Film Noir New Releases in July 2019
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.
If you include all the films from an upcoming box set, I’ve got 21 films for your consideration in July. If you delayed that June vacation, you might want to consider moving it to August, but around here, there are no guarantees. Check your bank account, take a deep breath, and let’s get started:
Le Doulos (The Finger Man) (1963) Jean-Pierre Melville - Kino Lorber
Melville on Blu-ray is always cause for celebration, and this month we have not one, but two of his best films. Le Doulos stars Jean-Paul Belmpondo as Silien, a career criminal who’s also rumored in some circles to be a snitch. In spite of this knowledge, another career criminal named Maurice (Serge Reggiani) plans a heist with Silien. When Maurice lands himself in stir once again, he begins to think Silien may have put him there. Le Doulos has enjoyed Blu-ray releases in Europe and Japan, but this Kino Lorber edition marks the film’s first US Blu-ray appearance. This 4K restoration is also accompanied by an audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan, “The Demon Within Him,” an interview with first assistant director Volker Schlöndorff, and the documentary Birth of the Detective Story Melville Style.
Bob le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler) (1956) Jean-Pierre Melville - Kino Lorber
For many film noir fans, Bob le Flambeur is their entry point into the world of director Melville, who clearly loved American crime films like no one else. Bob le Flambeur is both a heist film and a “one last job” tale, but it’s so much more. Habitual gambler Bob Mantagné (Roger Duchesne) comes out of a comfortable retirement for the aforementioned “one last job,” to strike the Deauville casino, promising to turn his back on gambling until the job’s completed. It’s easy to mistake Bob le Flambeur as something of a lighthearted comedy of manners with the familiar trappings and stylizations of noir, but Melville has something much darker in mind. Another 4K restoration from Kino, this disc includes a new commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton, a documentary called Diary of a Villain, and a theatrical trailer. A must-own. Go ahead and pick up both Melville films. You won’t be sorry.
Poison Pen (1939) Paul L. Stein - Network Releasing (UK, Region B)
Herni-Georges Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (1943) is almost certainly based on Paul L. Stein’s Poison Pen (1939), based on a 1938 play by Richard Llewellyn. A seemingly quiet English village becomes plagued with poison-pen letters whose moral and sexual accusations contain at least some elements of truth. Recipients of said letters include David (Geoffrey Toone), whose fiancé Ann (Ann Todd) is apparently stepping out on him, a man named Sam (Robert Newton) who becomes convinced his wife has been two-timing with a local storekeeper (Edward Chapman), and more. I have only seen the Clouzot film, but by all accounts, Poison Pen is an effective pre-war thriller with significant noir elements. Most Network releases contain no extras, but I’ve never been disappointed with their presentations.
Alphaville (aka Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution) (1965) Jean-Luc Godard - Kino Lorber (also available separately on DVD)
Godard marries film noir to science fiction, but don’t expect Blade Runner. (This is 1965, remember…) Government agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) accepts an assignment taking him to Alphaville, a distant dystopian planet (although Caution travels there by car), seeking out a rogue agent (Akim Tamiroff) and a scientist who’s created a mind-control device to rule Alphaville. According to John Grant’s A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide, the story is “essentially a string of MacGuffins” filled with French New Wave jump cuts and voiceover narration. Alphaville - loved by some, hated by others - is a film noir blind spot for me that I’m eager to explore. This 4K restoration includes the original French and English versions of the film, an audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, an archival interview with the film’s star Anna Karina, an introduction by Colin McCabe, and a theatrical trailer.
The Champagne Murders (Le Scandale) (1967) Claude Chabrol (Kino Lorber)
Claude Chabrol’s labyrinthine The Champagne Murders contains such a complex plot that critics exited screening rooms scratching their heads, literally wondering what just happened. It’s reported that Anthony Perkins signed on to the film just to find out the identity of the killers. Without getting too convoluted here, the basic plot involves the struggle for control of a champagne company, which leads to murder, betrayal, blackmail, and more. In addition to Perkins, the film stars Maurice Ronet (The Unfaithful Wife), Yvonne Furneaux (La Dolce Vita), Stéphane Audran (Babette’s Feast), and character actor Henry Jones. The film was shot in two versions, French and English, and apparently this disc contains only the English version. Extras include an audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, a Trailers From Hell segment with Tim Hunter, and a theatrical trailer.
