Film Noir New Releases in October 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.
It’s no surprise that October is typically the month of horror, but I was surprised to see so many new film noir releases that have nothing to do with Freddy, Jason, Dracula, or any of the other guys who’re always up to some major shenanigans this time of the year. We’ve got a number of noir titles that have previously never been available in Region A releases, several Region B releases, an interesting box set, a television series, and more. Let’s jump right in:
Yield to the Night (aka Blonde Sinner, 1956) J. Lee Thompson (StudioCanal, UK Region B)
After a vivid opening in which Mary Hilton (Diana Dors) shoots Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw) dead, director J. Lee Thompson delivers a series of flashbacks showing us how Hilton got to this point, landing in a prison cell awaiting the hangman’s noose. The film was released not long after the execution of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK, an execution that generated much discussion and controversy. The Joan Henry novel of the same name predates the Ellis case, so it’s not a “based on a true story” picture, at least not based on Ellis’s story. (Interestingly, Henry herself served time in prison.) Diana Dors, usually cast as a British sexpot, is allowed a real part here and does an astonishing job with it. Although the film was successful in England, American audiences are more familiar with a similar picture released two years later, Robert Wise’s I Want to Live!, which earned Susan Hayward a Best Actress Oscar. Restored in 4K from the original camera negative, Yield to the Night includes a new interview with actor Michael Craig, another new interview with film historian and author Melanie Williams, an archival interview with Diana Dors from 1956, scenes from the film’s 1957 premiere, and a stills gallery.
Nightmare Alley (1947) Edmund Goulding (Signal One, UK Region B)
This unconventional noir classic follows the journey of Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power), who joins a traveling carnival, eventually wanting to learn the mind-reading act of Mademoiselle Zeena (Joan Blondell) and her boozing husband Pete (Ian Keith). Carlisle’s ambition gets the best of him as his skills, power, and hunger know no limits. I know many noir fans who place this film in their all-time Top 10 lists and rightly so. It’s a must-see and a must-own. But is this release finally going to happen? I’ll believe it when it’s in my hand. Signal One announced this release two-and-a-half years ago, and we still don’t have it. That could be due to the company being purchased by Patriot Films, or maybe because this is a 20th Century Fox title now owned by Disney, but who really knows? In case they never get around to releasing the Blu-ray, do yourself a favor and read the source novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham. You’ll never forget it.
By the way, director Guillermo del Toro's remake of the film began production in January, had to stop because of COVID-19, and has reportedly resumed production as of September 16. It's very possible that this delay has something to do with Signal One's perpetual postponement of the Blu-ray release. Stay tuned.
P.J. (aka New Face in Hell, 1968) John Guillermin (Kino Lorber)
I’m so tempted to call this one P.J.: The Pajama Detective. Its alternate title, New Face in Hell, certainly seems more menacing, so I’m not sure why Universal changed it. (The working title was Criss Cross, which simply would not work due to comparisons to the 1949 noir classic.) George Peppard* plays private detective P. J. (Peter Joseph) Detweiler, who takes a job as the bodyguard for Maureen Preble (Gayle Hunnicutt), the mistress of the sadistic tycoon William Orbison (Raymond Burr, taking a break here from the early days of his TV show Ironside). But there’s more going on with P.J.’s job than simply acting as a bodyguard. I haven’t seen this one, but the reviews are generally good. P.J. arrives with a new 2K restoration and a new audio commentary by critics Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell. That’s about it, other than an image gallery and a theatrical trailer.
*If you’re a George Peppard fan, Kino is having a Peppard Fest in October with the release of two more of the actor’s movies, Newman’s Law (1974) and The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972). Neither are technically noir, but might be worth considering.
The Pledge (2001) Sean Penn (Mill Creek)
Retired detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) is obsessed with a case he can’t let go of, the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl. Black pledged to the girl’s parents that he would catch the killer, a promise he hasn’t forgotten although the case is officially closed. Through flashbacks, we discover how the case went wrong and how it damaged Black. The Pledge upends our expectations of what a crime thriller should be (which accounts for its low box office numbers), especially in its final act. This is a haunting noir with an equally haunting performance by Nicholson, and also features strong performances from Benicio Del Toro, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Sam Shepard, Vanessa Redgrave, Harry Dean Stanton, and Mickey Rourke.
