Film Noir Releases in February 2019
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.
Wow, February promises to deliver some great film noir titles, especially from the classic era, and as if this writing (mid-January), there could be even more announced soon. February also begins what I hope is a trend, upgrading at least three titles from the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics DVD series of box sets. Let’s get started!
Human Desire (1954) Masters of Cinema/Eureka (UK, Region B)
Human Desire has always seemed an unfairly neglected title. Yes, it’s a remake of Jean Renoir’s classic La Bête Humaine (1938), but it features Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Broderick Crawford. With a cast like that, they could be performing scenes from a Dr. Seuss book and I’d be on board. Speaking of on board, more than a little bit of the film takes place on a train. (I really have a thing for train movies...) Returning Korean War veteran Jeff Warren (Ford) comes home to his job at the rail yard only to get entangled with Vicki (Grahame), the wife of Jeff’s nasty boss Carl (Crawford). This little love triangle creates the perfect setting for a terrific little noir tale that deserves more recognition than it normally gets. And did I mention that it’s directed by Fritz Lang?
Right now the supplements on this release look quite slim: a new interview with film historian Tony Rayns, and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film and rare archival imagery. There’s no indication that this is either a 2K or 4K restoration, so it may be the same source material used for the DVD in the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II set from 2010 (now out of print). If you’re lucky enough to own that set, you may want to wait and read the reviews before purchasing.
Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) Criterion - 4 BD set
Briefly discussed previously, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 14-part German television mini-series (with a running time over 15 hours) was previously released by Criterion on DVD in 2007 and on a Region B Blu-ray from Second Sight last year, but Criterion is finally giving the set a North American Blu-ray release. All the special features appear to be ported over from the 2007 DVD release.
Desert Fury (1947) Kino Lorber
Desert Fury is a film I’ve been trying to see for years, so I’ve very excited about this release. I have no qualms whatsoever about a blind buy and here’s why: Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak) and Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey, in his film debut) play two hoodlums who find themselves in a desert town outside of Reno, where Eddie’s ex-girlfriend Fritzi (Mary Astor) runs the Purple Sage casino. This time around, Eddie’s more interested in Fritzi’s rambunctious daughter Paula (Lizabeth Scott). The local lawman Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster) wants to run the two hoodlums out of town, mainly because he’s in love with Paula. Desert Fury contains several interesting elements: (1) it’s in color, (2) its protagonist is a woman, and (3) it suggests Eddie and Johnny were something more than friends. Some claim Desert Fury isn’t a film noir at all while others embrace it warmly. Other than trailers, the disc includes only one supplement, but in this case, one is enough: an audio commentary by the always interesting Imogen Sara Smith.
Naked Alibi (1954) Kino Lorber
Al Willis (Gene Barry) is a harmless but drunken baker suspected of killing a cop. Police chief Joe Conroy (Sterling Hayden) is convinced Willis is guilty, going after him with a forceful vengeance. It turns out to be too much force, resulting in Conroy losing his job, but he hasn’t lost his fury. With the assistance of Willis’s mistress Marianna (Gloria Grahame), Conroy won’t rest until he’s brought Willis down. No word yet on supplements.
La vérité (1960) Criterion (also released in a UK region B edition Feb. 25)
The gorgeous Dominique Marceau (Brigitte Bardot) almost certainly killed her lover Gilbert (Sami Frey). The question is before the court is whether the murder was premeditated or a crime of passion. Told in the present and alternating flashbacks, Herni-Georges Clouzot’s film is actually something of a movie-within-a-movie: it may be at least partially based on Bardot’s own sexual exploits and lifestyle, making her judgment in the courtroom scenes a parallel to her real life.
This release comes from a new 4K restoration of the film and includes an hour-long 2017 documentary on director Clouzot, a 1960 interview with Clouzot, an interview with Bardot from the 1982 documentary Brigitte Bardot telle qu’elle, a new English subtitle translation, and an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau.
Cop Car (2015) Universal Studios
Okay, so I’m breaking two rules here: Cop Car was released in 2015 and has had a previous Blu-ray release, but it’s a surprisingly effective low-budget film from then-unknown director Jon Watts, who also directed Spider-Man Homecoming (2017). Even though Cop Car stars Kevin Bacon, I’m betting you've never heard of it. (I wouldn’t have either, but my friend Kristina over at Speakeasy recommends it. So does John Grant over at Noirish.)
