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” and “neo-noir” 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 or “noir-stained” titles I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
September offers two box sets, two major Blu-ray upgrades from Warner Archive, and films from familiar directors such as William Dieterle, Edward Dmytryk, Otto Preminger, Samuel Fuller, Don Siegel, André De Toth, and more. We’ve got a total of 19 films to look at, so let’s get started:
Dark City (1950) William Dieterle - Arrow Academy (UK, Region B)
Arguments persist as to whether Dark City, Charlton Heston’s first professional movie, is a legitimate film noir. In order to participate in that argument, you’ll have to see the film, which you should, regardless of where (or if) it belongs in the noir canon. Heston plays Danny Haley, who runs a Chicago bookie joint with two hustlers (Jack Webb, Ed Begley). After fleecing a stranger (Don DeFore) out of $5,000 during a poker game, Danny and his pals begin to celebrate, only to discover later that the stranger hung himself in his hotel room. Even worse, Danny learns that the man’s brother (Mike Mazurki) is on his way to pay the hustlers a little visit. The strength of the film is Heston’s character Danny, a cynical man whose past could determine his future. The film also stars Lizabeth Scott, Dean Jagger, and Henry Morgan.
The US Blu-ray release from Olive in 2014 contained no extras, and although the Arrow release isn’t exactly packed, it does include an audio commentary by writer and film historian Alan K. Rode, which is reason enough to pick this one up. The package also includes a new appreciation by critic Philip Kemp, a theatrical trailer, image gallery, and a booklet (first pressing only) with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw. Although many Arrow releases are available in both UK (Region B) and US (Region A) editions, I don’t yet see a Region A announcement for Dark City.
Mirage (1965) Edward Dmytryk - Kino Lorber
Although Mirage is primarily a psychological thriller clearly pattered after the work of Alfred Hitchcock, it contains significant film noir elements, none more prominent than the most-diagnosed condition in all of noir: amnesia. Accountant David Stillwell (Gregory Peck) begins to wonder what’s wrong with him: complete strangers seem to know him, his apartment refrigerator is filled with food he didn’t buy, and he’s beginning to suffer disturbing flashbacks. Perhaps the answer lies in the young woman (Diane Baker) who seems to know him, or the two ever-present heavies (Jack Weston, George Kennedy) watching him. Maybe the local psychiatrist (Robert H. Harris) or a private investigator (Walter Matthau) can help? Mirage has both ardent fans and dismissing detractors, but it’s a fine thriller that moves at a brisk pace, thanks largely to veteran director Edward Dmytryk. Extras include an interview with Diane Baker, an audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson, an animated image gallery, and a theatrical trailer.
Noir Archive Volume 3: 1956-1960 - Kit Parker Films/Mill Creek
If this third volume of Columbia Pictures film noir titles is anything like the first two from Kit Parker Films and Mill Creek, you’re going to be treated to something of a mixed bag: mostly B pictures with some A level directors, writers, and actors, films of varying quality with pretty good audio, a mostly good visual presentation, and no extras. Yet film noir fans shouldn’t miss any of these sets, the third of which contains at least two bonafide gems. Here’s a brief rundown of each film:
The Crimson Kimono (1959) Samuel Fuller
I haven't seen them all, but I suspect Samuel Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono is the best film in this set. Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta play two buddies, both Los Angeles police detectives, both Korean War veterans, and both attracted to the same woman (Victoria Shaw) while working on a murder case. Fuller’s script expertly balances the action of a murder investigation with poignant social commentary. The Crimson Kimono enjoyed a 2017 release from Twilight Time and was included in one of last year’s finest box sets, Samuel Fuller at Columbia, 1937-1961 from Indicator.
The Lineup (1958) Don Siegel
Eli Wallach and Brian Keith play a pair of mob killers who recover drugs planted on unsuspecting tourists coming into San Francisco on international flights. Wallach is excellent as one of the deranged killers and the film contains one of the most memorable murder scenes in all of film noir. The Lineup was previously released as part of the out-of-print Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 1 DVD box set.
The Shadow on the Window (1957) William Asher
After watching his mother (Betty Garrett) being terrorized by three thugs (John Drew Barrymore, Corey Allen, Gerald Sarracini), little Petey Atlas (Jerry Mathers) wanders away from home, only to be picked up by local truck drivers who deliver him to the police station, where Petey’s dad (Philip Carey) is a detective. Just weeks after this film’s release, Jerry Mathers began a six-year run on the classic TV show Leave it to Beaver.
