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.
Although much thinner than last month’s list, March offers a couple of must-own film noir titles from the classic era as well as a few you may have missed. (I’m not even sure if one particular title really qualifies as a film noir, but I’m going to put it out there for you to check out.) As always, if I’ve missed any releases, please let me know and I’ll update the list. So here we go…
Phantom Lady (1944) Arrow
(UK Region B edition releases on March 4)
Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis), after a nasty argument with his wife, finds himself thinking and drinking in a local bar. While there, he meets a mysterious woman (Fay Helm) wearing a unique hat. Intrigued, Henderson invites the woman (who refuses to disclose anything about herself) to see a show with him. Afterward, the two go their separate ways, with Henderson returning home to discover his wife strangled to death with one of his ties. Henderson is arrested, citing the woman with the distinctive hat as his alibi. Of course, she’s nowhere to be found, but that doesn’t stop Henderson’s secretary Carol “Kansas” Richman (Ella Raines) from playing detective to help free her boss. The film also stars Franchot Tone, Thomas Gomez, Regis Toomey, and one of Elisha Cook Jr’s most memorable performances as a frenzied drummer.
The talent behind the camera is just as impressive as what we see onscreen. Robert Siodmak directed the script by Bernard C. Schoenfeld, adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), and produced by Joan Harrison, who famously worked with Alfred Hitchcock for many years. Phantom Lady has its detractors and dedicated fans, but most film noir collectors won’t hesitate for a second to add this film to their collections.
The disc’s two extras are a bit disappointing, given that there’s no audio commentary whatsoever. This Arrow edition unfortunately does not include the short features from the TCM DVD from 2012, “Marsha Hunt on Film Noir” (2 min.), “Eddie Muller on Robert Siodmak” (3 min.) and “Eddie Muller on Phantom Lady” (3 min.), so if you have this 2012 edition, you might want to hang onto it. According to Jeffrey Kauffman’s review of the new Arrow release for Blu-ray.com, “Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir” (52 min.) focuses heavily on 1990s neo-noir, mixing comments from veterans such as Edward Dmytryk and Robert Wise with people like Dennis Hopper and Bryan Singer. The disc also includes a performance of Phantom Lady by the Lux Radio Theater from 1944, an image gallery, and a booklet insert featuring new writing by film noir expert Alan K. Rode.
Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) Shout Select
Stepping out of an elevator after an art show and a party, Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers) witnesses a murder. This isn’t just any murder victim, but one of Claire’s closest friends Winn (Mark Moses), who sponsored the art show she just attended. Claire evades the killer, but he’s gotten a good look at her. Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger), a newly appointed NYPD detective, is assigned to protect Claire, but he gets a little too close, which doesn’t sit too well with Keegan’s wife Ellie (Lorraine Bracco). This noirish police thriller from Ridley Scott (his fifth film) generally receives mixed reviews, but Scott’s visual style and a good cast make this worth your consideration. The only extras include new interviews with writer Howard Franklin and Director of Photography Steven Poster.
Torment (aka Paper Gallows) (1950) Juno Films (DVD only)
Here’s a story of two brothers, both of them writers of crime novels, both in love with the same woman, their shared stenographer/secretary. One brother is normal and law-abiding, the other a psycho. A faked crime goes horribly wrong, resulting in… well, torment. I know very little about this British film, other than the fact that it’s only the second film directed by John Guillermin (The Blue Max, The Towering Inferno, King Kong , Death on the Nile) and stars Dermot Walsh and Rona Anderson (Little Red Monkey). I also know very little about Juno Films, except that it’s a brand new company that appears to be taking on some interesting projects. If anyone picks this one up, let me know what you think. As far as I can tell, the DVD contains no extras.
Detour (1945) Criterion (also sold separately on DVD)
As all film noir fans already know, Detour is a legendary film. Part of that legend involves the story that it was filmed in six days (but was probably 14) with a budget of only $20,000 (which was probably closer to $100,000). But the real miracle here is that the film has been painstakingly restored through a process as complex as a large-scale heist. In fact, Blu-ray.com reviewer Dr. Svet Atanasov recommends that before watching the film, you should watch the disc extra titled “Restoring Detour,” an 11-minute feature on the process and challenges of restoring the film.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Detour is the tale of Al Roberts (Tom Neal), a nightclub pianist hitchhiking from New York to Los Angeles to reunite with his fiancée, singer Sue (Claudia Drake). Roberts gets a lift from a man named Charles Haskell Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), who unfortunately dies along the way. Desperate to get to LA, Roberts dumps the body and assumes Haskell’s identity. Things are looking up until Roberts stops to pick up a woman hitchhiker named Vera (Ann Savage), who knows what Roberts has done, becoming his worst nightmare. Savage is brilliant in the film and Vera has rightfully been called the most vicious female character in film noir.
Detour has been written about and discussed for over 70 years and the stories behind the scenes (especially that of Neal) are talked about with just as much verge as the film itself. Besides the aforementioned “Restoring Detour,” the disc includes a 2004 documentary on the film’s legendary director, Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (66 min.), which includes interviews with Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich, John Landis, Ann Savage, and more. You’ll also be treated to a new interview with author Noah Isenberg (22 min.), a restoration trailer (2 min.), and a leaflet featuring an essay by poet Robert Polito. Detour is an absolute classic of film noir that you simply must own and this looks like an early candidate for one of the strongest film noir Blu-ray releases of the year.
Wanda (1970) Criterion
I’m not entirely sure Wanda qualifies as a film noir, but I’m going to call it one, even though I’ve yet to see it. I’ve known about it for years, but have avoided reading much about the film, hoping to see it either on the big screen or on a physical media release. Here’s what I do know: Wanda (Barbara Loden) is a hard-luck character who’s lost everything. She’s left her husband, lost custody of her kids, and has become a drifter, hanging out with one awful man after another, all of whom mistreat her, and one a criminal who entices her to help him with his next crime.
Loden wrote, directed, and starred in this, her only film. From what I’ve heard, you’ll never forget it. The Criterion release comes from a new 2K restoration made possible by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, The Film Foundation, and Gucci. Extras include an hour-long documentary by Katja Raganelli called I Am Wanda (including a 1980 interview with Loden), an audio recording of Loden speaking to students at the AFI in 1971, a segment of her appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, a short educational film called “The Frontier Experience” starring and directed by Loden, a trailer, and an essay by film critic Amy Taubin.
Monsieur La Souris (Midnight in Paris) (1942) Cinetrove International (Blu-ray + DVD)
Former music professor Monsieur La Souris (Raimu), now reduced to a cabaret porter, offers to escort the passengers in a cab to the entrance of a nightclub during a downpour. To the surprise of Monsieur La Souris (“Mr. Mouse”), a dead body falls out of the car. “Mr. Mouse” runs to find the doorman, but returns to discover the car and body gone, leaving behind a wallet filled with several hundred francs. “Mr. Mouse” becomes obsessed with solving the mystery, but quickly finds himself the prime suspect in the official investigation by Inspector Lognon (René Bergeron) and Commissioner Lucas (Paul Amiot). The film (directed by Georges Lacombe and based on a story by Georges Simenon) is probably more Agatha Christie than film noir, but Raimu (one of the great French comic actors) delivers an unforgettable performance. This release features a new remaster of the film (2K? 4K? We aren’t told, so more than likely it’s neither.) and a featurette titled “The French Detective” (running time unknown). I know very little about the company Cinetrove International, but they do have some interesting projects lined up. Considering that this is a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack, it might be worth a blind buy.
That’s going to do it for March. Again, if I’ve missed anything, please let me know. In the meantime, enjoy some great film noir and let me know what you picked up.