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Film Noir Releases in January 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” 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.

Christmas day is tomorrow, so I’m taking this opportunity to suggest a few items you might want to get with those gift cards you'll be getting. These January releases kick off 2020 with some interesting titles from the UK, two Fritz Lang films, Dan Duryea, and a nifty neo-noir from the director of Knives Out. Let’s ring in the New Year with these titles:


January 7

Brick (2005) Rian Johnson - Kino Lorber

Before Knives Out (2019) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), director Rian Johnson wrote and directed Brick, a movie with classic film noir concepts, tropes, and language, set at a modern-day high school. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan Frye, a high school student who’s a loner, especially after being dumped by his girlfriend. Said girlfriend isn’t coming back to him, though. She’s been murdered. Attempting to solve the murder himself, Frye discovers he now has to move among the school cliques he’s spent most of his days trying to avoid, but they’re nothing compared to a local drug dealer known as “The Pin” (Lukas Haas, a very different Lukas Haas than the one you remember from the 1985 film Witness). If you’ve never seen it, Brick is a tremendous homage to film noir as well as a great story. In addition to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film also features a brief appearance by Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft) as the school’s assistant vice principal.

This Kino Lorber edition includes a new 4K restoration supervised by Rian Johnson, an audio commentary by Johnson, actors Nora Zehetner and Noah Segan, producer Ram Bergman, production designer Jodie Tillen, and costume designer MIchele Posch. Also you’ll get eight deleted and extended scenes (with an introduction by Johnson), the featurette “The Inside Track: Casting the Roles of Laura and Dode,” and a theatrical trailer.

The Slasher (aka Cosh Boy, aka The Tough Guy, 1953) Lewis Gilbert - Kino Lorber

(Also see the January 20 entry for the UK release of Cosh Boy)

The Slasher (U.S. title) was a much bigger deal in the UK (under the title Cosh Boy), where it became one of the first British films to receive the new X certificate. After mugging several elderly women, Roy Walsh (James Kenney) and his band of delinquents are sent to the local magistrate, who places them in a youth club in post-WWII London. Like that’s going to help… Roy does, however, redirect his attention to Rene (Joan Collins), the sister of one of Roy’s gang members, but since Rene already has a boyfriend...Well, let's say it’s not exactly teatime at the Polo Lounge. The Slasher was considered very hard-edged and bleak for its time, but I’m not sure how well it holds up today. Lewis Gilbert also directed Alfie (1966) and three James Bond films: You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and Moonraker (1979). No information on extras.

January 13

The League of Gentlemen (1960) Basil Dearden - Network (UK, Region B)

I’m so glad to finally see one of my favorite British films released on Blu-ray. Previously available on the stellar Eclipse Series 25 box set, Basil Dearden’s London Underground, The League of Gentlemen stars Jack Hawkins as an ex-army officer who gathers a group of other embittered former officers who swear to fight back against England’s ingratitude for their service. How will they do this? By robbing a bank, of course. Hawkins’s not-so-merry men include Roger Livesey, Nigel Patrick, Richard Attenborough, and Bryan Forbes in a clever heist film that features equal parts suspense and comedy. Special features include a commentary with Bryan Forbes, The South Bank Show: Richard Attenborough, and a theatrical trailer.

January 14

House by the River (1950) Fritz Lang - Kino Lorber

Wealthy novelist Stephen Byrne (Louis Hayward) strangles one of his house servants (Dorothy Patrick) when she begins screaming to ward off Byrne’s amorous advances. Before he can think fast enough, Byrne’s brother John (Lee Bowman) walks in and helps him dispose of the body by dumping it in the river (thus the nifty title). Can the brothers now fool everyone in town before they kill each other? Just seeing “Directed by Fritz Lang” in a film doesn’t just bring an expectation of quality, it suggests something on the level of awe. This is the man who gave us the Dr. Mabuse films, M, Metropolis, Scarlet Street, The Big Heat, The Woman in the Window… Well, there’s no need for me to list Lang’s entire body of work. Suffice it to say, the man was brilliant. Yet I must confess that House by the River is not one of my favorite Lang films, but see what you think. This new 2K remaster of the film includes a new audio commentary by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, an archival interview with producer and historian Pierre Rissient, and theatrical trailers.

Cosh Boy (1953) Lewis Gilbert - BFI (Blu-ray + DVD, UK, Region B)

Please see the January 7 entry for The Slasher. Neither this nor the Kino Lorber release seem to contain any extras.

January 21

Kitten with a Whip (1964) Douglas Heyes - Universal

David Patton (John Forsythe) has big political ambitions, but when his wife is out of town, Patton comes home to discover a hellcat named Jody (Ann-Margaret) in his living room. Jody has just escaped from reform school, having stabbed one of the school’s matrons. After running her out of his house, Patton soon finds that Jody’s returned with three violent buddies, who actually believe her claim that Patton tried to rape her. Apparently (despite its title), Kitten with a Whip was an attempt to make a “serious” actress of Ann-Margaret, and many think she succeeds here as a delinquent femme fatale. No word on extras, which probably means none.

January 27

Cloak and Dagger (1946) Fritz Lang - Eureka Entertainment/Masters of Cinema (Blu-ray + DVD, UK, Region B)

Fritz Lang takes on espionage? In the Hitchcock vein? Gary Cooper plays Alvah Jesper, a Manhattan Project physicist sent by the OSS to discover whether the Axis powers have an A-bomb in development. When his Austrian contact is killed, Jesper is forced not only to change his plans, but place his trust in someone he doesn’t know, all the while falling in love with an Italian resistance fighter (Lilli Palmer). From what I’ve read, the production of Cloak and Dagger was fraught with battles between Lang and producer Milton Sperling over what this film should be: a tribute to the OSS or a film noir thriller.

Cloak and Dagger was previously released on Blu-ray in 2013 the U.S. by Olive Films, an okay looking and sounding disc with no extras. Reviewer Jeffrey Kauffman notes some of the film’s (as well as the disc’s) shortcomings in his review, Although the Eureka release states a “1080p high-definition digital transfer,” it probably comes from the same source material as the Olive release. Yet the Eureka does include a new commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and a new video essay by David Cairns, plus a Lux Radio Theater Radio adaptation from 1946 starring Lilli Palmer and Ronald Reagan (57 min.), and apparently the entire Cloak and Dagger radio series, all 660 minutes of it! There’s also a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Samm Deighan. Although I’m not a huge fan of this one, I do like it and will probably pick this up.

January 28

Black Angel (1946) Roy William Neill - Arrow Academy (UK edition available Jan. 27)

After a blackmailer is murdered in her upscale apartment, the list of suspects becomes long and complicated. Yet Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), who was cheating on his wife with the blackmailer, is spotted at the scene of the crime, so he’s the one who gets tossed in the cooler. Although her husband is an adulterous heel, Bennett’s wife Catherine (June Vincent) fights to save him from the chair. Catherine, suspecting the real culprit is a sleaze-bag nightclub owner (Peter Lorre), seeks help from the blackmailer’s estranged, boozed-up husband Martin Blair (Dan Duryea). I’m so glad this film is getting a Blu-ray release in both the U.S. and the UK, and even more pleased that it will include a commentary from writer and film historian Alan K. Rode, and “A Fitting End,” a new video appreciation from film historian Neil Sinyard. The first pressing of the disc will include a collector’s booklet with a new essay from the writer Philip Kemp. Regardless of whether you like in Europe or North America, pick this one up.

So I hope this isn't the Santa you see tonight! Regardless, I hope everyone has a great holiday filled with lots of film noir DVDs and Blu-rays.

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