Film Noir New Releases for July 2021
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:
If you’ll remember from last month, we had four new releases. Four. In July, we double that and then some. So let’s get started.
Buster and Billie (1974) Daniel Petrie - Zephina Media
This Columbia Pictures release has been mostly forgotten, mainly due to comparisons to similar, more recognizable movies like The Last Picture Show. There are other reasons the film has been forgotten which I’ll get to in a moment. Buster and Billie takes place in rural Georgia in 1948 where we find Jan-Michael Vincent playing Buster, a popular high school senior already engaged to his sweetheart Margie (Pamela Sue Martin). They might be engaged, but Margie refuses to have sex with Buster until they’re married. But Buster’s pals know a girl from the other side of the tracks named Billie Jo Truluck (I’m not kidding. That’s her name.) Billie (Joan Goodfellow), who’s a little too free and easy, offers to take care of Buster’s needs, shall we say. But Buster turns down Billie’s advances. At first. Then things get complicated, violent, and dark. Very dark. Remember, it’s the ‘70s.
The critics were all over the place on this one, many calling it insightful but uneven. Buster and Billie also marks the film debut of Robert Englund. The film was considered lost or destroyed for years. It was released on VHS, but nobody could find the original master negatives until Sony Pictures discovered them in their underground vaults in 2019. I can’t find any information on special features, which usually means there are none. If you pick it up, please let me know.
Trouble is My Business (2018) Tom Konkle
Outside a city building at night, a man wearing a trench coat and a fedora waits. A sedan approaches, its headlights burning into the night before the car stops. The man gets in and with the upper portion of his face illuminated, says to the driver, “Take me to the cemetery. She’s still alive.”
We learn that the man in the trench coat is Roland Drake (Tom Konkle), a P.I. facing an eviction notice and feeling the aftereffects of a failed missing persons case. Into his office walks Catherine Montemar, a dark-haired beauty in a black dress handing Drake another missing persons case: Catherine’s father has just disappeared and she fears her sister may be next. As easily as Catherine walks into Drake’s office, she also slides into his bed, but the next morning Drake wakes up alone with blood-soaked sheets. As Drake tries to process this, there’s a knock on his door. A loud knock.
Director Tom Konkle stays true to the roots of film noir, yet isn’t afraid to have fun. Trouble is My Business has a strong noir look and structure that will appeal to veteran film noir fans while the action and comedic elements could win over less-seasoned audiences. Such a balancing act is hard to pull off, but Konkle and company have done a masterful job doing so. Trouble is My Business is a marvelous independent film that deserves a wider audience. The film has been available on Blu-ray in its original color version, and this new release is the black-and-white edition. It’s a fun movie. I hope you’ll check it out.
West 11 (1963) Michael Winner - Studio Canal (UK, Region B)
When I say the name Michael Winner, you probably think of Death Wish or another of his Charles Bronson movies, or maybe other movies that seem obsessed with violence and exploitation, and equally obsessed with less-than-great scriptwriting. But Winner made some pretty good films early in his career and West 11 is one of them. Alfred Lynch plays Joe Beckett, an out-of-work drifter who’s offered a considerable amount of money by a man named Richard Dyce, played by Eric Portman. Dyce wants Beckett to knock off his wealthy aunt. Beckett realizes his life is going nowhere, and maybe the money will give him a chance to make a new start. But we know things are not going to turn out well.
Now let me warn you not to read the online descriptions of this movie, especially the one on Blu-ray dot com, which spoils the entire film! West 11 also costars Diana Dors and one of my favorites, Finlay Curry. Many thanks to Murdersville, one of my YouTube channel watchers, who informs me that the West 11 disc has an interview with journalist and film historian Matthew Sweet and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
Wet Backs (Espaldas mojadas, 1955) Alejandro Galindo - VCI
This film is not to be confused with a 1956 movie of the same name - although the title is one word rather than two. The 1956 movie stars Lloyd Bridges as a man who transports illegal aliens from Mexico into California. The film I’m talking about from 1955 is written and directed by Alejandro Galindo, one of Mexico’s most lauded and prolific directors. He actually came to America as a young man, worked briefly at MGM doing mostly technical work, then returned to Mexico where he worked from the 1930s to the ‘80s. Galindo wrote and directed comedy, drama, horror, and film noir. This film, along with the boxing picture Champion without a Crown and the drama A Family of So Many, are considered some of his finest work. In Wet Backs, a Mexican worker named Rafael (David Silva) is running from the police, trying to cross the border into America. Rafael has some help from a man named Frank, who works for an American who regularly hires illegal immigrants. But when Rafael gets to America, he finds lots of problems, making himself wonder, “Was this worth it?” It looks like the only extras are a few trailers from other Mexican films and an essay booklet. The quality of VCI discs is sometimes hit-or-miss, but apparently this was taken from a 4K restoration. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’m definitely interested.
