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” and “neo-noir” 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 or “noir-stained” titles I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
Ironically, August gives us absolutely nothing from the classic film noir era in America (roughly 1941-1958), but it does present us with some interesting pre-noir (including two early Alfred Hitchcock films), neo-noir, and what I’m calling Jean Gabin Day, a triple-feature from the iconic French actor. Let’s get started:
The Incident (1967) Larry Peerce - Eureka (UK, Region B) Blu-ray + DVD
Many have called The Incident a precursor to a similar and more famous film, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). In The Incident, two vicious punks (Tony Musante and Martin Sheen) terrorize and intimidate passengers on a NYC subway car traveling from the Bronx to Times Square, while refusing to allow passengers to leave the train. The tension never lets up and neither does the impressive supporting cast, which includes Thelma Ritter, Beau Bridges, Gary Merrill, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Jack Gilford, Ed McMahon, Jan Sterling, and Donna Mills. This marks the first time this gritty black-and-white film has been released on Blu-ray and the Eureka disc includes a new audio commentary by writer/critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, a post-screening Q&A with director Larry Peerce at the 2017 Wisconsin Film Festival (30 min.), a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Samm Deighan and critic/journalist Barry Forshaw, and a reprint of “Welcome to Fear City: A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York,” a pamphlet actually distrubited during the city’s high-crime epidemic.
This date brings us two films that obviously pre-date the classic era of film noir, but nevertheless are of great interest to noir fans:
Blackmail (1929) Alfred Hitchcock - Kino Lorber
Blackmail not only holds the distinction of being Alfred Hitchcock’s first talking picture, it’s also the first talkie produced in the UK. After a quarrel with her policeman boyfriend Frank (John Longden), a shopkeeper’s daughter named Alice (Anny Ondra) stabs an artist who’s attempting to sexually assault her. After the attacker dies, Frank decides to help Alice cover up her crime, but a local criminal (Donald Calthrop) who saw Alice leaving the artist’s apartment, decides to work the blackmail angle. This disc (with a restoration by the BFI) includes a silent version of the film with a score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, an audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, the archival audio interview “Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon Interviews Icon,” an introduction by actor/writer Noël Simsolo (6 min.), Anny Ondra’s screen test (1 min.), and isolated silent and sound versions of the knife scene.
Murder! (1930) Alfred Hitchcock - Kino Lorber
Murder! brings us another BFI restoration of an early Hitchcock release from Kino, the director’s third sound film. After actress Diana Baring (Norah Baring) is convicted of murdering another actress, juror Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall) has second thoughts about Diana’s guilt. Sir John decides to uncover the truth, no matter how weird and shocking the truth may be. (And for the time, it was pretty shocking.) Hitchcock also shot Mary, a German version of the film, which is also included here, as well as an audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton, another “Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon Interviews Icon” segment, an additional introduction by actor/writer Noël Simsolo, the film’s alternate ending, and the documentary Hitchcock: The Early Years (52 min.).
Port of Shadows (Le Quai des brumes) (1938) Marcel Carné - Kino Lorber Studio Classics
(In French with English subtitles)
Kino Lorber might as well declare August 13th “Jean Gabin Day,” releasing three of the actor’s noir-stained gangster films (all with 4K restorations), starting with Port of Shadows, which chronicles army deserter Jean (Jean Gabin) as he tries to find a ship to take him away from Le Havre. Before he can achieve that goal, Jean becomes involved with a lovely teenager named Nelly (Michèle Morgan), who herself is attempting to run away from her controlling godfather (Michel Simon), but things get dark and complicated. Extras include an introduction by professor/critic Ginette Vincendeau (6 min.), the documentary On the Port of the Shadows (44 min.), the featurette “Restoring ‘Le Quai des brumes’ (10 min.), and a theatrical trailer.
Touchez Pas au Grisbi (Don’t Touch the Loot; Honor Among Thieves) (1954) Jacques Becker - Kino Lorber Studio Classics (In French with English subtitles)
Touchez Pas au Grisbi gives viewers a much older Gabin as Max, an aging, tired-of-it-all gangster who’s ready to fence some stolen gold and settle down to a life of ease. But Max’s partner Riton (René Dary) can’t keep his mouth shut about the gold, letting it slip to his girlfriend Josy (Jeanne Moreau), who tells her other lover… Touchez Pas au Grisbi was a comeback film for Gabin as well as one of the first important French responses to American film noir. Extras include an audio commentary by critic Nick Pinkerton, and interviews with director Jacques Becker (13 min.), Jeanne Moreau (5 min.), and professor/critic Ginette Vincendeau (7 min.). (Although no indication is given, I assume these are interviews in French with English subtitles.)
Razzia sur la Chnouf (1955) Henri Decoin - Kino Lorber Studio Classics (In French with English subtitles)
Razzia sur la Chnouf (frequently referred to simply as Razzia), like Bob le Flambeur and Rififi, was based on a novel by Auguste Le Breton. All three films premiered in 1955, which was certainly a good year based on these three films alone. In Razzia, Jean Gabin plays Henri Ferré, a drug lord returning to France after 10 years in the US, seeking to restructure a drug cartel in Paris. Liski (Marcel Dalio), the head of the cartel, sets up Ferré with a local bar as a cover and two enforcers (Lino Ventura and Albert Rémy), but it soon becomes evident that something’s not right… If you’ve never heard of this film, it’s probably because its original release was confined to one New York art-house theatre. Although it received good reviews, it didn’t get much attention in the US. I’d love to hear the story of why the film didn’t receive a wider release, which could be discussed on the audio commentary by Nick Pinkerton, the disc’s only extra (other than a theatrical trailer).
