Film Noir New Releases in June 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.
June promises to be one of those “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it” months with very few releases of film noir titles on Blu-ray. Even though the pickings are slim, I do have two box sets to tell you about as well as a noir classic you absolutely must pick up - and I give you two options in doing so. So please join me for this (unfortunately) quick venture into June’s new releases:
The Mechanic (1972) Michael Winner - Scorpion Releasing
No, this one doesn’t take place at an auto repair shop, but it does feature someone who’s a professional at his job: making contracted hits look like accidental deaths. Charles Bronson plays Arthur Bishop, a veteran hit man approaching middle age who takes a young apprentice (Jan-Michael Vincent) under his wing. But Bishop begins to grow concerned that his new apprentice might discover that that it was Bishop who killed the young man’s father years ago. The Mechanic was previously released from Twilight Time in 2014, but that disc is long out-of-print, so if you’re a fan of this movie, now’s your chance to pick it up.
The Scorpion Releasing disc is taken from a new 2K scan for the interpositive and contains a new interview with writer Lewis John Carlino, a new audio commentary with author Paul Talbot (Bronson’s Loose book series), and a theatrical trailer. The audio commentary with cinematographer Richard H. Kline, part of the Twilight Time release, is absent from the Scorpion disc.
Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema III - Kino Lorber box set (3 BD)
Having just released the second volume in the series Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Kino is wasting no time in getting out a third collection for June. Let’s take a look at the three Universal titles in this set:
Abandoned (aka Abandoned Woman, 1949) Joseph M. Newman
Paula Considine (Gale Storm) is determined to track down her sister Mary, who’s all alone and pregnant in Los Angeles. Getting no help from the police, Paula turns to a local journalist named Mark Sitko (Dennis O’Keefe), who helps uncover a black-market baby racket. Shot in semi-documentary style, the film is effective despite some plot and continuity problems. The film costars Jeff Chandler and noir favorites Raymond Burr and Mike Mazurki. It also includes an audio commentary by critic Samm Deighan and theatrical trailers.
The Lady Gambles (1949) Michael Gordon
Journalist David Boothe (Robert Preston) and his wife Joan (Barbara Stanwyck) are having a great time in Las Vegas until Joan - doing her own research for an upcoming article on the allure of Vegas - develops a gambling addiction. The Lady Gambles covers some of the same territory as The Lost Weekend (1945), and although it’s not as good as that film, it’s well worth owning, and Stanwyck never disappoints. I previously reviewed the film for Noirvember 2018.
The Sleeping City (1950) George Sherman
After an intern at New York’s Bellevue Hospital is found murdered, policeman Fred Rowan (Richard Conte), who’s had some medical training, goes undercover as an intern to find the murderer. Sherman delivers a semi-documentary feel that’s part exposé, part film noir. The Sleeping City is certainly worth a look.
Don’t look now, but the fourth volume in this series comes out in July.
The Sopranos: The Complete Series (1999-2007) HBO (28 Blu-ray discs)
I mention this rerelease mainly because of a huge price difference. This rerelease appears to have very little to distinguish itself from the 2014 set, other than (at this writing) a price over $150 more than the older item. The only significant difference I can find is that the old release is region free, while the newer set is region A only. If I can find out anything further, I’ll let you know, but if you’ve been wanting this set for awhile, try to find the 2014 at a much cheaper price. And it's region-free.
Narrow Margin (1990) Peter Hyams - Kino Lorber
While the original 1952 version of The Narrow Margin is firmly in my all-time Top 10 film noir titles, I must confess that I’ve never seen the 1990 remake. I’ll correct that oversight soon, but I always wonder the need (other than money, obviously) to remake a film that worked so well in the first place. In the case of Narrow Margin (no “The”), Gene Hackman plays a deputy district attorney attempting to keep a murder witness (Anne Archer) safe on a train traveling from the Canadian wilderness to the U.S. (The original roles were played by Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor, respectively.) This version of the film certainly has its fans, and I’m looking forward to checking it out. This new 4K remaster includes two audio commentaries: one by Peter Hyams, the other by film historian/critic Peter Tonguette. Also included: a making-of featurette, sound bites, B-rolls, and a theatrical trailer.
