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.
As we move into the fall, things are looking slightly better than they did in August. We’ve got noir titles making their Region A debuts, some interesting sets, the sequel to a noir masterpiece, release updates, and more. Let’s jump right in:
Black Gravel (1961) Helmut Käutner (Kino Lorber)
In German with English subtitles
At the end of WWII, Germany’s loss translates into shortages in food, water, clothing, housing, and more. But there’s at least the possibility of good news for the village of Sohnen: A planned military airbase is in the works, one that will serve thousands of American troops. The locals wouldn’t really call this “good” news, but they do see the economic benefits such a base could bring. We’re not talking retail stores, factories, and other such business, but rather bars, bordellos, and black market opportunities. One such opportunist, Robert (Helmut Wildt) starts selling black market gravel. During a police raid, Robert flees and is responsible for a fatal accident, which drives him deeper into a dark ruthlessness. Gritty and pulling no punches, Black Gravel was denounced by the Central Council of Jews in Germany as promoting anti-semitism, which led to the production of two different versions of the film, both of which are included on the Kino disc, along with an audio commentary by film historian Olaf Möller.
Two Jules Dassin films finally arrive in Region A Blu-ray releases, both previously released on DVD from Criterion. Brute Force has been available on a Region B Blu-ray from Arrow, as has The Naked City.
The Naked City (1948) Jules Dassin (Criterion Collection)
You can (and people do) argue over whether or not The Naked City is a true film noir or simply a police procedural. Most agree, however, that its semi-documentary style and on location New York setting make The Naked City a unique film that approaches Italian neorealism. After the death of a former model, Homicide Detective Lieutenant Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and rookie Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) investigate the case. (The film also spawned a TV series in the late '50s/early '60s.) The Blu-ray is sourced from a new 4K digital restoration and includes a 1996 audio commentary from the film’s screenwriter Malvin Wald, separate interviews from film scholar Dana Polan and author James Sanders (both from 2006), footage of director Jules Dassin from a 2004 appearance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and an essay by author/critic Luc Sante and production notes written from producer Mark Hellinger to Dassin. This marks The Naked City’s first North American Blu-ray release.
Brute Force (1947) Jules Dassin (Criterion Collection)
The plot of Jules Dassin’s Brute Force is about as simple as it gets: Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) and a group of his fellow prisoners seek to escape from Westgate Prison, and especially from the sadistic head of security Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), who uses inmates as stool pigeons, providing him with eyes everywhere. Although a very effective prison story, Dassin swims in the noir pool by engaging us with flashbacks from several of the characters, showing us not only how they wound up in prison, but also the women to whom they long to return. And of course there’s revenge, deceit, a chance for redemption… all the things that make film noir film noir. Brute Force is easily a must-own for your film noir collection.
As is the case with The Naked City, Brute Force sees its North American Region A debut with a new 4K restoration. The disc features one new supplement, a program from 2017 on the different acting styles in the film featuring film scholar David Bordwell (Blu-ray only), and other supplements ported over from the 2007 Criterion DVD release: an audio commentary with film noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini, a 2007 interview with Paul Mason, editor of Captured by the Media: Prison Discourse in Popular Culture, a trailer, stills gallery, and an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson, a 1947 profile of producer Mark Hellinger, and rare correspondence between Hellinger and Production Code administrator Joseph Breen over the film’s content.
Graveyards of Honor (1975, 2002) Kinji Fukasaku, Takashi Miike (Arrow Limited Edition, Region A) (UK Region B edition available on Sept. 7)
In Japanese with English subtitles
This set requires a bit of explanation. Yakuza expert Goro Fujita’s gangster novel Graveyard of Honor inspired film adaptations from two directors from two different decades, both of which are included in this new box set available in Region A and Region B editions from Arrow. Kinji Fukasaku’s 1975 film tells the story of real-life gangster Rikio Ishikawa (Tetsuya Watari), a post-war criminal with absolutely no honor or moral code, determined to survive against any sort of brutality. Director Takashi Miike’s 2002 version of the story takes place at the dawn of the new millennium, showcasing modern Tokyo’s nihilist criminal landscape. Each film gets its own Blu-ray disc including the following supplements:
Graveyard of Honor (1975) features a new audio commentary by author/critic Mark Schilling; “Like a Balloon: The Life of a Yakuza,” a new visual essay by critic and Projection Booth podcast host Mike White; “A Portrait of Rage,” an archival appreciation of Fukasaku and his films, featuring interviews with filmmakers, scholars, and friends of the director; “On the Set with Fukasaku,” an archival interview with assistant director Kenichi Oguri; a theatrical trailer and image gallery.
Graveyard of Honor (2002) contains a new audio commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes; a new visual essay by author and critic Kat Ellinger; an archival “interview special” featuring Miike and cast members Goro Kishitani and Narimi Arimori; a “making-of” featurette and “making-of” trailer; press release interviews with Miike, Kishitani, and Arimori; a “premiere special” featuring Miike, Kishitani, and Arimori; a theatrical trailer and image gallery.
The Two Jakes (1990) Jack Nicholson (Paramount)
The only problem with The Two Jakes is that it’s not Chinatown (1974), but that problem sealed the sequel’s fate. Set in 1948, eleven years after the events of Chinatown, Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by Julius “Jake” Berman (Harvey Keitel) to catch his wife Kitty (Meg Tilly) in bed with Berman’s business partner Mark Bodine (John Hackett). When Berman ends up killing Bodine, the act not only brings into question whether Berman acted out of passion or premeditation, but also whether Gittes will find himself under investigation for his role in the crime. Things get more complex and convoluted, which - combined with wanting it to be more like its predecessor - could be why critics and audiences panned the film, perhaps unfairly. Try it on for your self a see what you think. There’s no word on supplements, and with a retail price of only $14.99, there probably aren’t any.
4-Film Collection: Film Noir (Warner Archive) 4 Blu-ray discs
The Set-Up, Out of the Past, Gun Crazy, Murder, My Sweet
All four of these cornerstone film noir titles have been available separately on Blu-ray for some time, so if you haven’t yet picked them up, this is a great opportunity to do so. (And they’ll take up less space on your shelf.) Check on each individual title for a list of supplements.
The Set-Up (1949)
Out of the Past (1947)
Gun Crazy (1950)
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Mill Creek, 3-disc set)
Maybe Mill Creek spent a little too much time inside the Inner Sanctum, since this set (originally slated for a July 21 release) will now be available on September 22.
Trick Baby (1972) Larry Yust (Scorpion Releasing)
Originally scheduled for an August 25 release, Trick Baby will be delayed until late September.
As I mentioned earlier, things are looking a little better in September. Hang in there. Noirvember will be here before you know it. Everyone take care, be safe, and watch lots of film noir.