The Long Dark Hall (1951) Reginald Beck, Anthony Bushell - Network Releasing (UK, Region B)
When Arthur Groome (Rex Harrison) discovers his showgirl mistress (Patricia Wayne) has been murdered, he tries even harder to keep his infidelities from his wife (Lilli Palmer) and the police. Meanwhile, the real killer is out there somewhere. (In an interesting “life imitating art” twist, Harrison’s real-life marriage to Palmer suffered from Harrison’s affair with Carole Landis, which resulted in Landis’s suicide.) This courtroom drama with noir elements is the only directorial effort from long-time editor Reginald Beck. Frequent noir director Nunnally Johnson wrote the film’s screenplay. Extras are doubtful.
The Night Has Eyes (aka Terror House, Moonlight Madness) (1942) Leslie Arliss - Network Releasing (UK, Region B)
Schoolteachers Marian (Joyce Howard) and Doris (Tucker McGuire) take a vacation on the Yorkshire moors, where their friend Evelyn vanished one year earlier. In the midst of a storm, the teachers find themselves at the home of reclusive pianist/composer Stephen Deremid (James Mason). Although Marian is clearly falling in love with Deremid, she begins to suspect he may be responsible for Evelyn’s disappearance.
Klute (1971) Alan J. Pakula - Criterion
Who knows why it’s taken so long for Klute to get a Blu-ray release, but its time has finally come. This Alan J. Pakula film is one of the earliest and most famous 1970s neo-noir entries with exceptional characters, performances, and Pakula’s trademark elements of dread and paranoia. When a company executive named Tom Gruneman disappears, Gruneman’s colleague (Charles Cioffi) hires reticent PI John Klute (Donald Sutherland) to find him. Klute learns that Gruneman allegedly sent obscene letters to a call girl named Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda, in her Oscar-winning role). Since much of the focus is on the prostitute, many have said the film should be titled Bree instead of Klute, yet Pakula creates two equally fascinating noirish characters. Although fans have waiting patiently for this one, Criterion has taken the time to treat the film right, not only with a 4K restoration (supervised by camera operator Michael Chapman), but also with a new conversation between Jane Fonda and Illeana Douglas, a new documentary about the film and director Pakula by filmmaker Matthew Miele, featuring scholars, other filmmakers, and Pakula’s family and friends. The package also includes “The Look of Klute,” a new interview with Amy Fine Collins, archival interviews with Pakula and Fonda, the short archival documentary “Klute in New York,” and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Mark Harris and excepts from a 1972 interview with Pakula.
The Leopard Man (1943) Jacques Tourneur - Shout Factory
Some might consider the Val Lewton-produced B movie The Leopard Man more horror than noir, but when you combine Lewton, director Jacques Tourneur, and Cornell Woolrich (who wrote the source material “The Black Alibi”), you’re certainly in noir-stained territory. A Mexican border town is plagued with a series of savage murders and maulings. Is an escaped leopard responsible for the deaths, or is there another answer? This Scream Factory (an imprint of Shout Factory) release is taken from a new 4K remaster struck from the original camera negative and includes a new audio commentary from filmmaker/historian Constantine Nasr as well as an archival commentary from filmmaker William Friedkin.
Noir Archive Volume 2: 1954-1956 - Kit Parker Films/Mill Creek (3 Blu-ray discs)
Back in April, Kit Parker Films/Mill Creek wowed film noir fans by releasing a set of nine lesser-known Columbia films from 1944-1954, most of which had never received a DVD release, much less the Blu-ray treatment. I’m still working my way through that initial set, but those films look surprisingly good. Now three months later, we have nine more films with the release of Volume 2 covering the years 1954-1956. I’ll give (very) brief descriptions of each film:
Cell 2455 Death Row (1955) Fred F. Sears
Based on a popular memoir of the same name, Cell 2455 Death Row is notable primarily for the performance of William Campbell as Caryl Chessman, presenting the story of how his life of crime led him to death row in San Quentin.
Rumble on the Docks (1956) Fred F. Sears
After helping a local girl and her brother threatened by thugs on the Brooklyn docks, Jimmy Smigelski (James Darren) finds himself caught up in a gang rivalry. Look for Robert Blake, Celia Lovsky, and the always interesting Timothy Carey.
The Crooked Web (1955) Nathan Hertz Juran
Frank (Richard Denning) and Joanie (Mari Blanchard) pose as brother and sister attempting to lure cash-strapped drive-in owner (Frank Lovejoy) into their scam: to find a hidden stash of gold left in Germany since the end of the war.
