Film Noir New Releases in April 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. (If you missed the list for March 2021, you can find it here.)
Once again we find very little from the recognized classic era (roughly 1941 to 1959) of film noir, yet there’s still plenty to enjoy from several decades of noir-stained films (including a controversial release that lots of people are talking about). I hope you’ll find something of interest here. And thanks for reading!
The Man In Search of His Murderer (1931) Robert Siodmak - Kino Lorber Blu-ray
Hans (Heinz Ruhmann) is so overwhelmed with debt he arranges his own murder to take place sometime during the next 12 hours. But wouldn't you know it, before those hours are up, Hans falls in love. Now with every reason to live, he seeks out his hired assassin, only to learn that the killer has sold his “contract” to another assassin. The Man in Search of His Murderer is primarily a comedy, and clearly predates the established classic film noir era, so why do I include it here? For one thing, we have future film noir master Robert Siodmak directing his second film. For another, the screenplay was co-written by Billy Wilder and Curt Siodmak. The disc also includes an audio commentary by film historian Josh Nelson.
The Frightened City (1961) John Lemont - Studio Canal Blu-ray (UK, Region B)
Just one year before he became an international star as James Bond in Dr. No (1962), Sean Connery appeared in this gangster noir as Paddy Damion, a cat burglar recruited by mobster Harry Foulcher (Alfred Marks) into a protection racket. Despite already having a girlfriend, Paddy finds time to make time with femme fatale Anya (Yvonne Romain), the mistress of the evil crime boss Zhernikov (Herbert Lom). The Frightened City comes to Blu-ray from a new 4K restoration. The only extra appears to be an interview with journalist and film historian Matthew Sweet.
Memories of Murder (2003) Bong Joon-ho - Criterion Blu-ray
The announcement of a North American Blu-ray release of Memories of Murder initially caused instant celebration, followed by controversy and disappointment in some circles. More on that in a moment.
On one level, Memories of Murder is a terrific serial killer/police procedural (many refer to it as the Korean Zodiac), yet it is filled with so much more, including elements which may escape those (like me) with a limited knowledge of Korean history and culture. Two detectives, Suh (Kim Sang-Kyung) and Park (Song Kang-Ho), attempt to solve a series of serial murders in the town of Hwaseong from 1986 to 1991. On another level, the film examines the end of General Chun Doo-hwan’s rule of government and the rise of the pro-democracy movement. Something was definitely in the air during this time of transition, and although most Americans may not understand all the details, we can probably find parallels to our own not-too-distant history. The good news is that Memories of Murder stands up to multiple viewings, allowing you to find something fresh and enlightening with each rewatch.
The bad news is that this 4K restoration (supervised by the film’s cinematographer Kim Hyung Ku and approved by director Bong Joon Ho) has a dramatically different color palette from the original Korean Blu-ray from 2010. You can read the details here. Many fans wished for two different cuts on this release, but alas, this is what we have.
Yet this 2-disc set does include a wealth of extras: three audio commentaries, a two-and-a-half hour documentary (longer than the main feature), and more. Whether you purchase or rent it, every noir fan should see this movie. The film itself - not necessarily this new presentation, which I have not yet seen - gets my highest recommendation.
Each Dawn I Die (1939) William Keighley - Warner Archive Blu-ray
Presented from a new 4K restoration from Warner Archive, Each Dawn I Die stars James Cagney as Frank Ross, a journalist framed for manslaughter after blowing the whistle on city corruption. Convinced he’ll eventually be proven innocent, Ross finds life at Rocky Point Penitentiary brutal, but fellow inmate and hardened gangster Hood Stacey (George Raft) may be able to help Ross if he’ll do something for him. Although released before the beginning of the classic noir period, Each Dawn I Die will be of interest to most noir fans.
The same extras from the 2006 Warner DVD have been ported over, including three shorts from 1939: a vintage newsreel, the Technicolor short “A Day at Santa Anna,” and the Oscar-nominated cartoon “Detouring America.” Other extras: the retrospective featurette “Stool Pigeons and Pine Overcoats: The Language of Gangster Films,” an audio commentary by film historian Haden Guest, a studio blooper reel, the Warner Bros. cartoon “Each Dawn I Crow,” a Lux Radio Theater broadcast with George Raft and Franchot Tone, and trailers for the main feature and Wings of the Navy (1939).
