenon said of Davies, “At last, I have found the perfect Maigret!” Davies plays the famous detective in Maigret: The Complete Series, which, starting with its pilot episode, ran on British television from 1959 to 1963. That series has been largely unseen for over 50 years, but is now available in a new box set from Network, a UK company that does a great job of releasing British cinema and television. This is undoubtedly their biggest undertaking yet: all 52 episodes of the show, plus the 90-minute feature, all on 12 Blu-rays lasting over 46 hours, almost two solid days of viewing.
Now what’s in the set? In addition to the episodes, you’ve got an exclusive new book on the making of the series by Andrew Pixley, an original soundtrack CD, and art cards. Any other on-disc supplements are unlikely, but maybe they’re working on a few. This looks to be a fantastic release.
The price for this set is £85, which comes to about $120 without international shipping. That’s a lot if you’re taking a chance on this series, but if you’ve read any of the books or seen any of the other film adaptations and enjoy those, you’re probably going to enjoy this series. If the price bothers you, consider that you’re getting 52 episodes plus a feature. Not counting the feature, that comes to about $2.40 per episode. I’m going to hold off for now, but if the price drops a bit, I’ll definitely pick it up. But remember, this is a limited edition. Network may come out with a standard edition without the bells and whistles, so you may want to wait for that. The Network website states that this set works for Regions A, B, and C. I hope that is the case. I’ll be keeping an eye on that.
UPDATE: On their Facebook page, Network indicates that they will come out with the set on DVD, but there’s nothing about a standard edition Blu-ray set. Stay tuned.
August 24 kicks off a string of mostly international noir and neo-noir titles that I’m very excited about:
Ashes and Diamonds (1958) Andrzej Wajda - Criterion
(I previously reviewed Ashes and Diamonds as part of Noirvember 2020.)
Director Andrzej Wajda is often considered not only the greatest movie director Poland ever produced, but also one of the greatest in the world, producing several films considered to be masterpieces. Ashes and Diamonds was only his fourth film, but it’s the one that put him on the map. Here we find Poland celebrating the final day of WWII, yet with the Soviets right around the corner as Szczuka, a Soviet-backed secretary of the Polish Worker’s Party, comes to town to take charge while the Poles celebrate. A Home Army soldier named Maciek is ordered to assassinate Szczuka, kills the wrong man, and is determined to correct his mistake, until a young barmaid named Krystyna comes along, making him doubt whether another assassination attempt is such a good idea.
There’s much, much more going on here, most of which I’ll leave for you to discover. The film is based on a 1948 novel written by Jerzy Andrzejewski. What’s interesting is that the novel supported the Communist takeover in Poland, but Wajda decided to make drastic changes for his film, focusing largely on Maciek's story. Maciek is played by Zbigniew Cybulski, who became known as “the Polish James Dean.”
The authorities prevented Wajda from showing the film at the Cannes Film Festival, where it would’ve reached a global audience, but was allowed to show it at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the International Federation of Film Critics Award. The film has gone on to appear on many lists of the greatest films of the 20th century.
Clearly I care a lot about this film and am delighted to see it finally get a Blu-ray release from Criterion. This release also includes archival interviews with Wajda and others, an archival commentary by critic Annette Insdorf from 2004, a new video essay, also with Insdort, a behind the scenes newsreel, and a printed essay by film scholar Paul Coates.
The Clockmaker of St. Paul (1974) Bertrand Tavernier - Kino Lorber
Philippe Noiret plays Michel Descombes, a Lyon watchmaker whose teenage son has been arrested for murder. The local police inspector (Jean Rochefort) doesn’t so much hound Michel for information as much as he tries to befriend him, while Michel constantly wonders what he did wrong as a father. One of the things that sets this film apart from so many other crime pictures is that we don’t follow the victim or the perpetrator, but rather the perpetrator’s father, who’s trying to come to grips with the situation. There’s much going on here in this understated crime film, my first experience with filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, whom we lost back in March. The Kino edition includes an introduction by filmmaker Walter Hill, an audio commentary by Tavernier, an interview with Tavernier and Philippe Noiret, and a booklet with excerpts from Tavernier’s memoir.
