Film Noir Releases in May 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 “noir-stained” titles I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
Wow, May brings us some real variety with a few relatively unknown films as well as some bonafide classics getting a first-time Blu-ray release. We’ll also cover a few titles that have been released before, but this time with some interesting upgrades. Let’s not waste any more time: here are a dozen titles for you!
Beautiful Stranger (aka Twist of Fate) (1954) David Miller - Network (UK, Region B)
This release was originally scheduled for last month. You can read that entry here.
Secret People (1952) Thorold Dickinson - Network (UK, Region B)
Valentina Cortese and Audrey Hepburn play sisters Maria and Nora, sent by their father from their home (presumably in Italy) during a political takeover to a friend in London. Years later, Maria and Nora attend the Paris Exhibition where they find the dictator responsible for their father’s death. Maria is soon persuaded to participate in a terrorist plot to eliminate the dictator, but things go horribly wrong.
Despite the fact that this film was something of a breakthrough for Audrey Hepburn (whose ballet skills are on display here) and features a bravura performance from Valentina Cortese, Secret People is rarely discussed these days. Perhaps this release will change that. Network normally includes only image galleries and PDF material on their discs, so I’m sure this will also be the case for Secret People.
This Gun for Hire (1942) Frank Tuttle - Shout Factory, Shout Select
Fans have been waiting a long time for a Blu-ray release of the first pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and now This Gun for Hire on Blu is finally here. A contract killer named Raven (Ladd) works with a laconic, smooth efficiency until he’s double-crossed by his latest employer, Willard Gates (Laird Cregar). Ellen Graham (Lake) also works for Gates, not as a killer, but rather a nightclub singer/magician in one of Gates’s clubs. When a local senator asks Ellen to spy on her boss, who’s suspected of selling secrets to America’s enemies, her life gets complicated. Not only is Ellen the girlfriend of an LAPD detective (Robert Preston), she has the bad (or good?) luck to find herself mixed up with Raven as he seeks to avoid the police long enough to settle the score with Gates. This Gun for Hire is not only the first Ladd/Lake film, it’s also memorable for introducing one of film noir’s first anti-heroes, a quiet, mysterious killer with a past. This Gun for Hire belongs in every collector’s library of essential film noir titles. This Shout Factory Select release marks the film’s Blu-ray debut from a new 4K restoration and includes a new audio commentary from film historians Alan K. Rode and Steve Mitchell, a theatrical trailer, and a stills gallery. Don’t miss this one.
House of Games (1987) David Mamet - Criterion
Roger Ebert named House of Games as the best film of 1987 and it still holds up after more than 30 years. In David Mamet’s directorial debut, bestselling author and psychiatrist Maggie Ford (Lindsay Crouse, Mamet’s wife at the time) seeks to help Billy (Steven Goldstein), one of her patients with a huge gambling debt. When Maggie visits the House of Games and approaches Mike (Joe Mantegna) about Billy’s debt, Mike introduces her to a world of con artists and deception, showing the psychiatrist a new and fascinating side of human nature. Yet Maggie learns more than she bargained for.
House of Games was been available on DVD from MGM and Criterion for years and received a French Blu-ray release last year from ESC Editions. I’m not sure if this is the same transfer used for the French edition, but if so, the screenshots from the ESC version appear noticeably darker than the Criterion DVD. Although this Blu-ray upgrade seems to contain no new supplements, the extras from the Criterion DVD have been ported over. Having owned an old MGM DVD for years, I’m eager to see this new Blu-ray upgrade.
The Big Clock (1948) John Farrow - Arrow (May 13 in the UK)
George Stroud (Ray Milland), editor of a true crime magazine, has certainly earned a vacation with his family, but he’s not going to get one anytime soon. Stroud’s hard-nosed boss, media mogul Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) orders the editor back to work. Disgusted and dejected, Stroud drinks away his sorrows at a downtown bar where he shares a few drinks with Janoth’s mistress Pauline York (Rita Johnson). Later, Jaonth kills Pauline in a fit of rage and manipulates the evidence to implicate Stroud as the murderer. Even worse, Jaonth places his large publishing building on lockdown and puts Stroud in charge of the investigation to find the murderer, but Stroud doesn’t know he’s actually investigating leads that will point to himself.
The Big Clock was remade many years later as No Way Out (1987), starring Kevin Costner and Sean Young, but the original (which was very successful when originally released) has been largely forgotten, even by film noir fans. I’m hoping this Arrow release will help bring this wonderful film to the attention of more people. Extras include a new audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin; “Turning Back the Clock,” a new analysis of the film by critic and chief executive of Film London, Adrian Wootton; “A Difficult Actor,” a new appreciation of Laughton and his performance in The Big Clock by writer, actor, and theatre director Simon Callow; a 1948 Lux Radio Theatre radio dramatization of the film; and a collector’s booklet with a new essay by Christina Newland (first pressing only). Even as a blind-buy, The Big Clock is a must-own film. Available in US and UK editions.
The Bedroom Window (1987) Curtis Hanson - Kino Lorber
From her boyfriend’s bedroom window, Sylvia (Isabelle Huppert) witnesses a woman (Elizabeth McGovern) being attacked. Yet Sylvia can’t report it to the police; she’s married to Collin Wentworth (Paul Shenar), her boyfriend Terry’s (Steve Guttenberg) boss, and shouldn’t be in Terry’s apartment at all. Trying to do the right thing (and avoid a nasty situation with his boss), Terry tells the police that he witnessed the attack. After telling the one lie, Terry discovers that he has to tell more of them, and is eventually forced to testify about something he never really witnessed. The Bedroom Window clearly owes a lot to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and serves as one of the better homages to Hitchcock. The only extras on the disc consist of an audio commentary by film historian and critic Peter Tonguette, and a theatrical trailer.