Quick Change (1990) Howard Franklin, Bill Murray - Warner Archive Blu-ray
With yet another comedy, you may think I’ve gone comedy-crazy, and perhaps I have, but Quick Change is a comedic tale built around a heist, and who doesn’t love a good heist? Think of it as “Clown Day Afternoon” with Bill Murray as Grimm, the mastermind of a trio of bank robbers which also includes accomplices Geena Davis and Randy Quaid. The heist goes off without a hitch, but the escape? That’s where the fun begins. Quick Change bombed at the box office, but was mostly well-received by critics. The movie also features Jason Robards, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, and Phil Hartman, to name just a few. A theatrical trailer is the only extra.
Another Thin Man (aka Return of the Thin Man, 1939) W. S. Van Dyke - Warner Archive Blu-ray
The Thin Man series continues with this third entry, Another Thin Man, an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s story “The Farewell Murder,” which finds Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) returning to New York with a new member of the family. No, it’s not Asta, but rather bundle of joy Nicky Junior. Nora’s dad’s former business partner Colonel Burr MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith) asks Nick to look into a series of death threats from MacFay’s former employee Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard). When MacFay is killed, Church is the most likely suspect, but Nick thinks the case is a little too open-and-shut.
Warner Archive’s second 4K restoration this month, Another Thin Man’s extras include the MGM musical short “Love on Tap” and the classic MGM cartoon “The Bookworm.” I’m glad Warner Archive is continuing to release The Thin Man series on Blu-ray, but I’m going to wait for the inevitable box set.
Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) / Wanted for Murder (1946) Lewis Gilbert/Lawrence Huntington - Cohen Media Group
Finally, some film noir from the classic era! The Cohen Media Group released a nifty Douglas Sirk double feature back in 2016 which included A Scandal in Paris (1946) and the woefully underseen noir Lured (1947). In April they present another double feature, this time with two British noirs.
Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) finds Teddy (Dick Bogarde) married to the much-older Monica (Mona Washbourne), a wealthy widow whose money Teddy believes will be his upon her death, which will be soon, if he has anything to do with it. Part of his plan succeeds, but Monica’s lawyer (Robert Flemyng) suspects Teddy might try this trick again, which he does, but this time… Director Lewis Gilbert is remembered for directing three James Bond films: You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and Moonraker (1979), but this solid British noir should not be neglected.
In Wanted for Murder (1946), Anne Fielding (Dulcie Gray) is on her way to meet Victor Colebrooke (Eric Portman) for a date when she’s delayed in the Tube, where she strikes up a conversation with another passenger named Jack (Derek Farr). No worries: Jack escorts Anne to her rendezvous with Victor. After all, there’s a killer on the loose, and we can’t be too careful, can we? Wanted for Murder, co-written by Emeric Pressburger, is a prime example of a clever British noir that’s largely fallen through the cracks, yet is worthy of rediscovery.
This noir double feature (on one disc) is a nice addition, but unfortunately the release contains only the films’ original trailers as extras. Still, with 2K restorations of both films, this is a welcome disc.
A Lovely Way to Die (1968) David Lowell Rich - Kino Lorber Blu-ray
Police Detective Jim Schuyler (Kirk Douglas), forced to resign when faced with charges of police brutality, decides to try the PI route, and his first case is a doozy. Defense attorney Tennessee Fredericks (Eli Wallach) hires Schuyler to guard his beautiful and wealthy client Rena Westabrook (Sylva Koscina), who’s set to stand trial for the murder of her husband. You can probably guess what happens next, but the film does star Kirk Douglas and serves as Ali McGraw’s film debut. The only extras include a new audio commentary by critics Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell, and two trailers for the film.
One significant change: The UK Region B set Tales from the Urban Jungle (including Brute Force and The Naked City) featured last month, has been pushed back to April 12.
That’s going to do it for April, not the best of months, but certainly not the worst. Everyone be well, stay safe, and watch some great film noir.