Criss Cross (1949) Robert Siodmak - Eureka Entertainment/Masters of Cinema (UK, Region B)
One of my all-time favorite film noir titles has had quite a troubled journey to Blu-ray, but I’m hoping that journey has now come to a satisfactory end. Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson, back in LA to care for his mom (Edna M. Holland), get his old job back, and try to stay away from his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo). Yet Steve discovers Anna’s been spending time with a hood named Slim (Dan Duryea), a prospect Steve simply can’t stomach. Keeping an eye on them both (especially on Anna), Steve finds himself teaming up with Slim on a payroll heist. And we all know how heists turn out… Many disagree, but I believe Criss Cross belongs in any discussion of the upper echelon film noir titles of the classic era.
I’m not sure what took so long for any Blu-ray release of Criss Cross to develop, but it’s been a rough road. The film was released on DVD way back in 2004 from Universal, which is the only way most people could see it (outside of a festival or on TCM) until 2017, when Australia’s Cinema Cult label released an all-region edition, which was a definite improvement over the DVD, yet lacks any extras or subtitles. A French Blu-ray release (also region free) from Elephant Films followed in 2018. The only real extra on that disc (besides trailers) is a 14-minute introduction (in French, apparently with no subtitles) by French actor and second unit director Eddy Moine.
Now for the Blu-ray package from Eureka/Masters of Cinema: First of all, this is a UK Region B release, but know that there’s also a US release from July 2019 from Shout Factory.
Both releases are derived from a new 4K master struck from the original camera negative, and both contain a theatrical trailer. The Eureka/MoC release features a new audio commentary by film author Lee Gambin and actress Rutanya Alda, a new audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin, a Screen Director’s Playhouses radio adaptation from 1949, featuring Burt Lancaster, an isolated music & effects track, and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film historian Kat Ellinger, an essay by Adam Batty, and archival writing and images. The Shout Factory release (in addition to the new 4K scan and trailer) includes a new commentary by film historian Jim Hemphill, a 14-minute still gallery, and a 6-minute poster and lobby card still gallery.
I know I’ve spent a lot of time on this film, but Criss Cross is an important title that you want to see in the best presentation possible with the best set of extras. Although I haven’t yet seen the Eureka/MoC edition, I’ve rarely been disappointed with one of their releases, something I can’t always say for Shout Factory. If you’re a region B viewer (or have a region free player), I’d pick up the Eureka/MoC in a second.
Takeshi Kitano Collection BFI Video (3 BD, UK, Region B)
Three of director Takeshi “Beat” Kitano’s popular crime films are now available for the first time in a high definition presentation. Kitano’s story is very interesting and unorthodox. He was signed on to Violent Cop as an actor, but when the film’s director Kinji Fukasaku resigned during pre-production, Kitano stepped in to direct the film. Unsatisfied with the script, he also rewrote the entire film, despite the protests from his crew who knew Kitano’s methods were unorthodox, if not flat-out wrong. Audiences responded well, so well that Kitano has been called the most important and influential Japanese director since Kurosawa. (That seems more than a bit steep to me…) He may be an acquired taste for some, but Kitano’s films are always exciting and interesting. As with Violent Cop, Kitano directs and plays different characters in each film.
Violent Cop (1990)
Renegade cop Azuma (“Beat” Takeshi, Kitano’s acting persona) uses renegade methods (think Dirty Harry), but always gets results. Although he uses questionable tactics himself, Azuma discovers that his colleague has been on the take from a local drug lord and may be responsible for a rash of drug-related homicides. Tragic events result, which push Azuma even further over the edge.
Boiling Point (1990)
This noir-stained yakuza comedy finds a baseball player named Masaki (Masahiko Ono) seeking revenge after a confrontation with the local yakuza. While attempting to purchase a handgun, Masaki and his friend Kazuo (Minoru Iizuka, aka Duncan) meet a crazed yakuza named Uehara (“Beat” Takeshi), who has his own ideas of how the boys should go about getting even.
Kitano plays Murakawa, a veteran but weary gangster who’s assigned to help settle a gang dispute in Okinawa. Instead of helping to smooth things over, Murakawa finds himself in the middle of a yakuza gang war. Think of splatter-violence combined with art house.
You'll find info on the set's extras here.
If you’re a region A viewer, there’s a Kitano three-film set for you as well, but it substitutes Sonatine for another Kitano film, Hana-Bi (1997).
I’m afraid that’s going to do it for June. If I hear of any other releases, I’ll be sure to update the post. In the meantime, hang in there, watch some good noir, and I’ll see you next time.