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.
It should surprise no one that October belongs to horror, which usually means film noir is left to its own back alleys and smoky barrooms, but I’m here to give you something usually lacking in most film noir movies: hope. Although October offers few noir titles, at least two are must-own discs and if you’ve been putting off a visit to Noir City, I have good news for you.
The Spiral Staircase (1945) Kino Lorber
It’s always nice to see more Robert Siodmak films finding their way to Blu-ray and The Spiral Staircase is one of his best. It’s also been difficult to see outside of appearances on TCM or at film festivals, so this release is most welcome. (The 2005 MGM DVD has long been out of print, which caused me to pick up a UK DVD years ago.) Siodmak’s gothic noir is set in a New England town in the early 1900s, a community terrorized by a serial killer who only targets disabled women. A mute housemaid named Helen Capel (Dorothy McGuire) serves Mrs. Warren (Ethyl Barrymore), an invalid in a huge mansion. Mrs. Warren suggests that Helen leave the area until the killer is caught, but even in period noir, things never go as planned.
Without getting into spoiler territory, I will mention that the film caused considerable controversy in Siodmak’s native Germany. The Spiral Staircase also contains wonderful Nicholas Musuraca cinematography and an Oscar-nominated performance by Ethyl Barrymore. This new 4K remaster also features an audio commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith, a 1945 Screen Director’s Playhouse Radio Broadcast of “The Spiral Staircase” with Dorothy McGuire, and an original theatrical trailer. This one’s a must-own.
Gumshoe (2016) Fox Hollow Features (DVD only)
I typically don’t cover releases from the past few years, but Gumshoe (also advertised as both Gumshoe! and Help! My Gumshoe’s an Idiot!) might be worth a look. Like a movie from earlier this year, Trouble is My Business, Gumshoe seeks to pay homage to the film noir look and style, but appears to exist primarily as a comedy. Clueless (in more ways than one) New Orleans PI Biff Basham (Arnie Pantoja) takes the case of a sultry nightclub singer seeking to free herself from a nasty blackmailer. If you’re skeptical, the film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Black Widow (1954) Twilight Time (Limited to 3,000 copies)
Famous Broadway producer Peter Denver (Van Heflin) attends a party thrown by another famous Broadway personality, actress Lottie Marin (Ginger Rogers) and her wallflower husband Brian Mullen (Reginald Gardiner). While at the party, Denver meets Nancy (Peggy Ann Garner), a young woman trying to establish herself as a writer. Nancy persuades Denver to allow her to use his apartment as place to write during the day, since Denver’s wife Iris (Gene Tierney) is out of town. Denver tells Nancy flat out there’ll be no extracurricular activities. When Denver returns from the airport after picking up his wife, he discovers Nancy has hung herself in his bathroom. (Or has she?) Soon the cops – including Detective Lieutenant Bruce (George Raft) – come knocking.
Black Widow (my Noirvember 2016 review here) is one of those rare film noir titles shot in color and in this case, it’s DeLuxe Color presented in CinemaScope, which looks spectacular. It’s really more of a mystery/melodrama with elements of film noir, but with this cast and presentation, you’ll want to own it.
Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life (2005) VCI
An interesting entry: a filmed stage play on the life of Eliot Ness, the American Prohibition agent who tangled with Al Capone and many others in the Chicago area. The production stars Michael Cornelison (1952-2011), who worked in films, television and plays before his untimely death. Cornelison frequently partnered with writer/director Max Allan Collins, who directed this production, which appears to be a one-man show for the actor. It also apparently avoids the fictionalized aspects of Ness’s life and work, focusing on the real story, delivered with a period feel. I haven’t seen it, but I’m going to take a chance on it.
Nightmare Alley (1947) Signal One Entertainment Blu-ray + DVD (UK, Region B)
Fans have been waiting a long, long time for one of film noir’s hardest-hitting titles to come to Blu-ray. (Alas, it is a Region B locked disc.) What’s amazing is the fact that William Lindsay Gresham’s unrelentingly bleak novel is translated with most of its power intact, even with the restrictions of the Production Code. Tyrone Power (in what many consider his finest performance) stars as Stanton Carlisle, a sleazy carnival mentalist/con-man who expands his dubious talents to become a spiritualist, fleecing more money from a wider selection of people beyond the carnival circuit.
The Signal One disc offers a new remaster of the film as well as an audio commentary with genre historian Johnny Mains and film historian Michael Brooke. The release also includes art cards, a reproduction poster, and a 28-page booklet. Although I wish we had at least one feature or featurette, I’d pick this up if it had no features at all. If you live in Europe or have a Region-free player, this is a must-own.
D.O.A. (1988) Kino Lorber
Not to be confused with the 1950 classic starring Edmond O’Brien, the 1988 version of D.O.A. (dead on arrival) contains the same basic plot: a man stumbles into a police station to report a murder. “Who was murdered?” the desk sergeant asks. “I was,” the man answers. College professor and one-time promising writer Dexter Cornell (Dennis Quaid) just thought he was having a bad day. His wife (Jane Kaczmarek) is divorcing him, one of his students just committed suicide, and it’s unseasonably warm for Christmas. Seeking to drown his sorrows at a local bar, Cornell meets an attractive student named Sydney Fuller (Meg Ryan), with whom he gets plastered. The next morning, Cornell discovers he’s been poisoned and has 36 hours to live. Grabbing Fuller - the last person he can remember being with him - Cornell seeks to figure out who poisoned him before time runs out.
Although this remake can’t hold a candle to the original, it certainly has its share of fans. The film also stars Charlotte Rampling, Daniel Stern, and an early performance by John Hawkes. It’s unclear whether this release is a new scan or the same one used for the 2012 release from Mill Creek. The Kino Lorber release does include two separate audio commentaries from directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton.
Okay, so there’s not a lot to spend your money on in October, but I have a great idea for finding a home for those dollars you’ll save by purchasing fewer Blu-rays: attending Noir City DC! Just look at this great line-up of film noir titles! You’ll also get to meet Eddie Muller, Alan K. Rode, and more great people who live and breathe film noir. I plan to spend several days at the festival, so I hope to see you there.
*Note that the Criterion Collection is apparently reissuing two noir titles this month, Ace in the Hole (1951) and Rififi (1955). Also Universal is reissuing Double Indemnity (1944) and Touch of Evil (1958). I see no indication of new material on any of these releases, so if anyone has more information, please let me know.