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 also trying something new this month: a video version of my New Releases in Film Noir on my YouTube channel. I hope you’ll check it out:
We’ve got some absolutely fantastic titles coming in May including two bona fide classics that fans have been waiting to see on Blu-ray for years. Indicator continues to deplete our wallets with yet another great six-movie set, and there’s more. (If you missed the new releases from April, you can find those right here.)
The Hot Spot (1990) Dennis Hopper - Kino Lorber Blu-ray
It’s hard to believe this is the 30th anniversary of The Hot Spot directed by Dennis Hopper. (Actually it’s the 31st anniversary, but who’s counting?) Don Johnson plays a drifter named Harry Madox, who wanders into a small Texas down and finds work at a used car dealership owned by a man named George Harshaw (Jerry Hardin). It’s not long before Harry is sleeping with both his boss’s wife Dolly (Virginia Madsen) and his accountant Gloria (Jennifer Connelly). But that’s not enough. Harry’s got bigger plans - to rob the town bank. The big question here is who Harry’s going to take with him after the heist: Dolly or Gloria?
The film features some great character actors, such as William Sadler, Barry Corbin, Jack Nance, and one of my personal favorites, Charles Martin Smith. The Jack (Knee-cha) Nitzsche score to this picture is terrific, featuring an original collaboration between John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Taj Mahal, and others. The movie also has a very interesting history. One story in particular is one I hope gets covered in the supplements: The movie is based on a Charles Williams novel titled Hell Hath No Fury released in 1952. Williams co-wrote a screenplay for a film intended for Robert Mitchum, but that never materialized. There’s more to the story, which I hope we hear about in the extras.
The title had a Blu-ray double feature release with Killing Me Softly from Shout Factory in 2013, but that disc is long out-of-print. Like that release, this edition from Kino is taken from a 2K master, but this is a new 2K master, color-graded and approved by the cinematographer Ueli Steiger. That’s probably a good thing, since that Shout Factory release apparently had some color issues. If you pick this one up and have the Shout Factory edition, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the color changes. The new Kino edition also contains new separate interviews with Virginia Madsen and William Sadler as well as a new audio commentary by journalist and author Bryan Reesman. It also contains a reversible cover and a limited edition O-Card slipcase.
They Won’t Believe Me (1947) Irving Pichel - Warner Archive Blu-ray
Boy, this is a terrific noir that I hesitate to tell you too much about, since I could easily get into spoiler territory without trying to. So here’s the set-up: Instead of a femme fatale, They Won’t Believe Me features an homme fatale, Larry Ballentine (Robert Young), an absolute heel who woos women, then abandons then when called back by the sound of his wife’s money. The film opens with Larry standing trial for murder, but I won’t tell you who he’s accused of murdering. Let’s just say this is not your typical film noir.
Some of the women Larry’s been running around with include Jane Greer and Susan Hayward. (Hey, at least Larry has good taste.) Larry’s wife Greta is played by Rita Johnson.
You may think you know where it’s going, but don’t bet on it. This film also presents fully-realized female characters, something you didn’t often see in film noir titles from this era. That’s largely due to the film’s producer, Joan Harrison, and if you haven’t read Christina Lane’s excellent book on Harrison - Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock - you should. Eddie Muller considers They Won’t Believe Me Joan Harrison’s best work as a producer, and that’s really saying something. The script is by Jonathan Latimer, an excellent crime novelist and perhaps an even better screenwriter. This movie has been hard to see unless you could catch it on TCM, so this release is big news. This is the 95-minute version of the film, not the edited 80-minute version. Sadly, it looks like there will be no supplements on this release, but you can definitely read up on it in Christina Lane’s book. Trust me, if you’re a film noir fan and haven’t seen this one, you can confidently pick this one up as a blind buy. You will not be disappointed.
