Updated: Mar 31, 2019
UPDATES: Please see the updates for the Twilight Time release of The Snake Pit (good news), the Indicator release of The Reckless Moment (more good news), and the Signal One release of Nightmare Alley (bad news).
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 neo-noir titles I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
Unless you live in Europe or own a region-free player, there’s not an awful lot to get excited about in April, with the exception of one very interesting box set which should keep you busy for awhile. Also, some of the titles we were anticipating for April have been pushed back to May, so this month’s list is a bit shorter than I was expecting. Regardless, we’ll press on and see what April has in store for us:
Beautiful Stranger (1954) Network Releasing (UK, Region B)
Beautiful Stranger is also known by the title Twist of Fate, which may be more appropriate, at least as far as a plot description goes: Ginger Rogers (in her first British film) plays Joan “Johnny” Victor, the showgirl mistress of Louis Galt (Stanley Baker), a wealthy businessman hip-deep in criminal shenanigans. Convinced that Galt will never divorce his wife, Johnny decides to find someone who’ll pay her a little more attention, someone like artist Pierre Clement (Jacques Bergerac, Rogers’s husband at the time). After Johnny and Galt’s sidekick Emil (Herbert Lom) discover that Galt’s been hoarding away cash at his French Rivera villa, they decide, “Hey, why not grab the loot and go?” Things get very twisty indeed when Galt discovers his money’s gone and before you know it, bodies begin piling up.
If nothing else, Beautiful Stranger offers a great cast, and if the plot gets a little tangled, who cares? You’ve got Ginger Rogers, Stanley Baker, and Herbert Lom, for cryin’ out loud! Network does a great job of releasing many wonderful British films (and not just film noir) that most Americans have never heard of. This one looks certainly intriguing.
A Short Film About Killing (Krótki film o zabijaniu) (1988) Artificial Eye (UK, Region B)
Okay, stay with me here… First, know that A Short Film About Killing is an expanded version of the fifth episode of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s masterwork Dekalog (1987). If you already own the Criterion (Region A) edition of Dekalog, you already have the 84-minute A Short Film About Killing as a supplement. However, if you own the Arrow UK (Region B) edition of Dekalog, you do not have this film as an extra feature. Perhaps this is a misprint, but the Criterion version of A Short Film About Killing runs 87 minutes. This stand-alone release from Artificial Eye runs 84 minutes. This is probably due to the problems in transferring the film from 25fps (frames per second) to 24fps. (All this is way above my level of understanding, so perhaps this explanation will help you understand the headaches involved in getting an accurate North American release of films originally presented on Polish TV at 25fps.)
The process I just described may be complicated, but the film itself is quite simple (but far from simplistic). A psychotic young drifter named Jacek (Mirosław Baka) murders a taxi driver in Warsaw and is soon caught. Jacek has the bad luck to be assigned to a defense lawyer (Krzysztof Globisz) trying his very first case. A Short Film About Killing is far more than a statement against capital punishment in the final days of Communist rule in Poland. If you’re a fan of Kieślowski’s work and don’t have the Criterion edition of Dekalog (and if you have a Region B or multi-region player), you’ll want to pick up this disc. (Unfortunately I found no information available on supplements.)
Noir Archive Volume I: 1944-1954 (Kit Parker Films) 3 Blu-ray discs
(If you’re unfamiliar with the company Kit Parker Films, you’ve probably watched or even own a few if you’ve seen anything from VCI. Kit Parker Films and VCI are separate, but linked. You can read more here.)
Although I’ve only seen three of the films in this nine-film set, I immediately pre-ordered Noir Archive Volume 1: 1944-1954. None of these are exactly high-profile films, but of the three I’ve seen, two are solid (711 Ocean Drive and The Killer That Stalked New York), and one of them excellent (Address Unknown). The complete list (with links to their basic plots) is as follows:
Address Unknown (1944) William Cameron Menzies
Escape in the Fog (1945) Budd Boetticher
The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947) Henry Levin
The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror) (1949) Anthony Mann
Johnny Allegro (1949) Ted Tetzlaff
711 Ocean Drive (1950) Joseph M. Newman
The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) Earl McEvoy
Assignment - Paris! (1952) Robert Parrish, Phil Karlson (uncredited)
The Miami Story (1954) Fred F. Sears
Most of these films are Columbia Pictures releases (although The Black Book was originally a Universal film) and most have had previous lower-quality releases on DVD or DVD-R, so this release is quite exciting. Consisting of three Blu-ray discs, I assume we’ll get three films per disc. The only other information we’ve been given is that the films will be in HD in their original aspect ratios, which usually means it’s not a 2K or 4K scan. I would be very surprised if the set includes any supplements whatsoever, but regardless, this is a very welcome set and even at full price, this is a great deal.
And more good news: a second volume with nine more movies is scheduled for July!
The Snake Pit (1948) Twilight Time
See the April 22 entry for The Snake Pit below.