The Long Haul (1957) Ken Hughes
British director Ken Hughes isn’t as well-remembered as he should be. He made several good film noir movies including The Long Haul, starring Victor Mature as Harry Miller, an American ex-GI trying to make a living for his British wife (Gene Anderson) who wants to remain in Liverpool. After finding work as a lorry driver, Miller discovers that part of the job involves participation in some serious criminal activity. Even worse, he falls for the girlfriend (Diana Dors) of the organization’s leader (Patrick Allen). The Long Haul is surprisingly good with nice performances by Mature and Dors.
Pickup Alley (1957) John Gilling
Released in the UK as Interpol, Pickup Alley follows FBI agent Charles Sturgis (Victor Mature, once again) as he travels through various European cities in search of drug kingpin Frank McNally (Trevor Howard). Anita Ekberg stars as one of McNally’s couriers who may (or may not?) be willing to cooperate with Sturgis. Filmed in CinemaScope.
The Tijuana Story (1957) László Kardos
This South-of-the-Border quasi-documentary noir tells the story of a Tijuana newspaper editor (Rodolfo Acosta) who attempts to expose the illegal activities of the local mob boss.
She Played with Fire (1957) Sidney Gilliat
She Played with Fire (UK title Fortune is a Woman) finds Jack Hawkins as Oliver Branwell, an insurance investigator who finds that his former girlfriend (Arlene Dahl) and her husband (Dennis Price) have lost a valuable art collection in a fire. Only after signing off on the insurance payment does Branwell begin to suspect an arson scam.
The Case Against Brooklyn (1958) Paul Wendkos
Based an a True Magazine article, The Case Against Brooklyn stars Darren McGavin as a rookie cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a gambling ring, only to discover that several of his co-workers are on the take.
Man on a String (1960) André De Toth
Man on a String (André De Toth’s last American film) is loosely based on the life of Boris Morros, an American Communist Party member, Soviet agent, and FBI double agent. It’s also probably the weakest film in the set, but at least we get to enjoy Ernest Borginine playing Morros with a Russian accent, several years before he would repeat the same trick in 1968’s Ice Station Zebra.
Even if only three or four of the nine films in this set interest you, I’d recommend picking it up, especially if you can find it on sale.
Whirlpool (1949) Otto Preminger - Twilight Time
By 1949, psychiatrists and psychoanalysis had been running rampant in movies (especially film noir) for years, so it’s no surprise that they’d find a home in Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool. José Ferrer plays a hypnotherapist who leads Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney) to believe he can cure her kleptomania, but what he really wants to do is hypnotize her so she can steal the records of her husband, a famous psychiatrist (Richard Conte). This Twilight Time release marks the Blu-ray debut for Whirlpool. No word yet on extras.
They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) Alberto Cavalcanti - Indicator (UK, Region free)
Perhaps Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) owes at least a nod of acknowledgment to They Made Me a Fugitive (1947), since they both explore similar themes with a shared visual palette. Trevor Howard plays Clem Morgan, an ex-RAF officer looking for work after the war. Finding none, he finds himself working in the black market, leading to a series of ever-darkening situations; in short, the stuff of film noir. Many agree that They Made Me a Fugitive is not only a precursor to The Third Man, but also one of the finest examples of British film noir.
Kino released an edition of They Made Me a Fugitive in 2012, but this region-free Indicator release (using the same 2K restoration) features far more extras than the Kino, including two RAF training films featuring Trevor Howard in what may be his first appearances on film, “The John Player Lecture with Alberto Cavalcanti” (audio only, 62 min.), “After Effects” (29 min.), an appreciation by author and film historian Neil Sinyard, “About the Restoration” (14 min.), with the BFI’s Kieron Webb discussing the film’s restoration, an image gallery, and a limited edition 36-page booklet with a new essay by Nathalie Morris, extracts from Cavalcanti’s Film and Reality, a 1970 article on Cavalcanti by Geoffrey Minish, an overview of contemporary responses, and Anthony Nield on the wartime films of Trevor Howard. Again, this is a region-free disc, so don’t let anything stop you from picking it up.
Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Collection - Kino Lorber (4 Blu-ray discs)
Ida Lupino is finally getting the recognition she deserves as one of America’s most important filmmakers and this box set from Kino Lorber is cause for celebration. In addition to four newly-restored films directed by Lupino, the set includes an 80-page booklet by Ronnie Scheib titled Ida Lupino: Auteuress. Each film gets its own separate Blu-ray disc and case. (The films will also be sold separately. The booklet is available only as part of the box set.)
Here’s the breakdown:
Not Wanted (1949)
Although uncredited, this was Lupino’s first directorial effort in motion pictures. (She took over after director Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack early in the production.) Told in flashback after Sally (Sally Forrest) is stopped for taking another woman’s baby, we discover that Sally once fell for a traveling musician named Steve (Leo Penn), who got her pregnant and then abandoned her. More drama than noir, Not Wanted boasts a 4K restoration as well as an audio commentary by filmmaker/historian Greg Ford and Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
Never Fear (1949)
No only did Lupino direct Never Fear, she also co-wrote and co-produced the film with then husband Collier Young. Also clearly more drama than noir, Never Fear is the story of a young dancer (Sally Forrest) who struggles to overcome polio (which also struck Lupino years earlier) with the help of her fiancé (Keefe Brasselle) and another polio patient (Hugh O’Brien). This 2K restoration includes an audio commentary by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
In Lupino’s best-known film (and the first American film noir directed by a woman), Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy play two buddies on a fishing trip who give a ride to a hitchhiker who turns out to be a psychotic ex-con (William Talman). This 2K restoration features an audio commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith.
The Bigamist (1953)
Harry Graham (Edmond O’Brien) and his wife Eve (Joan Fontaine) are delighted at the prospect of adopting a child, but when an investigator (Edmund Gwenn) discovers Graham already has another wife (Lupino), that changes everything. The Bigamist arrives with a new 4K scan as well as an audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger.
Other than audio commentaries, each disc also includes trailers. I’m scheduled to review the entire box set for the September/October issue of The Dark Pages: The Newsletter for Film Noir Lovers, so if you aren’t a subscriber, I hope you’ll consider subscribing (or at least requesting a sample issue).
The Letter (1940) William Wyler - Warner Archive
In one of her finest roles, Bette Davis plays Leslie Crosbie, wife of a British rubber plantation manager (Herbert Marshall) in Malaya. In the film’s famous opening, Leslie shoots Geoff Hammond (David Newell) dead, claiming self-defense. No one disputes Leslie’s claim, but there’s no escaping a trial, which seems perfunctory, but Hammond’s widow (Gale Sondergaard) claims she has in her possession a letter from Leslie to Geoff imploring him to come to the Crosbie home on the night Leslie killed him. Based on the play by W. Somerset Maugham, The Letter is one of the finest film noir movies not set in America. The Blu-ray features a new remaster of the film with all the extras ported over from the 2005 DVD: an alternate ending, a theatrical trailer, and two Lux Radio Theater (audio only) adaptations, one featuring Davis, Herbert Marshall, and James Stephenson (1941), the other with Davis and Marshall, but without Stephenson (1944). Don’t miss this one.
The Set-Up (1949) Robert Wise - Warner Archive
Noir fans have been waiting a long, long time for The Set-Up to be released on Blu-ray and now the wait is over. If you haven’t seen The Set-Up, prepare yourself for what I consider the undisputed champion of boxing films as well as a stellar film noir. Washed-up boxer Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan) walks into the ring not knowing that his manager Tiny (George Tobias) has promised a local hood that Stoker will throw the fight. Tiny doesn’t even tell Stoker about the deal, convinced he’s going to lose anyway. Stoker’s wife Julie (Audrey Totter, in a wonderful performance) wants him to quit, but Stoker sees the fight as the last chance to turn his career around. The Set-Up expertly uses the unity of time (its 72-minute running time covers 72 minutes in the life of its characters) three years before the more famous use of the device in High Noon. Like their release of The Letter, Warner Archive has not given The Set-Up a new 2K or 4K scan, but rather a “brand new remaster,” which is a bit disappointing, especially since the film’s previous DVD release was a bit lacking in sharpness. The film contains only one extra, but you can’t miss it: an audio commentary with director Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese.
So if you’ve got any money left after all that back-to-school shopping, these releases will probably take care of that surplus. That’s going to do it for September. Once again, if you know of any film noir new releases I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments section. Thanks for reading.
Still photos: IMDb, TMDb, RareFilm, CBS News