Garfield Noir The Breaking Point (1950) Out on DVD

The Warner Archive has released on DVD for the first time a film adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, The Breaking Point (1950)

The Warner Archive has released on DVD for the first time a film adaptation of  the Ernest Hemingway novel, The Breaking Point (1950), a great John Garfield noir directed by Michael Curtiz, and to my mind infinitely superior to  Howard Kawk’s over-rated adaptation To Have and Have Not (1944).

Criterion To Release Remastered Film Noir Classics: Kiss Me Deadly and Le cercle rouge

Criterion has announced the coming release of remastered prints of two major films noir on DVD and Blu-Ray

Criterion has announced the coming release of remastered prints of two major films noir on DVD and Blu-Ray: Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Le cercle rouge (France 1970).

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) This cult classic from Robert Aldrich is a noir masterpiece and an essential relic of cold war paranoia.  Totally weird and compelling.  The release is scheduled for June 21. Pre-order.

Extras:

  • New high-definition restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary by film noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini
  • New video tribute from director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Walker)
  • Excerpts from The Long Haul of A. I. Bezzerides, a 2005 documentary on the Kiss Me Deadly screenwriter
  • Excerpts from Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, a 1998 documentary on the author whose book inspired the film
  • A look at the film’s locations
  • Altered ending
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic J. Hoberman and a 1955 reprint by director Robert Aldrich

Le cercle rouge (France 1970) From the master of dark urban cool Jean-Pierre Melville.  Alain Delon plays a master thief, fresh out of prison, who crosses paths with a notorious escapee (Gian Maria Volonté) and an alcoholic ex-cop (Yves Montand).  The release is scheduled for April 12. Pre-order.

Extras:

  • Restored uncut version (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
  • Excerpts from Cinéastes de notre temps: “Jean-Pierre Melville”
  • Video interviews with assistant director Bernard Stora and Rui Nogueria, the author of Melville on Melville
  • Thirty minutes of rare on-set and archival footage, featuring interviews with director Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon, Yves Montand, and André Bourvil
  • Original theatrical trailer and 2003 Rialto Pictures rerelease trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by film critics Michael Sragow and Chris Fujiwara, excerpts fromMelville on Melville, a reprinted interview with composer Eric Demarsan, and an appreciation from director John Woo

New DVD Set: Film Noir Collector’s Edition

Questar Entertainment on May18 will release a 6-DVD Box set of 7 classic films noir. Questar has kindly sent me a complimentary promotional copy.

The nicely boxed set presents each DVD in it’s own case with high quality stills and artwork, and the DVD menu has a cool animated noir motif and voice-over. While the titles are in the public domain and the image quality is variable, all but two of the transfers are of higher quality than files currently available on the Internet. Sound quality on all transfers is very good with no hiss.

The Movies

Disc 1:

DOA

DOA ( 1950) ‘I want to report a murder…mine.’ Edmond O’Brien stars as an accountant whose number is up when he is poisoned, and spends his last desperate hours trying to find out who ‘killed’ him and why.

A taut thriller with a bravura performance from Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow. From the Cardinal Pictures factory and directed by Rudolph Maté, this movie packs so much in 83 minutes. It starts off slow, but once the action shifts from a sleepy rural burg to San Francisco and LA, the pace is frenetic. The streets of these cities are filmed in deep focus, and there is a sense of immediacy in every scene.

The image quality is good, but I have seen a better transfer on late-night TV.

Disc 2:

Detour

Detour (1945) ‘What did you do with the body?‘ A hitchhiker gets into the wrong car and picks up the wrong woman. Roger Ebert: ‘No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it’.

Edgar G. Ulmer’s cult poverty-row noir .  Filmed on a shoe-string, this story of a guy so dumb he blames fate for the consequences of his own foolishness, is pure pulp noir, with a career-best from Anne Savage, as the street-wise conniving dame, who incredulously falls for the sap.

This is the best transfer of Detour I have seen.

Disc 3:

The Stranger

The Stranger (1946) Orson Welles stars in this tense thriller as a small-town professor who will stop at nothing to conceal his Nazi past, with Edward G. Robinson as the Nazi hunter out to expose him.

A strong thriller with Orson Welles directing and playing the lead in a screenplay by Victor Trivas. Edward G Robinson is solid – as always – as the investigator, with the beautiful Loretta Young perfect as the innocent and loyal wife. Welles’ deft direction and the camera-work of Russell Metty transform an over-the-top thriller into a moody and intelligent noir, where Jungian concepts of the unconscious are woven with a taut psychological study of the deranged mind of a desperate man.

Image quality is good.

Disc 4:

Scarlet Street (1945) stars Edward G. Robinson as a henpecked husband who falls under the spell of a scheming femme-fatale.