I find it astounding that The Pledge has never before been released on Blu-ray in any county. I’m glad it’s finally getting a Blu-ray release, but disappointed that it’s coming from Mill Creek, a company that usually adds no extras. The Pledge deserves at least a director’s commentary, but also a comparison between it and the original German film Es geschah am hellichten Tag (It Happened in Broad Daylight, 1958). That film infuriated Friedrich Dürrenmatt (one of the screenplay writers) so much that he wrote his own novel The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective (1958) with a more appropriate ending.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) Vince Gilligan (Sony Pictures SteelBook Blu-ray+DVD)
The final episode of Breaking Bad (2008-2013) brought a satisfying conclusion to one of the finest television shows of the past 20 years, yet it left audiences with questions and loose ends. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (which aired on Netflix) acts as an epilogue or coda to the series, particularly focusing on what happened to Jessie Pinkman (Aaron Paul). While the film is a welcome addition to the Breaking Bad story, it’s not essential viewing, yet fans of the show will not want to miss it. If you have not seen the five-season television show, you must watch it before viewing this film. Apparently the film is being released (at least for now) only in a SteelBook edition, which includes the following Blu-ray exclusives: an audio commentary with the creator of the series and director of the film Vince Gilligan and star Aaron Paul, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and scene studies with Gilligan. Additional special features include a “Super Commentary” audio commentary featuring 46 members of the cast and crew, “Making El Camino,” a behind-the-scenes documentary, “Snow Globe: A Breaking Bad Short,” a “Sneaky Pete in the Box” teaser, a radio teaser, a Rocker Salvage commercial, a Vamonos Pest commercial, and “Enchanted” by Chloe x Halle.
Dementia (1955) John Parker (BFI Video, UK Region B)
The story behind Dementia is as fascinating as the movie itself. It’s the only film directed by John Parker (made with his mother’s money; Thanks, mom!), includes no dialogue, and was banned repeatedly by the New York State Film Board for being “inhuman, indecent, and the quintessence of gruesomeness.” Dementia follows a nameless woman (Adrienne Barrett), with knife in hand, as she journeys through the rougher parts of a city at night, witnessing a wide variety of crimes. Although it contains many elements of film noir, Dementia is usually considered a horror movie, especially when it was retitled and rereleased in 1957 as Daughter of Horror (also included on the disc), which was trimmed down (from 60 minutes to 57) and added narration by Ed McMahon! In addition to Daughter of Horror, the disc includes a new audio commentary by film critic and writer Kat Ellinger, and (for the first pressing only) a fully illustrated booklet with new essays on Dementia and Daughter of Horror as well as full film credits. (Kino released a U.S. DVD in 2000.)
The Hit (1984) Stephen Frears (Criterion)
I’m so glad to see The Hit upgraded to Blu-ray after all these years. It’s an underseen little gem that deserves a wider audience, especially in the world of noir. Terence Stamp plays Willie, an ex-member of a criminal gang who informed on his pals, now seeking to mind his own business in a sleepy Spanish village. But this isn’t the sweet life. Two hit men are looking for Willie with plans to bring him to Paris to face the men he betrayed. The hit men consist of a seasoned pro named Braddock (John Hurt) and a young off-the-rails rookie named Myron (Tim Roth in his feature film debut). Yet Willie seems completely unfazed about the consequences of his actions or his future, regardless of the unpleasantness Braddock and Myron subject him to during the course of the film. This sophomore effort from Stephen Frears (who directed a ton of TV shows and TV movies between his first feature Gumshoe  and this film) is terrific and should not be missed. Extras are a bit thin, including an audio commentary from 2009 with Frears, Hurt, Roth, screenwriter Peter Prince, and editor Mick Audsley, a 1988 interview with Stamp from the TV show Parkinson One-to-One, a theatrical trailer, and an essay by film critic Graham Fuller.
Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Mill Creek, 3-disc set)
Yep, here we go again. Originally scheduled for a July 21 release, then pushed back to September 22, Inner Sanctum Mysteries will now, so they say, reach the public on October 20. You can find the complete rundown here. Why the delays? Maybe it took longer than anticipated to get all the special features completed. I suppose only those in the inner sanctum of Mill Creek know the real story.
The Ipcress File (1965) Sidney J. Furie (Kino Lorber)
Michael Caine plays Harry Palmer, a brash young intelligence agent who gets promoted and handed an important assignment all at once: Track down a kidnapped scientist named Radcliffe (Aubrey Richards), the latest in a long line of important scientists who have gone missing. Palmer brings Radcliffe back, but the scientist has been brainwashed, having no memory of his captors or their location. Palmer’s opinion of himself is enormously high, so he goes in search of the kidnappers, finding false leads, betrayals, and murder. If this sounds more like a spy film than a noir, it is, but The Ipcress File contains many noir elements, not the least of which is its protagonist Harry Palmer, the complete opposite of an agent like James Bond. Although highly intelligent, Palmer is often searching in the dark, never quite sure how to deal with his opponents. He’s lacking the style and sophistication of Bond, to say nothing of his way (or lack of a way) with the ladies. Combine these elements with themes of betrayal, confusion, and not knowing which way to turn, and you’re definitely in noir territory. The Ipcress File is a movie noir fans will no doubt enjoy.
If you already own the Network UK Region B Blu-ray, know that this Kino release includes a new audio commentary by film historian Troy Howarth and film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer, in addition to the archival audio commentary by director Sidney J. Furie and editor Peter Hunt, separate archival interviews with Michael Caine and production designer Ken Adams, a Trailers from Hell segment with Howard Rodman, four radio spots, and two theatrical trailers.
Babylon Berlin: Seasons 1 & 2 (2017-2019) Created, written, and directed by Tom Tykwer, Achim von Borries, Henk Handloegten (4 BD, Kino Lorber)
If the opening minutes of the first episode of Babylon Berlin don’t hook you, my advice is to move onto something else, but I can’t imagine such a thing happening to anyone reading this post. In 1929, a train headed from the Soviet Union to Berlin is hijacked in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, a young policeman from Cologne named Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) is transferred to the vice squad in Berlin, where he learns more about vice than he’d ever imagined. Homicide department stenographer Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries) leads a double life in the Berlin cabarets. Babylon Berlin is filled with crime, paranoia, lies, deception, corruption, betrayal… all the things of noir. (It’s also graphically violent and sexually frank, and won’t be for everyone.) I’m working through the first season, so I’m early in the game, but the writing, acting, production values, and direction are all top-notch. You can watch the entire three-season run of the show on Netflix. (The Season 3 Blu-ray will be released from Kino in November.) The fourth season was scheduled to begin in late 2020 or early 2021, but those dates were set pre-pandemic. Information on the Blu-ray extras are a bit sketchy, but they include behind-the-scenes footage, a making-of documentary, and trailers. Perhaps there’s more. We shall see.
Essential Film Noir Collection Volume 1: 1947-1957 (Imprint, Australia, Region B) 4 BD set
Film noir fans (including me) almost fell out of their seats when the news of this release was announced: four hard-to-find noir films released on Blu-ray, two of which have never been released anywhere, even on DVD. Let’s take a closer look at each film in the set:
Framed (1947) Richard Wallace
Mike Lambert (Glenn Ford) is a hard-drinking out-of-work mining engineer hoping things will turn around soon. When the brakes of his rig give out, he finds himself in a small town where he makes a friend (Edgar Buchanan) and meets a barmaid named Paula (Janis Carter). Paula, noticing that Mike looks just enough like her married lover (Barry Sullivan), concocts a plan… I’ve been wanting to see Framed for years, yet it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray before now. Apparently Janis Carter really lights up the screen in this one. The disc includes a new audio commentary by writer, film noir expert, and Film Noir Foundation board member Alan K. Rode, and a theatrical trailer.