Indicator is one of those companies you look at and think, “Wow, they’re just too good to be true.” On April 22, Indicator releases two wonderful films I’m very excited to own on Blu-ray. Let’s check each of them out:
The Reckless Moment (1949) Indicator (UK, Region Free)
Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) isn’t exactly excited about her teenage daughter Bea (Geraldine Brooks) seeing a middle-aged man named Ted Darby (Shepperd Strudwick), but when Darby accidentally dies on the Harper’s property, Lucia decides to hide the body to avoid scandal. Ah, but people are always watching, especially blackmailers like Martin Donnelly (James Mason), who has come into the possession of Bea’s love letters to Darby. Directed by Max Ophuls, The Reckless Moment is filled with style, tension, and excellent performances.
Extras include “Making and American Movie” (2010), a 44-minute feature with analysis by Lutz Bacher, artist and author of Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios, “Maternal Overdrive” (2006, 22 min.) with director Todd Haynes discussing the film, “James Mason as Homme Fatal” (2018, 27 min.), an illustrated lecture by academic Adrian Garvey, recorded as part of the Focus on James Mason event at Birkbeck, University of London, “Focus on James Mason: Audience Discussion” from the same event (40 min.), “James Mason: Watching the Violence Unfold” (2018, 33 min.), an illustrated lecture by academic Sarah Thomas, also recorded at Birkbeck, an isolated music and effects track, image gallery, a limited edition 36-page booklet with a new essay by Samm Deighan, an introduction to Max Ophuls by critic Andrew Sarris, archival articles by Ophuls, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits. Whew!
UPDATE: The Indicator website states that this is definitely a region-free release.
The Snake Pit (1948) Indicator (UK, Region B)
Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit begins with two women conversing on a park bench. They could be any women anywhere, but they’re not. Virginia Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland) is confused, not realizing where she is. When she rises from the bench, things move at an alarmingly fast pace with visual clues building upon each other so quickly you probably won’t realize you’re holding your breath. A nurse walks among a group of women, barking orders at them as if she’s been doing this for years (and perhaps she has). There’s a marvelous 180° turn of the camera from one end of a long line of women to the other, a dizzying moment in which Virginia realizes that she’s trapped in a mental institution.
Capitalizing on such a powerful opening is difficult, but Virginia’s story is so compelling (as is de Havilland’s performance) we can’t look away. We learn how Virginia got there, why she doesn’t recognize her own husband (Mark Stevens), and wonder how in the world this will all get straightened out. Or will it? The Snake Pit was one of the first Hollywood films to take a serious look at mental illness and it still packs quite a punch today. You should probably think of it as a noir-stained drama, but I think any film noir fan will want to own the film.
The Indicator release of The Snake Pit is a Region B locked disc, probably because it’s being released in the U.S. by Twilight Time on April 16 as noted above.
UPDATE: The Indicator release's extras can be found here. The Twilight Time release will include an isolated music track, an audio commentary with film historian Aubrey Solomon, Fox Movietone newsreels, two The Snake Pit Vintage Radio shows, and an original theatrical trailer.
The Public Defender: The Official First Season (TV, 1954) ClassicFlix DVD set (3 discs)
Again, a release that’s not strictly film noir, but could be of interest to noir fans. The series aired for one-and-a-half seasons on CBS in 1954-55 and starred Reed Hadley, known mostly as an actor and narrator in many film noir titles. Hadley’s character, Bart Matthews, is said public defender, working tirelessly on behalf of indigent clients. Some of the characters Matthews encounters (not necessarily clients) are played by such actors as Steve Brodie, Charles Bronson, James Gleason, Richard Jaeckel, Kenneth Tobey, Marie Windsor, and many others.
There’s a bit of confusion here, however. The ClassicFlix release states that this three-disc set includes all 26 half-hour episodes of the show’s first season, yet the show’s Wikipedia page states that the entire series (only one-and-a-half seasons) consists of 69 episodes. Hmmm…. If that’s true, that remaining half-season is is 43 episodes long, which I seriously doubt. Regardless, ClassicFlix does great work and I hope this set sells well enough for them to release more classic TV shows.
Nightmare Alley (1947) Signal One (UK, Region B) Blu-ray + DVD
Wow, this release has had more delays than a Major League Baseball game in a thunderstorm, but it looks like folks with Region B and region-free players won’t have to wait much longer. UPDATE: Unfortunately, we'll still have to wait. Signal One has announced that they've delayed this release even further, at least into the third quarter of 2019, maybe even the fourth. Thanks to my Twitter friend Anders for passing along this information.
Man in a Suitcase, Volume 6 (TV, 1967-1968) Network (UK, Region B)
Although Network is releasing the sixth volume of the British TV series Man in a Suitcase, I’m just discovering it. (The first five volumes are also available from Network.) Each volume contains only five or so episodes; the series only ran for one 30-episode season.
Man in a Suitcase stars Richard Bradford as McGill, a former U.S. intelligence agent who makes his way to England after a forced resignation for an accusation of treason in America. Now in Great Britain, living out of his suitcase as per the title, McGill works as a detective/bounty hunter. The noir aspects of the show include betrayal, mistrust, deceit, and many other noirish qualities we’ve all come to know and love. Man in a Suitcase came to life as a replacement for the TV series Danger Man, which ran into trouble when star Patrick McGoohan began to focus on his own series The Prisoner. I plan on checking out at least the first volume of Man in a Suitcase, but if you have any thoughts on the series, please let me know.
That’s going to do it for April, but if you know of any titles I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments below. Happy viewing!