Film Noir New Releases in March 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.
I’m seeing a trend here, one I’m not very happy to report. Fewer and fewer classic era film noir movies are being released on Blu-ray (and DVD) lately and March only offers one bonafide classic title. Many of the others are good, or at least interesting, just not from the established noir era. Perhaps that will change in the coming months. Regardless, I hope you’ll find something of interest here. Let’s take a look at our March titles:
Home at Seven (1952) Ralph Richardson - Network (UK, Region B)
My hat’s off to Network for releasing some terrific Brit noir on Blu-ray. I reviewed this film on a Network DVD as part of my Noirvember 2018 series. Bank clerk David Preston (Ralph Richardson) arrives at home to find his wife Janet (Margaret Leighton) going to pieces. “Where have you been?” she asks. “I’m always home at seven,” Preston replies, looking to the clock on the mantle for support. What Preston doesn’t know is that it’s Tuesday, not Monday. An entire day has vanished from his memory while Janet has been at her wit’s end for 24 hours. Network releases generally look and sound quite good, but other than an image gallery, you won’t see any extras. Yet I couldn’t say no to any film with Jack Hawkins, plus it’s the only movie Ralph Richardson ever directed.
Beat the Devil (1953) John Huston - BFI Video, Blu-ray + DVD (UK, Region B)
This BFI Blu-ray release is taken from the same restoration that produced the Twilight Time Blu-ray just over a year ago. In addition to the commentary featuring Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman, and the 22-minute featurette “Alexander Cockburn Beat the Devil,” which features writer Cockburn discussing his father Claud Cockburn, who wrote the novel on which the film is based. New supplements exclusive to the BFI release include an audio commentary from 2007 featuring cinematographer Oswald Morris, script supervisor Angela Allen, and director’s assistant Jeanie Simms. The disc also includes two supplements I wasn’t quite expecting: “By the Fireside,” a two-minute advertisement for Maypole Tea from 1945, and “Atomic Achievement,” a 19-minute 1956 public information film on nuclear power in the UK. (Go figure.) While the Twilight Time release features a printed essay by Julie Kirgo, the BFI includes writing by film critic Peter Tonguette and Alexander Cockburn (first pressing only).
Man in the Shadow (1957) Jack Arnold - Kino Lorber
Man in the Shadow almost seems like a rehearsal for Touch of Evil, the Orson Welles noir classic released one year later. Both films star Welles, both are produced by Albert Zugsmith, and both contain similar themes, yet Man in the Shadow is a noir Western. Newly elected Sheriff Ben Sadler (Jeff Chandler) investigates the murder of a Mexican worker, suspecting the ranch hands of a wealthy landowner named Virgil Renchler (Welles). Perhaps the Mexican worker was paying a little too much attention to Renchler’s daughter (Colleen Miller). Perhaps the townspeople want to stop Sadler’s investigation, perhaps due to Renchler’s influence. And perhaps we should watch it. (I’m certainly on board.) The film also includes an impressive supporting cast: Royal Dano, Barbara Lawrence, James Gleason, Paul Fix, and William Schallert. Other than a theatrical trailer, the disc’s only extra is a new audio commentary by film historian Troy Howarth.
Passport to Shame (aka Room 43, 1958) Alvin Rakoff - Network (UK, Region B)
Brit crime, Diana Dors, and Herbert Lom. That’s enough for me to pick this one up without a description, but here’s one anyway: A pimp named Nick Biaggi (played by Lom; who else?) and a madam named Aggie (Brenda De Banzie) bring in a young French woman called Malou (Odile Versois) to London to be groomed as an upscale call girl. In order to dodge the permit laws, Nick and Aggie convince a cab driver (Eddie Constantine) to marry Malou. Neither the cabbie nor Malou really knows what’s going on, but when they find out, Biaggi’s plan starts to fall apart. Although Diana Dors is featured in the posters and ads, it seems she plays a rather minor part as a street girl named Vicki. Some call Passport to Shame a serious social commentary; others call it out-and-out exploitation. The film’s director, Alvin Rakoff, stated, “This was not a low budget film, this was a lowest budget film.” Even so, you’ll see Michael Caine and Jackie Collins in uncredited roles as extras. (And although you won’t see him, Nicolas Roeg is the cameraman.)