This classic film noir from Fritz Lang, shattered the closed romantic realism of Hollywood. It is unremitting in its pessimism. A dark mood and pervading doom are devastating in their intensity.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946 ) Stars Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. A dark tale of small town secrets, obsession, and murder.

A very dark noir rife with fascinating psychological puzzles.

The image quality for these two transfers is poor to fair.  For Scarlet Street (1945) the KINO digitally restored DVD can’t be beat.  I have seen a better transfer of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers on television.

Disc 5:

Too Late for Tears

Killer Bait (aka Too Late for Tears) (1949) stars Lizabeth Scott as a woman who will do anything to keep $60,000 that falls into her lap.

From the opening scene of the silhouette of a car speeding up a winding road on a hill outside LA one dark night, you know you are in noir territory. Soon a preposterous chance event launches a wild descent into dark avarice and eroticised violence as perverse and relentless as fate itself.

Image quality is Ok.

Suddenly

Suddenly (1954) stars Frank Sinatra in his most controversial role as a psycho who holds a family hostage while plotting to assassinate the president.

A fast-paced b-thriller with a viciously violent protagonist.

Image quality is Ok.

Disc 6:

Extras:

  • Featurette: What is Film Noir?
  • Featurette: Femme Fatale – The Noir Dame
  • Film Noir poster gallery
  • 38 Film Noir trailers

The two short featurettes are good intros but fairly unsophisticated. What makes them very entertaining is the skillful editing of themed montages of film clips.  There were a few posters I hadn’t seen before in the Poster Gallery.  The trailers included a few sleepers I was not aware of, with the image quality variable.

The Verdict

The high quality of  the packaging make the set compelling, and the better image quality of five of the seven movies over downloads is a definite plus, but the recommended retail price of  US$49.99 is on the high side.  It gets down to how much you value the convenience of easily loading a DVD into your DVD-player and watching the movies on a large screen television.  Amazon is taking orders for the special price of US$44.99.  At this price, with each movie costing you only US$6.42, the set is Ok value.  All  the pictures, bar Suddenly, are essential noirs, and for many chronic noiristas,  a good quality transfer of  Detour would be worth a lot more.

New on DVD: Bad Girls of Film Noir

Bad Girls Vol 1Bad Girls Vol 2

Sony has released a new twin DVD-set of 8 b-girl movies from the Columbia vaults titled Bad Girls of Film Noir.  Mostly pot-boilers, but Night Editor is a must-have cult noir.

Volume 1

Evelyne Keys
The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) directed by Earl McEnvoy

Lizabeth Scott
Two of A Kind (1951) directed by Henry Levin
Bad for Each Other (1953) directed by Irvin Rapper

Gloria Grahame
The Glass Wall (1953) directed by Maxwell Shane

Volume 2

Cleo Moore
Night Editor (1946) directed by Henry Levin
One Girl’s Confession (1953) directed by Hugo Haas
Over-Exposed (1956) directed by Lewis Seiler

Ida Lupino/Cleo Moore/JanSterling/Audrey Totter
Women’s Prison (1956) directed by Lewis Seiler

Noir Digest: Noir City 2010

Noir City 2010

Red Light (1949)

San Francisco’s NOIR CITY 8 film noir series returns to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre January 22-31 2010. The full program is here.

Movies not on DVD on the program:

FLY BY NIGHT (1942) Dir. Robert Siodmak
DEPORTED (1950) Dir. Robert Siodmak
CRY DANGER (1951) Dir. Robert Parrish, newly restored
THE MOB (1951) Dir. Robert Parish
THE GANGSTER (1947) Dir. Gordon Wiles
HE RAN ALL THE WAY (1951) Dir. John Berry
ONE GIRLS’ CONFESSION (1953) Dir. Hugo Haas
WOMEN’S PRISON (1955) Lewis Seiler
RED LIGHT (1949) Dir. Roy Del Ruth
WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948) Dir. Gordon Douglas
SLATTERY’S HURRICANE (1949) Dir. Andr? de Toth
INSIDE JOB (1946) Dir. Jean Yarbrough
HUMAN DESIRE (1954) Dir. Fritz Lang
ESCAPE IN THE FOG (1945) Dir. Budd Boetticher
  • FLY BY NIGHT (1942) Dir. Robert Siodmak
  • DEPORTED (1950) Dir. Robert Siodmak
  • CRY DANGER (1951) Dir. Robert Parrish, newly restored
  • THE MOB (1951) Dir. Robert Parish
  • THE GANGSTER (1947) Dir. Gordon Wiles
  • HE RAN ALL THE WAY (1951) Dir. John Berry
  • ONE GIRLS’ CONFESSION (1953) Dir. Hugo Haas
  • WOMEN’S PRISON (1955) Lewis Seiler
  • RED LIGHT (1949) Dir. Roy Del Ruth
  • WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948) Dir. Gordon Douglas
  • SLATTERY’S HURRICANE (1949) Dir. Andr? de Toth
  • INSIDE JOB (1946) Dir. Jean Yarbrough
  • HUMAN DESIRE (1954) Dir. Fritz Lang
  • ESCAPE IN THE FOG (1945) Dir. Budd Boetticher