Columbia Noir #3 - Indicator box set (UK, Region B), 6 BDs
With Columbia Noir #3, Indicator continues to shower film noir fans with superb releases of six titles that were only available on DVD, all of them making their Blu-ray debut with this set. These discs are loaded with extras, and if I listed them here, this post would approach Dickensian status, so here's the full list of supplements for you to peruse at your leisure. But for now, let’s take a quick look at each of these titles:
Johnny O’Clock (1947) Robert Rossen
Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell) and his partner Pete “Guido” Marchettis (Thomas Gomez) own an illegal gambling casino but all is not well with the personal side of business. That’s pretty straightforward, but hang with me here… Pete’s wife Nellie (Ellen Drew) is still attracted to her former lover Johnny, who really wants nothing at all to do with her. Soon the casino’s hat-check girl Harriet (Nina Foch) is asked by Johnny to return a watch – given to him as a present by Nellie – back to Nellie. Harriet is also dumped by her corrupt cop boyfriend Chuck (Jim Bannon), then apparently commits suicide by gas inhalation.
Harriet’s sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes) gets into the act, investigating her sister’s death. A police inspector named Koch (Lee J. Cobb) tries to sort the whole mess out while Johnny is thrown together with Nancy.
There’s an awful lot to keep track of and at times the plot gets a little bit nuts. Now when Dick Powell appeared as Phillip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet three years before this film, audiences were surprised that Powell - who had mostly appeared in musicals and light comedies - could deliver hardboiled dialogue so well. That led Powell to other roles in films like Johnny O’Clock, such as Cornered (1945), Pitfall (1948), Cry Danger (1951) and others. Johnny O’Clock has a little bit of everything you need for a good film noir: tough talk, hardboiled dialogue, deception, murder, a crooked cop, a femme fatale, and more, aided by a great cast and Burnett Guffey’s cinematography. A film well worth seeing and owning.
Johnny O’Clock was originally released on the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD set from 2013
The Dark Past (1948) Rudolph Maté
A remake of the 1939 film Blind Alley, The Dark Past gives us William Holden as Al Walker, an escaped convict whose gang hides out in the country home of police psychologist Andrew Collins (Lee J. Cobb), who is entertaining guests. While Walker holds the Collins party captive, Collins tries to psychoanalyze Walker, and Walker gets more volatile with each question. The Dark Past is cinematographer Rudolph Maté’s directorial debut, and it probably would’ve been a better film had the Holden and Cobb roles been reversed. Nina Foch is good as Walker’s girlfriend, although she’s way too refined and elegant to be a gangster’s moll. The Dark Past is enjoyable, but most people prefer the original Blind Alley.
The Dark Past was previously available only on an Italian DVD from 2015
Convicted (1950) Henry Levin
Joe Hufford (Glenn Ford) has the bad luck of having an incompetent lawyer who gets Joe convicted of manslaughter, despite Joe telling everyone “I didn’t do it!” Broderick Crawford plays the prison warden (Yeah, I know… Tough to swallow) who thinks maybe Joe got a bum rap. In lockup, Joe hopes to be part of a team of convicts planning a breakout, but gets himself thrown into solitary on the day of the planned escape. There’s some nice work here from Frank Faylen and Millard Mitchell, who almost steals the movie. Anything with Ford or Crawford is worth your time, but having them together? Wow. They make a routine story really come alive.
Convicted originally appeared on the Glenn Ford: Undercover Crimes DVD Collection from TCM in 2013 and another collection I’ll tell you about in a moment.
Between Midnight and Dawn (1950) Gordon Douglas
During the police patrol night shift referenced in the title, Mark Stevens and Edmond O’Brien play patrolmen buddies with two very different attitudes on law enforcement, but they both agree that they’re crazy about the voice of the radio dispatcher played by Gale Storm. When the guys arrest a dangerous racketeer, but allow him to escape, the chase is on to find him. Any noir - or any non-noir - with Edmond O’Brien is worth watching.
Between Midnight and Dawn was part of the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD set from 2013.