Prince of the City (1981) Sidney Lumet - Warner Archive
Prince of the City may be more crime drama than film noir, but noir fans will undoubtedly want to experience it. Based on the Robert Daley nonfiction book of the same name, Treat Williams plays Daniel Ciello, a NYPD narcotics detective working in special investigations. Daniel and his partners are referred to as “Princes of the City” due to their unstructured methods and the untouchable status afforded them in capturing and convicting criminals. This would be interesting enough, but Danny has a brother who’s a drug addict and a cousin in organized crime. Even so, Danny has bigger problems, primarily when he’s approached by the feds to investigate police corruption.
This film has a very interesting behind-the-scenes history, which you can read on its Wikipedia page, but it would be great if the Blu-ray contains some extras exploring its background. Even if it doesn’t, this looks to be a great release.
Jagged Edge (1985) Richard Marquand - Indicator (UK, Region B)
When high-profile publisher Jack Forrester (Jeff Bridges) is accused of murdering his wife, an equally high-profile attorney named Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close) takes the case and wins it. Along the way, she falls for Forrester, but suspects she may have acquitted a murderer. The film boasts a great cast, including Robert Loggia, Peter Coyote, Leigh Taylor-Young, and John Dehner, but the script by Joe Eszterhas has some believability issues. Yet it’s still a good noir/suspense title. The film is directed by Richard Marquand, who also directed the espionage thriller Eye of the Needle (1981), but will always be remembered for directing Return of the Jedi. This release from UK label Indicator is Region B locked, and features new interviews with Joe Eszterhas, editor Sean Barton, and David Huckvale discussing the John Barry score. This limited edition also includes a booklet with a new essay by writer and critic Maitland McDonagh, excepts from archival interviews with Marquand, the making of the film, contemporary critical responses, and full film credits. Jagged Edge was previously released from Image in 2011 having only a trailer as an extra, so this is a nice upgrade, again, Region B only.
The Fifth Horseman is Fear (1965) Zbynek Brynych - Second Run (UK, Region B)
I first saw The Fifth Horseman is Fear at the 2020 virtual Noir City International festival (reviewed here), and of all the outstanding films I saw for the first at that event, it was my favorite. This Czech New Wave film stars Miroslav Macháček, who plays Dr. Braun, a Jewish doctor living in a rundown apartment complex in Nazi-occupied Prague. But Braun doesn’t want anyone to know he’s a physician, since Jewish doctors are forbidden to practice medicine. As far as his neighbors and the authorities know, Braun is a man who spends his days cataloguing the confiscated possessions of his countrymen who’ve been sent to the death camps. Imagine identifying and cataloguing all the items housed in the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and you sort of get the idea. Yet when you think about the number of people these possessions come from, it's staggering.
When a wounded resistance fighter stumbles into his building, Braun knows that the man’s pain will become so intense he’ll begin screaming, which will alert the authorities to his presence. During the brief time the man is asleep, Braun will have to go out to find some contraband morphine, placing himself in further jeopardy.
The film is loaded with one brilliant scene after the other, making use of high-contrast black-and-white cinematography by Jan Kališ, and one of the most effective musical scores - a combination of classical, jazz, and avant-garde - by Jiří Sternwald. The Fifth Horseman is Fear is a surreal, frightening look at oppression, occupation, and the noir elements of paranoia, dread, betrayal, and fear. This is a totally absorbing film. I hope you’ll consider picking it up.
The Gang (1977)/Three Men to Kill (1980) Jacques Deray - Cohen Media Group
This is an Alain Delon double feature, two films I have never seen, but I’m intrigued. We have The Gang (1977) and Three Men to Kill (1980), both starring Delon and both directed by Jacques Deray on a double feature disc from Cohen Media.
The Gang takes place at the end of WWII with five small-time criminals led by Delon knocking over several banks, wondering if they’ll ever be caught. I’m… thinking they might… Three Men to Kill finds Delon as a professional card player who decides to help a wounded man lying in the road after a car crash, little realizing that he’s setting himself up as a target for two hired gunmen. Three Men to Kill seems the more noirish of the two films and probably the more suspenseful. There’s no information on extras, so I’m assuming there are none.
That’s going to do it for August, but if there are any additions in the meantime, I’ll update that right here. Please check out my website for all the new releases from previous months, and thank you for watching. I’ll talk to you again soon.