Footsteps in the Fog (1955) Arthur Lubin
Hmmm… A period noir set in Victorian London that’s filmed in Technicolor! Stewart Grainger stars as a London businessman who poisons his wife only to find himself blackmailed by his Cockney maid (Jean Simmons). This film was previously given a Blu-ray release by Indicator last year.
5 Against the House (1955) Phil Karlson
The story of four bored college guys deciding to rob a casino in Reno takes awhile to get going, but the heist is nicely handled. The film was included in the out-of-print Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I box set. I previously reviewed it back in 2015.
The Night Holds Terror (1955) Andrew L. Stone
The Night Holds Terror is often compared to The Desperate Hours, also released in 1955. This home invasion story pits family man Gene Courtier (Jack Kelly) against hitchhikers Vince Edwards, John Cassavetes, and David Cross.
New Orleans Uncensored (1955) William Castle
Former naval officer Dan Corbett (Arthur Franz) arrives in New Orleans, looking for work. Corbett soon regrets accepting a job with Zero Saxon (Michael Ansara), a ruthless racketeer controlling the docks. The film co-stars Beverly Garland and Mike Mazurki.
Bait (1954) Hugo Haas
Hugo Haas is at it again, this time playing Marko, a middle-aged prospector looking for a lost gold mine. Marko teams up with young Ray Brighton (John Agar), who immediately becomes attracted to Marko’s hot young wife (Cleo Moore).
Spin a Dark Web (aka Soho Incident) (1956) Vernon Sewell
Canadian prizefighter hopeful Jim Bankley (Lee Patterson) finds himself in London, falling for Bella (Faith Domergue), the sister of a local mob leader, which presents all kinds of problems, especially when murder is involved.
Even if you have to pay full price for this set, it's a steal, coming out to less than six bucks per film. (And there's a third volume coming out in September.)
Criss Cross (1949) Robert Siodmak - Shout Factory
I unreservedly proclaim that Criss Cross belongs in every film noir lover’s collection and thanks to Shout Factory, we now have a wonderful new 4K restoration (from the original camera negative) to treasure. Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) longs to lure his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) away from her new husband, the slimy hood Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Although he hates Slim, Steve - who now works for an armored car company - is in the perfect position to pull off a heist with Slim’s help. Such a job could bring Anna back to Steve and do away with Slim at the same time… if everything works out. But do things ever work out in film noir? Siodmak’s direction and great performances make Criss Cross an outstanding noir, but if you need further evidence, consider that the film also includes what Eddie Muller calls “The Femme Fatale Manifesto,” and it’s spectacular. The disc includes a new commentary by film historian Jim Hemphill, a theatrical trailer, and not much else (unless you get really excited by a still gallery, and a poster/lobby card still gallery). More supplements would’ve been nice, but even as it is, this release of Criss Cross is a must-own.
Pacific Heights (1990) John Schlesinger - Sony Pictures
Patty (Melanie Griffith) and Drake (Matthew Modine) rent out two apartments in their San Francisco home, one to a couple (Nobu McCarthy, Mako), another to a strange weirdo named Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton), who wreaks havoc throughout the house and beyond. Directed by John Schlessinger (and with a cameo from Griffith’s mom Tippi Hedren) Pacific Heights is probably better described as a psychological thriller rather than a film noir, but I include it nevertheless. No word on extras.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) Robert Aldrich - Warner Archive
Call it gothic noir, domestic horror, high camp, psychological thriller, show-biz nightmare, or any other moniker you like, but no one who’s seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? has ever forgotten it. For the first and only time, screen rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford share the screen as sisters Baby Jane (Davis) and Blanche (Crawford) Hudson. Jane’s career as a child performer crumbled as Blanche became a movie star, that is, before the unfortunate accident that confined Blanche to a wheelchair. Jane becomes Blanche’s sadistic caregiver, imprisoning her while waiting for an opportunity to return to show business, an offer that’s never going to happen. Or is it? If you watched the TV series Feud: Bette and Joan (2017), you should see the real thing being played out on the screen. The Warner Bros. DigiBook 50th anniversary edition of the film from 2012 contained a nice selection of extras which I hope will be ported over to this release.
Is that enough to break the bank? I'll admit, it's a lot. So plan carefully and enjoy the wonderful noir titles coming your way next month. And let me know what you're planning on picking up!