Leave Her to Heaven (1945) John M. Stahl - Criterion
With Leave Her to Heaven, Gene Tierney delivered arguably her finest performance as Ellen, a stunningly beautiful woman who sweeps novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) off his feet, becoming his wife. But Ellen isn’t willing to share Richard with anyone, not his younger disabled brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) or Ellen’s own adoptive sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain). The contrast of ultra-possessiveness played out against Richard’s gorgeous remote island home (in stunning Technicolor, photographed by Leon Shamroy) is unforgettable. The film contains at least one (perhaps two) of the most devastating scenes in any film noir, but it’s Tierney’s Oscar-nominated performance (losing to Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce) that will haunt you long after the film is over.
Although I’m delighted to have a new 2K digital restoration, as well as a new interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith and an essay by novelist Megan Abbott (and a theatrical trailer), this disc could’ve included more. Regardless, Leave Her to Heaven is a classic, a must-own.
My Gun is Quick (1957) Victor Saville (credited as Phil Victor), George White (Kino Lorber)
Based on the 1950 Mickey Spillane novel of the same name, My Gun is Quick follows Mike Hammer (Robert Bray) as he meets a down-on-her-luck call girl at a diner, noticing not just the girl, but also the very unusual ring she’s wearing. Hammer helps her out of a jam, then discovers a few hours later that she’s been murdered and the ring missing. But Hammer discovers there’s more jewelry shenanigans going on, and they involve some pretty nasty guys. My Gun is Quick captures raw elements of the noir look and style, but the story and the acting left me disappointed. Yet the film definitely has its fans, so it’s worth a look, especially if you can find it on sale. This new 2K restoration includes a theatrical trailer as its sole extra.
Return from the Ashes (1965) J. Lee Thompson - Kino Lorber
Shortly after the liberation of France from Nazi occupation, an unfortunate tragedy occurs aboard a train. Only one passenger seems completely unconcerned, a mysterious woman whose heartlessness earns the ire of the other passengers. In a flashback, we learn that the woman was once known as Michele Wolff (Ingrid Thulin), a wealthy Jewish widow and concentration camp survivor. During this flashback, Michele meets an unscrupulous chess player named Stanislaus Pilgrin (Maximilian Schell) who marries her, intending to siphon off her money. Michele’s friend Dr. Charles Bovard (Herbert Lom) isn’t happy about her new marriage, and for good reason. And it’s not long before Pilgrin becomes interested in Michele’s stepdaughter Fabienne (Samantha Eggar).
The first of three films based on the 1961 Hubert Monteihet novel Le Retour des cendres (the other two being Le Retour d’Elisabeth Wolff  and Phoenix ), Return from the Ashes is probably a title most noir fans have never seen (including me), but from what I’ve heard, the performances are tremendous and the atmosphere indicative of postwar France. As is the case with My Gun is Quick, Return from the Ashes is also the product of a new 2K restoration and includes as its only extra a theatrical trailer. I’m definitely going to check this one out.
Endless Night (1972) Sidney Gilliat - Kino Lorber
This film was discussed last month for its UK release from Indicator, so please check out that entry to find the synopsis and differences between the Kino and the Indicator releases.
Villain (1971) Michael Tuchner - StudioCanal (UK, Region B)
Richard Burton plays Vic Dakin, a brutal London gang leader who fears the cop (Nigel Davenport) who’s been patiently waiting for him to slip up will finally have his chance after an armored car heist. Ian McShane (still in his 20s) plays a local pimp who may be able to help Vic out. Villain did not do well at the box office, possibly due to its similarity to another film released the same year, Get Carter, but has moved on to cult status. The release includes two new interviews, one with Ian McShane, and another with historian Matthew Sweet.
That’s going to do it for March. Once again, if you know of any other noir March releases I might have missed, please let me know in the comments below. And if you pick up one of the releases discussed here, let me know what you think.