Columbia Noir DVD Set

The Sniper

Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 1 a new noir collectors DVD set has just been released. The films in the set:

  • The Big Heat
  • 5 Against the House
  • The Lineup
  • Murder by Contract
  • The Sniper

The special features include commentaries by Michael Man, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Eddie Muller, and James Ellroy.

A Lighter Shade of Noir: Matinee Double-Bill

A Woman's Secret (1949) Hollywood Story (1951)

A Woman’s Secret (1949) and Hollywood story (1951), two flicks that carry a film noir classification on IMDB which I watched in the past week, I found  to be hardly noir at all.

A Woman's Secret (1949)

A Woman’s Secret, an RKO-feature, has great credentials. The movie is directed by Nicholas Ray from a screenplay from Herman J. Mankiewicz, with photography from George Diskant, and starring Maureen O’Hara, Melvyn Douglas, and Gloria Grahame.  It starts off noir with a shooting off-screen, and the use of flashback in the narrative, but plays out as sophisticated melodrama with a biting wit, and some really funny slapstick when the wife of the investigating cop does her own snooping with a handbag carrying fingerprint powder and a giant magnifying glass. The story of the conflict between a naive young singer (Grahame) and her controlling mentor (O’Hara), has shades of All About Eve but this motif is not taken too seriously.  The two female leads are charming, with Grahame displaying an engaging gift for comedy.  Melvyn Douglas is as debonair as you would expect and takes the role of narrator and referee.  Great fun.

Hollywood Story (1951)

Hollywood Story is a programmer from Universal that has a 50s television feel.  Richard Conte is a producer in LA that wants to make a movie about the murder of a big silent movie director 20 odd years before, and his delving into the past has violent consequences.  A  strictly b-effort that plays well as a whodunit with noir atmospherics, and some really funny lines.

Two John Alton Films On New DVD Set

The Amazing Mr X (1948) Reign of Terror (1949)

The Classic Film Noir, Vol. 3 2-DVD Box set to be released by VCI Entertainment on March 31, features upgraded transfers of two John Alton lensed movies that have until now been available only as poor quality public domain copies. The films are Bernard Vorhaus’s Amazing Mr. X (1948), also known as The Spiritualist,  and  Anthony Mann’s Reign of Terror (1949), aka The Black Book.   NY Times movie critic Dave Kehr reviews these new releases here (half-way down the page).

Detective Story (1951): “I built my whole life on hating my father”

Detective Story (1951)

William Wyler’s Detective Story (1951)  is an intensely rendered account of a few hours in a New York police-station.  Kirk Douglas as an inflexible embittered detective, dominates with a bravura performance, and is ably supported by an ensemble supporting cast.   Director Wyler uses the constrained space and hot humid weather to build a sense of anxiety and frustration. Even the two scenes outside the station are tightly framed: inside a taxi and in the back of a black mariah.  In this fashion Wyler turns the staginess of the screenplay, based on a Sidney Kingsley play, to advantage, and by using low angle and mid-level closely framed shots with a mis-en-scene accentuating the closeness of people and objects, he heightens the drama while sustaining visual interest.  There is no musical score but unless brought to your attention you would never notice.

The script deftly weaves the detective’s wife and their marriage with the principal story arc, and the melodramatic scenes with his wife at the station played out in confined back-rooms ratchet up the drama to histrionic levels.  The other naked city stories are elegantly woven into the tableau to reveal different aspects of the detective’s personality. Many critics have complained that the plausibility of the plot is weakened by there being no deep explanation for the Douglas character’s tortured and fanatical hatred of all transgressors, and his easily-triggered violence, apart from his own testimony that he hated his father, who was a hood and drove his mother insane. But to my mind, from weakness comes strength.  In real life, we rarely have either the luxury, skill, or inclination to go beyond  immediate actions and their consequences, and the nature of the story makes it entirely plausible that the other protagonists and the audience must deal directly and urgently with this troubled in-your-face cop.

Detective Story (1951)

The resolution is strong and very down-beat, and this deepens the poignancy of the final aerial shot of a young couple having been released from purgatory, bolting out of the station and running for dear life. A solid noir drama.