The Sniper (1952) Edward Dmytryk
The Sniper not only stands as an effective film noir, but also a social commentary on how society treats people who are mentally disturbed. Arthur Franz plays Eddie Miller, a man recently released from a psych ward. Eddie has trouble with women, particularly a singer named Jean (played by one of my all-time favorites, Marie Windsor). The portrayal of a sex offender, combined with some very frank scenes of violence, make for an effective experience, one quite shocking for the time. The Sniper displays a lot of the callousness we’d come to see from policemen onscreen in the subsequent decades.
The Sniper originally appears on the very first Columbia Film Noir Classics set way back in 2009, so this is the movie from this set fans have been waiting the longest for.
Closing out the set, we have City of Fear (1959) Irving Lerner
As unlikely as it may seem, an escaped convict (played by Vince Edwards) has gotten his hands on a container of Cobalt-60, a substance lethal enough to kill everyone in Los Angeles. The only problem is the con thinks the canister is filled with heroin he can sell. Director Irving Lerner (who worked with Edwards one year earlier in Murder by Contract) tries to make paranoia go a long way, but even at 81 minutes, it’s hard to make the story stretch out to a feature-length film. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is the highlight here, even though it sometimes goes a bit over the top. Still, this is a good one to add to your paranoia noir collection, Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Panic in the Streets (1950), and The Killer Who Stalked New York (1950).
City of Fear appeared on the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II DVD set from 2010, and also on a really odd Mill Creek DVD collection called Tales from the Prison Yard, which also includes Convicted as well as The Last Detail and The Valachi Papers. Anyway…
Noir fans are going to want to pick up this collection. It is a Region B set, limited to 6,000 copies. Now the other two Columbia Noir box sets from Indicator haven’t sold out yet, but if you want any of them, don’t wait too long.
The Night of the Following Day (1969) Hubert Cornfield - Kino Lorber Blu-ray
Pamela Franklin, who was much in demand as a scream queen in the ‘70s, stars as an heiress who finds herself kidnapped at Orly Airport by the chauffeur hired to pick up. The chauffeur’s name is Bud, played by Marlon Brando. Bud and his buddies - including a junkie named Vi (Rita Moreno) and a lecherous man named Leer (Richard Boone) - begin to argue, as criminals will often do. I haven’t seen this one, but the reviews are all over the place, so proceed with caution. It’s probably more thriller than noir, but it’s certainly got an interesting cast… No word on extras, which probably means there aren’t any.
Nightmare Alley (1947) Edmund Goulding - Criterion Blu-ray
Ah, here’s the one we’ve all been waiting for… As I’ve mentioned before, the UK label Signal One, despite their announcement way back in April 2018 to bring this film to Blu-ray, never delivered. Thankfully the Criterion Collection is getting the job done with this long-awaited release. I’ve held onto my 20th Century Fox DVD for years, and now we finally have an upgrade. If you’re not familiar with the story, Tyrone Power (in arguably his finest performance) plays Stanton “Stan” Carlisle, a seedy carnival barker who becomes a fake medium, yet his popularity and insatiable ambition carry him way over the line. Like the source novel by William Lindsay Gresham, Edmund Goulding’s version is very dark, too dark for many audiences, resulting in a box office flop. Yet the film has gone on to achieve both classic and cult status. I don’t think you’ll find another film noir from the classic era quite like it.
The Criterion edition is taken from a new 4K digital restoration and includes the archival audio commentary from the 2005 DVD by film historians and noir scholars James Ursini and Alain Silver. Also included: an audio excerpt from a 1971 interview with Henry King discussing Tyrone Power, new interviews with film historian and writer Imogen Sara Smith, performer and historian Todd Robbins, a 2007 interview with actor Coleen Gray, and an essay by film writer and screenwriter Kim Morgan. Do not let this one slip by!
That’s going to do it for May. I hope I’ve given you some titles to consider, and if I’ve left any new releases out, please let me know.
On a personal note, this post has been delayed due to an unexpected death in my family. Many of you have reached out to me with emails, tweets, texts, and other ways. I thank you deeply for your kind thoughts and prayers. They are appreciated more than you can know!