Film Noir New Releases in July 2020
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
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.
Based on last month’s offerings, you might say we’re in the middle of a summer drought that extends into July, but we do have a couple of interesting box sets and some nice individual releases, bringing the total count in July to 14 films, which isn't bad at all. Let’s take a look:
The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) Phil Goldstone (Film Detective)
This pre-Code Poverty Row film is remembered more for its Alberto Vargas poster than the film itself, which begins with Edith Crawford (Claire DuBrey) visiting her deceased husband’s brother, District Attorney John Grant (Alan Dinehart). Crawford has discovered letters proving her husband was having an affair before his demise. Grant lets her in on a little secret: The woman in question was the infamous Nora Moran (Zita Johann), the first woman to die in the electric chair in over 20 years for a crime she didn’t commit. Thus begins a flashback that tells us the full story. In addition to flashbacks, the film uses other noir techniques such as voiceover narration, dream sequences, and more. Your mileage may vary depending on how you define film noir (or pre-film noir, as the case may be), but The Sin of Nora Moran is definitely worth a look for noir fans. This presentation comes from a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative and includes an original documentary on Zita Johann and a collector’s booklet with production notes and reactions to the film. You might want to check the film out on the Internet Archive before making a purchase.
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) Norman Foster (Kino Lorber)
Burt Lancaster plays Bill Saunders, a Canadian ex-soldier who inadvertently kills a man during a fight in a London pub. Desperate for a place to hide, Saunders finds shelter in the apartment of a nurse named Jane Wharton (Joan Fontaine). Jane attempts to help Saunders deal with his almost constant anger issues, but a small-time thug named Harry Carter (Robert Newton) seeks to blackmail Saunders, forcing him into a life of crime. Despite the great names associated with the film (and one of the best film noir titles ever), I wasn’t a big fan of this one when I first saw it a few years ago, but I’m willing to give it another look. This new 2K restoration includes a new audio commentary by Jeremy Arnold and a theatrical trailer.
Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema IV (Kino Lorber 3-disc set)
Kino Lorber is certainly on a roll with their third film noir box set in three months. (The first set was released back in 2016.) Some of these collections have been a mixed bag with a few questionable noir choices here and there, but they’re all worth owning. Here’s a quick rundown on each title in the fourth volume in the series:
Calcutta (1947) John Farrow
Neale (Alan Ladd) and Pedro (William Bendix) are cargo plane pilots regularly flying a route between Chungking and Calcutta. When their fellow pilot Bill (John Whitney) is murdered, Neale and Pedro try to discover who knocked him off. And what does Bill’s fiancée (Gail Russell) know about it? Ladd and Bendix (who appeared together in several films, including The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia) are always fun, and John F. Seitz provides some nice cinematography. The disc includes a new audio commentary by critic Nick Pinkerton.
An Act of Murder (aka Live Today for Tomorrow and I Stand Accused,1948) Michael Gordon
Calvin Cooke (Fredric March), a hard-nosed judge with a terminally ill wife named Cathy (Florence Eldridge), decides to end her misery and his own by driving them both off a cliff. Cathy’s misery is soon over, but the judge survives, giving a full confession to the authorities. A lawyer named Douglas (Edmond O’Brien), who had previously suffered bad experiences with the judge, agrees to represent him. The film is more courtroom drama than noir, yet it’s a compelling film with an excellent performance by March. This is certainly a welcome Blu-ray upgrade. This film and Six Bridges to Cross include new audio commentaries by Samm Deighan.
Six Bridges to Cross (1955) Joseph Pevney
Veteran cop Edward Gallagher (George Nader) has tried for years to turn his friend Jerry (Tony Curtis) away from a life of crime, but to no avail. Edward offers Jerry one last chance at redeeming himself, but Jerry’s got a tip on a big heist that may be too tempting to pass up. Based on the infamous 1950 Brinks Robbery in Boston, Six Bridges to Cross co-stars Julie Adams, Jay C. Flippen, and Sal Mineo.
The Good Die Young (1954) Lewis Gilbert (UK, Region B, BFI Video, Blu-ray + DVD)
Miles “Rave” Ravenscourt (Laurence Harvey) has a big problem. He’s just been told by his wife Eve (Margaret Leighton) that she’s fed up with paying off his gambling debts and won’t do it any longer. Rave decides to recruit three other men, also experiencing troubled marriages, to help him pull off an armored-car heist. There’s Mike (Stanley Baker), a retired boxer who’s just had his hand amputated; Joe (Richard Basehart), who’s seeking to get to America with his wife (Joan Collins); and Eddie (John Ireland), an AWOL American airman with an unfaithful wife (Gloria Grahame). I haven’t seen this one, but with a cast this good, I’m all in. This new 2K restoration by the British Film Institute includes both the original theatrical version and the international version (which, from what I can tell, is about two minutes longer), and a fully illustrated booklet with new writing on the film.
Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Mill Creek, 3-disc set)
NOTE: The release date for this set has been moved to September 22.
Apparently the set will now include several bonus features, which will definitely be worth the wait.
The Inner Sanctum was originally a popular radio program which aired from 1941 to 1952. It was popular enough for Universal to secure the screen rights in 1943, producing six movies, all featuring Lon Chaney, Jr. Poor Chaney plays six different saps suspected of murder in six different films. (It’s sort of a “Whose murder are they charging me for this time?” situation.) These films are more mystery/horror than film noir, but certainly include noir elements. Besides, they look to be a lot of fun. (Note that this set, oddly enough, does not include the 1948 film Inner Sanctum. Go figure…) The six-film set includes:
Calling Dr. Death (1943) Reginald Le Borg
A neurologist (Chaney) can’t be certain whether he murdered his unfaithful wife, so he asks his nurse (Patricia Morison) to hypnotize him to discover the truth. J. Carrol Naish co-stars as a detective. (63 min.)
Weird Woman (1944) Reginald Le Borg
While on vacation in the South Seas, Professor Norman Reed (Chaney) falls in love and marries a woman named Paula (Anne Gwynne). Once they return from their trip, Reed’s friends believe something is strange about Paula, especially as she admits to believing in voodoo and other supernatural phenomena. (63 min.)
Dead Man’s Eyes (1944) Reginald Le Borg
After an artist named Stuart (Chaney) is blinded by an accident (or was it an accident?), his fiancée (Jean Parker) promises that her father (Edward Fielding), a surgeon, will be able to successfully perform an eye transplant if he can find a willing donor. But in order to operate, they’ll have to wait until the donor dies, which he does, leaving Stuart as the mostly likely suspect for the murder. I’ve just gotta see this! (64 min.)
The Frozen Ghost (1945) Harold Young
After radio hypnotist Gregor the Great (Chaney) accidentally causes the death of an audience member during a broadcast, Gregor is forced into hiding, finding work in a wax museum. Yet all is not well for Gregor, as other forces are at work conspiring against him… (61 min.)
Strange Confession (aka The Missing Head,1945) John Hoffman
Just before he’s about to be convicted of murder, a chemist named Jeff Carter (Chaney) pleads with his lawyer pal (Wilton Graff) to defend him, introducing his story by showing his friend a disembodied head. Carter proceeds to tell his tale, of course, in flashback. Also stars J. Carroll Naish, Lloyd Bridges, and Gunsmoke veteran Milburn Stone. (62 min.)
Pillow of Death (1945) Wallace Fox
Attorney Wayne Fletcher (Chaney) is having an affair with his secretary (Brenda Joyce), but he’s got a bigger problem: Fletcher’s wife is found smothered to death, and guess who’s the prime suspect? But Fletcher’s got more troubles ahead: A medium (J. Edward Bromberg) comes forward claiming that Fletcher has killed not just his wife, but many other people. And is Fletcher’s wife trying to communicate with him from the grave? (66 min.)
As you can probably tell from these descriptions, the Inner Sanctum Mysteries box set is far from a collection of masterpieces, but these could provide a lot of low-budget fun, especially if you can pick up the set on sale.
The Whistlers (2019) Corneliu Porumboiu (Magnolia Pictures DVD)
I normally don't list newer films in these posts, but The Whistlers has a unique premise: How can criminals carry off a heist and communicate across large distances without the use of electronics? By learning a whistling language (an actual language used by people from the Canary Islands, where parts of the movie were filmed). Filled with twists, multiple flashbacks, and subtitles (all in English), The Whistlers requires some work, but it’s certainly worth the effort. One critic stated that The Whistlers is the film the Coen brothers would’ve made if they were Romanian. The film is available in the U.S. only on DVD. Apparently only the French think it deserves a Blu-ray release (without, of course, English subtitles).
The Public Eye (1992) Howard Franklin (Kino Lorber)
Your enjoyment of The Public Eye will depend a lot on your expectations. While it’s certainly not a great film, it really never sets out to be one. Howard Franklin’s feature film debut is an entertaining movie with a good performance by Joe Pesci as Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein, a 1940s freelance tabloid photographer specializing in crime pictures nobody else can get. Franklin intended to tell the story of photographer Arthur “Weegee” Fellig, but couldn’t secure the rights. Instead, Franklin turned Bernzy into a more-or-less clone of Weegee. The film also stars Barbara Hershey and Stanley Tucci. Extras include a new audio commentary by writer/director Franklin and film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer, as well as a theatrical trailer.
Barring any late announcements, that’s going to do it for July. If I’ve missed any film noir or noir-stained titles, please let me know in the comments below. Everyone take care, be safe, and watch lots of film noir.