True Believer (1989) Joseph Ruben - Mill Creek Entertainment
Eddie Dodd (James Woods) was once a civil rights attorney, but things have changed. He now practices law with an air of cynicism, defending drug dealers he knows are guilty. And then Dodd meets a young intern (Robert Downey Jr.), who convinces him that the case of a wrongly-accused Korean man on death row is worth taking. It may seem a well-worn or even trite plot, but the Wesley Strick screenplay earned an Edgar nomination and the film won the Grand Prix at the Cognac Festival du Film Policier. This is one of Mill Creek’s Retro VHS Collectible Blu-rays and thus will no doubt contain zero extras.
Cruising (1980) William Friedkin - Arrow (UK on August 19)
Cruising is one of the most controversial films that most people (including me) have never seen. Al Pacino plays Steve Burns, a NYPD cop working undercover to investigate a serial killer targeting gay men in New York’s gay S&M community. The movie was famously protested by gay rights activists for portraying the gay community as perverse, something the filmmakers never intended. This release may clear up many misconceptions about the film, offering extras such as a new audio commentary by writer/director William Friedkin and critic Mark Kermode, an archival commentary by Friedkin, a featurette titled “The History of Cruising,” examining the film’s origins and production, and “Exorcising Cruising,” which examines the controversy of the film and its legacy. Friedkin also supervised and approved the new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative.
The UK company Network presents two non-consecutive films on one disc from the Bulldog Drummond series, based on the novels by H.C. McNeile, published under the pen name “Sapper.” In the novels, Drummond was a wealthy British gentleman who served in World War I. After returning home, Drummond was bored and decided to take up detective work. The films (both British and American) stretched from 1922 to 1969, but most of them were made in the 1930s. Even during this one decade, the character was portrayed by seven different actors. The Return of Bulldog Drummond (1934) stars Ralph Richardson as Drummond as the detective forms a group of men to rescue his kidnapped wife (Ann Todd). Bulldog Drummond at Bay finds Drummond (John Lodge this time) tracking down foreign agents attempting to steal plans for a top-secret aircraft. I’ve never seen any of the Bulldog Drummond movies, but from the research I’ve done, these two aren’t exactly regarded as the best of the series and may not be the best entry points. Yet for fans of the series, this looks like the first time any of them (not counting James Bond-inspired Bulldog Drummond comedy thrillers Deadlier than the Male  and Some Girls Do ) have been available on Blu-ray.
Day of the Outlaw (1959) André De Toth - Kino Lorber
Day of the Outlaw may look like a Western, but it’s as bleak and brutal as any film noir. Director André De Toth’s final Western stars Robert Ryan as Starrett, a harsh, unyielding cattleman embroiled in conflict with homesteaders in a snowy Wyoming town. To make matters worse, Starrett’s lover (Gilligan’s Island star Tina Louise) is married to Hal (Alan Marshall), leader of the homesteaders. As their dispute begins to escalate, a band of thugs arrives, terrorizing the town and holding everyone in it hostage. The leader of the thugs, a rogue cavalry officer named Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives), can barely keep his men from violating the women and destroying the town, and when Bruhn’s health begins to deteriorate, his control begins to weaken. Day of the Outlaw is not a typical Western, clouding the concepts of heroism and turning typically black-and-white areas of morality into gray. I consider this one of Ryan’s best performances and highly recommend it.
Masters of Cinema released a Region B Blu-ray in 2015, which included an interview with Bertrand Tavernier deconstructing the film and discussing André De Toth’s legacy. As far as I can tell, that interview is missing from the Kino release, but Kino does add an audio commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold, which the MoC does not have.
Fear in the Night (aka Dynasty of Fear; Honeymoon of… Fear) (1972) Jimmy Sangster - Shout Factory
I’m highly suspicious of any movie that goes by three different titles in the same language, but Fear in the Night may be well worth checking out. The set-up seems like a knock-off of the superb Henri-Georges Clouzot thriller Les Diaboliques (1955): After recovering from a nervous breakdown, newlywed Peggy Heller (Judy Geeson) and her husband Robert (Ralph Bates) move to a rural boarding school where Robert works. Peggy isn’t exactly thrilled about the school’s strange headmaster (Peter Cushing), and even less thrilled about headmaster’s wife (Joan Collins) and the amorous looks she gives Robert, but there’s more for Peggy to worry about: a one-armed man who seems to be stalking her. This late period Hammer Studios film has its share of fans, but also plenty of harsh critics. The Shout Factory release features the film in two aspect ratios - 1.66:1 and 1.85:1, as well as a new audio commentary from film historian Troy Howarth, and an archival commentary with co-writer/producer/director Jimmy Sangster and Hammer film historian Marcus Hearn. Also included: an archival interview with Sangster, the featurette “End of Term: Inside Fear in the Night,” a theatrical trailer, and a stills gallery.
That’s going to do it for August. I hope you’ll join me in toasting the three Jean Gabin films and perhaps a few others as well. As always, if I’ve missed any noir-related releases, please let me know in the comments below. Happy viewing!