On July 13 we’ve got three classic noir titles from a three-year period, all of them coming from Kino Lorber, who has become the champion of film noir releases lately.
The Web (1947) Michael Gordon - Kino Lorber
A wealthy businessman named Andrew Colby (Vincent Price) is worried. That’s because a man named Kroner (Fritz Leiber), one of Colby’s former employees who went to prison for embezzlement, is about to be released. Colby hires lawyer Bob Regan (Edmond O’Brien) to act as his bodyguard against Kroner. Sure enough, Kroner makes an attempt on Colby’s life, but Regan prevents it. Regan’s the hero, right? Maybe not. Regan starts hanging out with Colby’s secretary (Ella Raines), which is nice, but thanks to some inside info from a cop, played by William Bendix, Regan begins to think he’s been set up. I’m a big fan of everyone in this cast, but I have never seen this one, so I’m going to grab this disc up quickly. This release also features a new audio commentary by film scholar Jason A. Ney. As far as I can tell, this is the first time The Web has been released on a legit DVD or Blu-ray.
Alias Nick Beal (1949) John Farrow - Kino Lorber
Alias Nick Beal has been difficult to see for years, but now we’re finally getting a North American release of this superb supernatural noir. It’s the Faust legend in the land of film noir with Thomas Mitchell playing Joseph Foster, an honest, upstanding DA who wants to nail local crime boss Hansen. Foster wants this guy so badly he’s willing to sell his soul to get him. Up pops a mysterious figured named Nick Beal (Ray Milland), who says, “I can help you with that.” With Beal’s help, taking care of the crime boss is cake, but Beal tells Foster, “Why stop there? You could run for governor and really make a difference.” Now we know pretty much from the beginning who Nick Beal really is, but a straight-laced guy like Foster doesn’t. We find Foster running into a crooked political boss (Fred Clark), a temptress (Audrey Totter), and more. This one is a lot of fun and Milland is - can we say devilishly good - as the title character. The Kino release has a new audio commentary from Eddie Muller, the same one from the Australian Imprint release from last year if you have that. I’ll be reviewing this one in an upcoming issue of the print publication The Dark Pages. Don’t miss Alias Nick Beal, it’s terrific!
Larceny (1948) George Sherman - Kino Lorber
John Payne plays a grifter named Rick who’s trying to con a rich widow named Deborah (Joan Caulfield) into funding a nonexistent children’s center that will honor her dead husband. But Rick falls for Deborah and starts having second thoughts. Rick is part of a criminal gang led by a man named Silkly (played by Dan Duryea). Silky’s not too keen on his grifters falling for their marks, so there’s that, but Silky’s girl Tory (Shelley Winters) has a thing for Rick. If all of that sounds like a soap opera, well… there’s definitely some of that going on, but it’s a solid noir all around with a wonderful cast. This one contains an audio commentary by scholar, filmmaker, and educator Eddy Von Mueller (not to be confused with Eddie Muller) and a few trailers from other Kino noir releases (probably The Web and Alias Nick Beal).
British Noir Collection III - Kino Lorber (2 DVD set)
The Frightened Lady (aka The Case of the Frightened Lady, 1940) directed by George King is more of a murder mystery than a film noir, based on a play by Edgar Wallace. Marius Goring plays Lord William Lebanon, whose mother Lady Lebanon (Helen Haye) insists that he keep the family line going by marrying his cousin played by Penelope Dudley-Ward. Lord William has no intention of doing so, especially since his cousin has fallen for a young architect played by Patrick Barr, and before you know it, there’s a murder. It’s mostly a dysfunctional family whodunit.