Alias Nick Beal (1949) John Farrow
Although it’s considered one of the finest supernatural film noir titles of all time, Alias Nick Beal has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray until now. What we’ve been missing… Joseph Foster, an ambitious, driven district attorney, would do anything to bring down crime boss Frankie Faulkner (Fred Clark), even to the point of selling his soul. Say no more. In steps Nick Beal (Ray Milland), a savvy and shady stranger who makes a deal with Foster. But things get complicated. If you need more convincing, the film also stars noir favorites Audrey Totter and George Macready. This disc includes a new 2020 audio commentary from Eddie Muller (who’s a huge fan of this film) and a theatrical trailer. I’d buy the set for this film alone.
Detective Story (1951) William Wyler
It soon becomes obvious that Detective Story was adapted from a stage play (of the same title, by Sidney Kingsley), but the performances are so compelling, you forget that almost the entire film takes place in a police station. Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas) is a by-the-book, “It’s either black or white” cop, dealing with multiple issues on a single day, including pinning an abortion charge on a doctor (George Macready), dealing with a shoplifter (Lee Grant), two burglars (Joseph Wiseman, Michael Strong), and more. The film is always compelling and never lets up. Neither does the cast, which also includes Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Cathy O’Donnell, and Gladys George. Detective Story was nominated for four Oscars: Best Director (Wyler), Best Screenplay (Robert Wyler, Philip Yordan), Best Actress (Parker), and Best Supporting Actress (Grant). Grant won the Best Actress Award at Cannes, and the screenplay won an Edgar Award. The film’s Blu-ray debut also features a new audio commentary by Alan K. Rode, a new visual essay about the film noir work of Kirk Douglas with Rode and Constantine Nasr, and a theatrical trailer.
The Garment Jungle (1957) Vincent Sherman, Robert Aldrich
When we think of prime film noir settings, we usually think of dark alleys, seedy hotel rooms, bars and nightclubs, or maybe even boxing arenas. But a New York garment factory? Oh yeah… It totally works. Young idealistic Alan Mitchell (Kerwin Mathews), returning home from serving his country in the Korean War, discovers that his father (Lee J. Cobb) and his garment factory is under the tight control of the mob, run by a man named Artie Ravidge (Richard Boone). A very young Robert Loggia plays a union organizer. An unusual setting and top-notch performances make The Garment Jungle a real gem that’s been woefully underseen. The disc includes a new audio commentary with Alan K. Rode, an archival (2007) Q&A with Robert Loggia about the film, and a theatrical trailer. (The Garment Jungle will also be part of an Indicator Region B box set release in November.)
Essential Film Noir Collection Volume I is an Australian release, so it’s Region B coded. This is a four-disc hardbox edition with unique artwork on the first 1500 copies. Although the list price seems steep at $129, remember that those are Australian dollars. The price in U.S. dollars comes out to about $94. (And don’t forget to factor in international shipping.) Will these titles eventually be released in the U.S.? Undoubtedly, but we don’t know if these extras are exclusive or will be included in subsequent releases.
Hard Eight (aka Sydney, 1996) Paul Thomas Anderson (Imprint, Australia, Region B)
Some directors spend their entire careers trying to make a film as good as Hard Eight. Yet this was Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature film (an expanded version of Anderson’s short film Cigarettes & Coffee, 1993). That’s a bit frightening. Phillip Baker Hall plays Sydney, a retired gambler who finds a down-and-out young man named John (John C. Reilly, whom Anderson has called the best actor alive) sitting outside a Nevada diner. Sydney knows John is a loser, but agrees to teach him the ropes. But Sydney has a past, and it could figure prominently in John’s future. Hard Eight also stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Melora Walters. This is the first time Hard Eight has enjoyed a Blu-ray release, but I’m going to wait for a U.S. release, hoping for additional bonus features. This disc includes several extras, but they’re already on the DVD edition if you own it: an audio commentary with Anderson and Hall, a different commentary with Anderson, Hall, Michelle Satter (from Sundance), and various crew members, a deleted scene called “The Kiss,” Sundance Institute Filmmaker Lab scenes, and a theatrical trailer. For those so inclined, the first 1500 copies will include a limited edition slipcase.
That’s going to do it for October. Not a bad month at all, especially if you live in Europe or have a region-free Blu-ray player. (So take that, horror!) And remember, Noirvember is coming…