Two young boys Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are walking through a field, taking turns experimenting with curse words. Climbing through a barbed wire fence, they soon come upon an abandoned cop car. They dare each other to touch it, then to open the driver’s door and get in, then… But to tell you any more would be criminal. Let’s just say that the boys get a little carried away and the cop who should be in this car (Bacon) is out doing something a bit outside the law. The film contains wonderful tension, some great acting from the two boys (Freedson-Jackson’s first film, Wellford’s second), and a good performance by Bacon. The ending could use some work, but Cop Car is definitely worth checking out. The previous release contained only one 3-minute extra and this reissue probably offers nothing new. Still, I hope you’ll check it out.
So Dark the Night (1946) Arrow (also released in a UK region B edition Feb. 25)
So Dark the Night (previously reviewed in 2018) has much to admire, but it also seems more of a mystery than a film noir. Parisian detective Henri Cassin (Steven Geray, in a rare leading role) is vacationing in the sleepy village of St. Margot when he falls for Nanette (Micheline Cheirel), the daughter of the local innkeeper. Nanette’s fiancé Leon (Paul Marion) shows up and isn’t too happy with Henri. When Nanette turns up murdered, Leon is the prime suspect, but not for long.
So Dark the Night (directed by Joseph H. Lewis) was included in the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD box set from 2013, but the new disc from Arrow will include an audio commentary by critics Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme, plus the featurette “So Dark… Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia,” in which Imogen Sara Smith provides the background and analysis of the film. If you pick up the disc’s first pressing, you’ll also get a collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by critic David Cairns.
My Name is Julia Ross (1945) Arrow (also released in a UK region B edition)
This little film packs a lot into a very small amount of space and the result is an excellent noir thriller. Nina Foch plays Julia Ross, a woman looking for a job via a new London employment agency. She’s hired as a personal secretary to a rich widow named Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty), but when she arrives, Julia’s entire world is turned upside down. The film also stars George Macready in one of his nastiest roles (which is really saying something).
My Name is Julia Ross is yet another Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics upgrade, which is very exciting. It would be wonderful to see all 20 of the films in that series get Blu-ray releases, so please support the companies putting them out. The new Arrow edition also includes an audio commentary by author and film historian Alan K. Rode and a feature titled “Identity Crisis: Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia” with Nora Flore (The Nitrate Diva) providing background and analysis of the film. The disc’s first pressing will include a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by author and critic Adrian Martin.
Stranger in the House (aka Cop-Out, 1967) BFI Video (UK, Region B) Blu-ray + DVD
John Sawyer (James Mason), a once prominent barrister, has been on the skids after his wife deserted him and his daughter Angela (Geraldine Chaplin) 15 years earlier. When a local boy (Bobby Darin) is found murdered, Angela’s boyfriend (Paul Bertoya) is the prime suspect. Sawyer tries to put the bottle down and pull himself together to defend the boy. Some plot elements sound suspiciously like The People Against O’Hara (1951), but Stranger in the House is actually a remake of the Henri Decoin film Les inconnus dans la maison (1942), based on a novel by Georges Simenon. By all accounts, the Decoin film is far superior to this 1967 version directed by Pierre Rouve. I haven’t seen it, but it appears that this release may appeal mainly to James Mason fans. I do consider myself a Mason fan, but I think I’m going to pass on this one for now. No word yet on extras.
The Midnight Man (1974) Kino Lorber
Another Burt Lancaster film arrives in late February with The Midnight Man, co-written, co-produced, and co-directed by Lancaster and Roland Kibbee (Valdez is Coming). Lancaster plays Jim Slade, an ex-cop just released from prison for the murder of his wife’s lover. As an ex-con, the only job Slade can land is night watchman at a small-town college. When one of students, the daughter of a powerful senator (Morgan Woodward), is murdered, Slade begins his own unauthorized investigation. The cast here is really stacked: Cameron Mitchell, Susan Clark, Harris Yulin, Charles Tyner, Catherine Bach, Robert Quarry, Ed Lauter, and Joan Lorring. By all accounts, this is a terrific film. John Grant, author of A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide (2013), recommends that you watch the film in black-and-white if possible. Extras include an audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson.
There may be other releases announced in the coming days, but since the Noir City film noir festival is right around the corner, I’m posting a bit earlier than usual. Please let me know if the comments below if I’ve missed anything. And if you’re in San Francisco for the festival, please look me up. I’ll be around.