The 2003 DVD print is crisp and clean, and the audio crystal clear.

Sunset Boulevard (1950): “I’m ready for my closeup”

Sunset Blvd (1950)

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman Jr
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editing: Arthur Schmidt
Art Direction: Hans Dreier and John Meehan
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: William Holden (Joe Gillis), Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond),
Erich von Stroheim (Max von Mayerling), Nancy Olson (Betty Schaefer)
Paramount 1950 (110 min)

“Wilder grasped that Hollywood itself could be a scene of Gothic isolation and solipsistic emotion. He showed the grandeur that could emerge from the parasitical relations between actors and writers, performers and directors, stars and star-gazers – cannibals all. Like most noir films, with their dark motives and circular structures, Sunset Boulevard makes corruption and betrayal seem inescapable. Yet Wilder pays tribute to what can emerge from this hothouse world, just as he does honor to the film formulas he lightly parodies. As Hollywood keeps reinventing itself, as Wilder’s own films become relics of a distant age, his barbed tribute stings and sings with even more authority.”
– Morris Dickstein, The A List (Da Capo Press).

“… a tale of humiliation, exploitation, and dashed dreams… The performances are suitably sordid, the direction precise, the camerawork appropriately noir, and the memorably sour script sounds bitter-sweet echoes of the Golden Age of Tinseltown… It’s all deliriously dark and nightmarish, its only shortcoming being its cynical lack of faith in humanity: only von Stroheim, superb as Swanson’s devotedly watchful butler Max, manages to make us feel the tragedy on view.” – Time Out

Sunset Blvd (1950)

Sunset Boulevard is a masterpiece. Billy Wilder’s assured direction and the elegant and fluid camera of veteran cinematographer John F. Seitz enthrall from the first frame to the last.  A literate script, great performances from the lead actors, an expressionistic score from Franz Waxman, and the bravado art direction of Hans Dreier and John Meehan define a deeply focused journey into dissolution and madness. There is also a wit and wry humor that lightens the mood before the noir universe begins to exact its vengeance on the poor souls who stumble in their struggle to simply live and love.

Sunset Blvd (1950)

The last major Hollywood film shot on a nitrate negative, the restored DVD version of 2002 reproduces the “lustrous black and white images” cinema audiences experienced on the film’s release nearly 60 years, and gives the drama an immediacy that belies the many years that have passed.

Sunset Blvd (1950)

Applauded as the quintessential movie about Hollywood, for the writer the theme of the film is deeper and more universal.  Aging silent actress Norma Desmond, who hasn’t worked for 20 years, lives out the autumn of her life in a decaying 1920s palace on Sunset Blvd. with her intensely loyal factotum, Max, in gothic delusional grandeur, dreaming of the day she returns to the studio where Cecil B. DeMille will direct her abominable screenplay of Salome, in which of course she will play the lead.  Into this scenario stumbles a younger man, Joe Gillis, a screenwriter on the skids and on the lam from his creditors. She wants her script edited and he is desperate for money and lodgings – a bargain is made in perdition.

He becomes her kept lover and she falls madly in love with him. He tries to rebel, she slashes her wrists, and he runs back to the mansion-cum-prison where only the front cell-like gate has a lock.  His thwarted ambition, lassitude, weakness, and a kind of reciprocated love for the aging siren, hold him to her, until he starts sneaking out at night to work on a script with Betty, a young studio reader, who falls in love with him. Norma finds out, and one whispered surreptitious phone call has thunderous consequences for all.

In the quote at the head of this review, the Time Out writer says the movie’s “only shortcoming… [is] its cynical lack of faith in humanity: only von Stroheim, superb as Swanson’s devotedly watchful butler Max, manages to make us feel the tragedy on view.”  I can’t agree with this assessment.  Gloria Swanson, William Holden, and Erich von Stroheim inhabit their roles with an intense humanity, and Nancy Olson as Betty is totally engaging as a young woman with heart and a vivacious intelligence.  Norma’s femininity and vulnerability are on display in every scene. Her tragedy is that of the successful woman whose career is side-lined into a banal existence of domestic isolation: her angst is palpable and exquisite.  Max, the loyal friend, ex-husband, and faithful retainer, idolises Norma, and his noble intentions in perpetuating Norma’s delusions tragically precipitate her destruction.  Joe is desperate when he enters his Faustian-pact with Norma, and his actions are all too human. His first attempt at freedom is thwarted by his ‘love’ for Norma, and his capitulation is not totally abject. His second and final renunciation is as noble and self-less as it is tragic.

Wilder has fashioned a deeply sympathetic story of four fundamentally decent people, each tortured in their own way, and each sadly complicit in the inevitable doom that will engulf them.