Brass Monkey (1948) a British comedy-thriller directed by Thornton Freeland. Popular British radio personality Carrol Levis, playing herself, teams up with a woman named Kay Sheldon, played by Carole Landis. Both of these women get caught up in a case of smuggling and murder when a priceless brass monkey is stolen from a Japanese temple and winds up in England. People are literally dying to get their hands on the artifact. The film is a sort of weird Maltese Falcon knockoff with a lot of radio musical and comedy performers. The film also costars Terry-Thomas, Ernest Thesiger, and Herbert Lom, but more importantly the picture marks the final film of Carole Landis.
Third Time Lucky (aka Banco, 1949) directed by Gordon Parry. Dermot Walsh plays a compulsive gambler who falls for a woman played by Glynis Johns, who seems to bring him good luck until he learns she’s also caught the eye of one of his gambling rivals.
Tall Headlines (aka The Frightened Bride, 1952) chronicles the struggles of a middle-class British family when their oldest son is hanged for murder. The film stars Mai Zetterling and André Morell (who played Professor Quatermass in the BBC TV serial Quatermass and the Pit). It’s also an early film directed by Terence Young, who also directed the first two James Bond films and much more.
Breakaway (1956), directed by Henry Cass, may be the most exciting film in this set. Tom Conway plays a private eye trying to track down a stolen formula and a kidnapped woman. Apparently this is a sequel to Murder on Approval, aka Barbados Quest, so it looks like a planned series that never got past the second movie. The film also stars Honor Blackman, Michael Balfour, and John Colicos.
I have the first two British Noir sets from Kino. The first one is pretty good, the second one not bad, but this third one looks pretty average. That first set sold for $60 retail, the second for $50, and this one’s priced at $40. I’m not going to pick it up until it goes on sale for a pretty good discount, but if you end up getting it, let me know how it is.
Thunderbolt (1929) Josef von Sterberg - Kino Lorber
Thunderbolt is obviously a film made before the classic film noir era, but it may be worth checking out as a forerunner to noir. George Bancroft plays gangster Thunderbolt Jim Lang, on death row for murder. In the cell next to Thunderbolt is a bank clerk named Bob (Richard Arlen), who was framed for a bank robbery and killing. Who framed Bob? Thunderbolt. Why? Because Bob was making time with Thunderbolt’s girl Ritzy (Fay Wray). Can Thunderbolt delay his own execution long enough for him to get even with Bob? Some say that this film is a remake of Sternberg’s own Underworld from 1927, but pulpier. It’s Sternberg’s first sound picture and features a script cowritten by Charles Furthman, who also cowrote Underworld. Also working on the Thunderbolt script: Herman Mankiewicz. Bancroft earned a Best Actor nomination for the role of Thunderbolt. The disc features a new audio commentary by the always-interesting Nick Pinkerton, and some trailers. Now it appears the UK label Indicator is planning a release of the film that will undoubtedly have more special features, but I can’t confirm when that will be. If you’re a fan of the film, you might want to hold out for the Indicator release. If you’re trying Thunderbolt for the first time, maybe pick up the Kino.
I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (1948) William Nigh
Warner Archive is making some very unexpected choices in July, and I don’t know if anyone saw this one coming, I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes, based on a Cornell Woolrich short story. Dan Castle plays Tom Quinn, a dancer awaiting execution for a murder he didn’t commit. Told in flashback, we learn how Tom finds a wallet containing $2,000 and decides to keep it. But this is not a good idea, Tom! Not when your shoe prints are found near the body of a dead man who was robbed of his wallet containing… $2,000! I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes is a very low-budget affair from Monogram pictures directed by William Nigh, and also stars Regis Toomey as the investigating cop. This is another film that was thought lost until it was discovered in the early 2000s. Really looking forward to this one!
So July should keep us busy! If there are any titles I missed, please let me know in the comments below. Again, I hope you’ll check out the blog for new releases from previous months as well as my YouTube channel. Until next time, everyone take care and watch lots of great movies.