The Woman in the Window (1944) Fritz Lang - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (UK, Region B)
Everyone reading this post will most likely know that Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window is frequently cited as one of the most memorable film noir movies of all time. For those who may not be familiar with the story, Edward G. Robinson plays a college professor named Wanley who becomes obsessed with a portrait displayed in the window next to Wanley’s men’s club. To his surprise, he meets the woman in the portrait, an encounter which begins innocently enough, yet leads to murder and blackmail.
Kino released this film in the U.S. back in June 2018 and this Eureka edition seems to be processed from the same source. Kino’s website states “Newly mastered in HD!” which probably means this was not a 2K or 4K restoration. The film was previously released on Blu-ray in Spain in 2015, but I’ve heard no reports as to its quality. The Eureka edition includes the same theatrical trailer and audio commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith found on the Kino release, but also adds a new exclusive video essay by critic David Cairns and a collector’s booklet including new essays by film writers Amy Simmons and Samm Deighan.
Robbery (1967) Peter Yates - Kino Lorber
Although it’s probably more of a crime picture than a true film noir, I just can’t resist a heist film. Based on the story of “The Great Train Robbery,” Robbery centers on Paul Clifton (Stanley Baker) and his efforts to form a team of experts who can help him pull off the heist of a government mail train running from Scotland to London. Although the Peter Yates-directed film did well in the UK, it wasn’t successful in the U.S. Apparently Steve McQueen liked the film’s opening car chase enough to approve of Yates directing Bullitt one year later. This release includes an audio commentary by critic Nick Pinkerton and a theatrical trailer.
No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948) St John Legh Clowes - Indicator (UK, Region-free)
No Orchids for Miss Blandish was once labeled a scandalous film, filled with what was considered excessive sex and violence in 1948, but seems pretty tame these days. Linden Travers plays Miss Blandish, a kidnapped heiress who has not one, but two groups of cheap hoods after her jewelry. Fighting among the hoods ensues while Miss Blandish’s father hires a detective to get her out of this mess. Set in New York City, but filmed in the UK with an all-British cast, No Orchids for Miss Blandish may not be what you’d call top-notch film noir, but it certainly has its share of dedicated fans. (For a somewhat updated version of the film, check out The Grissom Gang, released in 1971.)
If you’ve already purchased the Kino Lorber edition of No Orchids for Miss Blandish released in 2018 and enjoy the film, you may want to consider this region-free Indicator edition, which blows the Kino out of the water. Extras on the Indicator release include “Miss Blandish and the Censor” (2019), in which ex-BBFC examiner Richard Falcon discusses the controversial film's history with the British Board of Film Censors; an interview with U.S. distributor-producer Richard Gordon and actor Richard Neilson (2010, 35 min.); “Soldier, Sailor” (1945, 51 min.), a WWII docudrama conceived by St. John Leigh Clowes, writer and director for No Orchids for Miss Blandish; original British and American theatrical trailers; image gallery; a limited edition booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, an analysis of different versions of the source novel, news accounts on the controversies surrounding the film, AND an extract from an essay on the film by George Orwell! If you’re a fan of the film, this is clearly the edition to get. Plus it’s region-free!
Bellman & True (1987) Richard Loncraine - Indicator (UK, Region B)
Okay, so this one’s not region-free, but it is another heist picture. Originally a three-part series on British television, Bellman & True stars Bernard Hill as a computer programmer forced by gangsters to hack into a bank’s security system. The film has been compared to The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa, but those are some pretty lofty comparisons. Although this release doesn’t include an audio commentary, it’s loaded with new interviews with director Richard Loncraine (24 min.), actor Kieran O’Brien (20 min.), writer Desmond Lowden (17 min.), composer Colin Towns (10 min.), and a limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Kevin Lyons and an archival interview with Bernard Hill. Note that the disc includes two cuts of the film: a pre-release 122-minute version that premiered at the 1987 London Film Festival, and the original UK theatrical 114-minute cut.
Blue Velvet (1986) David Lynch - Criterion
This film still disturbs me on so many levels, yet I keep coming back to it. If you’re reading this and don’t know the film, you can find tons of descriptions and reviews of it elsewhere. This is also not the first release of the film on Blu-ray, but according to the Blu-ray.com review, this is probably the best (earning a perfect score in their review). This release includes two documentaries, “Blue Velvet” Revisited (89 min.) and Mysteries of Love (71 min.), and more, which you can discover through the title link above. An essential (but still disturbing) release.
Portrait in Black (1960) Michael Gordon - Kino Lorber
Abusive shipping magnate Matthew Cabot (Lloyd Nolan) requires daily injections from his physician, Dr. David Rivera (Anthony Quinn). Unknown to Cabot, Dr. Rivera is having an affair with Cabot’s wife Sheila (Lana Turner). Fed up with her husband’s tyrannical behavior, Sheila has come up with a plan to do away with him. After the deed is done, things get tricky when Sheila begins to receive blackmail letters. The film contains several twists and turns and also stars Richard Basehart, Sandra Dee, and John Saxon. No word on extra features.
That ought to keep you busy for awhile. As always, if you hear of other film noir releases for May that I’ve missed, please let me know. Thanks for reading!