Noir Comic Moments #4: The philosopher hood

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)

Not even Jimmy Cagney can save Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) from a deserved obscurity. In this over-rated picture Cagney is a vicious hood getting established in a new town after a violent prison break. The absurd plot moves at a glacial pace, and would almost work as a parody if it wasn’t for the brutal and wanton violence. Cagney looks tired and bored, as you would expect from a 51yo playing a 37yo, while Barbara Payton is ok as the girl he deceives. There are cops as stupid as they are bent, a gay shyster lawyer with a black body-builder houseboy, and a dizzy rich dame who falls for Cagney, while he is shacked-up with Payton, the sister of a young prisoner killed during the breakout. One of the more absurd scenes is the rich girl’s daddy bursting into the bedroom of the newly-married couple sound asleep in separate beds, with Cagney in silk pyjamas and as meek as a lamb.

A labored late gangster movie wrongly seen as a noir by some perhaps from its use of flashback.

There is a weird interlude where Cagney and an accomplice visit a ‘reformed’ hood to get wise on where he can find a ’good lawyer’. The former hood is now ‘respectable’ and moonlights as a lecturer on “the key to cosmic consciousness” – no kidding. After shaking down the barker for the name he wants, Cagney picks-up the rich girl who is a loyal follower, by begging a lift in her hot-rod. You can’t help but laugh out loud during the ensuing scene:

Five Star Final (1931): Down with the bosses!

Five Star Final (1931)

The great Edward G. Robinson is the hard-boiled editor of a big-city tabloid. The owner of the paper comes up with the idea of boosting circulation by pursuing a lurid expose on the fate of a woman convicted of a crime of passion 10 years earlier, with tragic consequences.  Directed by the distinguished Mervyn LeRoy, Five Star Final is an early Warner ‘social protest’ movie, and the sort of movie that epitomises the pre-Code talkies: sharp dialog, sexual innuendo, irreverent satire, and social criticism.  While the picture is marred by the stagy treatment of the melodrama involving the family destroyed by the tragedy that ensues, the immensity of the tragedy and its putrid genesis sustain a powerful and still relevant narrative.  Boris Karloff is a hoot as an amoral ‘undercover’ reporter: Edward G. calls him “the most blasphemous thing I’ve ever seen”.

But is it a film noir? I think there are sufficient noir elements to sustain a strong case: the theme of the corrupt brutality of ‘business’, individual entrapment, the futility of trying to escape a dark past, and a downbeat ending.

The final three minutes are brilliant and can be savoured from this clip:

La Pantera Negra (Mexico 2010): The Black Panther

Featured this month at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: “Dishevelled private eye Nico Beamonte’s latest case comes from God himself – possibly. He wants Nico to find the mysterious Black Panther. But who, or what, is the Black Panther? And what has this got to do with a cryogenically frozen Mariachi singer and a 1950s flying saucer? Surrealism, Mexican-style – as if film noir had collided with props left over from a Ray Harryhausen film.”

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 ( 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 (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 (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 (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:

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 (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:


  • 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.

Patterns (1956): Corporate Noir

Ruthless machinations in the executive suite.  An older executive with a social conscience is ‘pushed’ to make way for a younger talented manager from a regional office. Murder by another name.  Rod Serling’s 1954 tele-play hit the big screen in 1956 with powerhouse performances from Van Heflin, Ed Begley, and Everett Sloane.

Patterns (of Power) United Artists (1956) Dir: Fielder Cook | DP: Boris Kaufman

The Black Cat (1934): Erotic nightmare

The Black Cat (1934)

Edgar G. Ulmer’s trash-noir Detour (1945) has a cult following. The film relates a fatalistic story of a guy so dumb he blames fate for the consequences of his own foolishness. Anne Savage, as the street-wise dame who incredulously falls for the sap, is memorable.

Earlier in 1934 Ulmer directed The Black Cat starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Loosely based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the movie is a camp masterpiece.  Set in the wonderfully gothic modernist house of a sinister architect, it is a mad expressionist tale of abduction, revenge, sexual obsession, camp horror, and unbridled eroticism.  Sex is the primary motif and there is a sense of unreality with the action moving with the strange fractured incoherence of a dream. In a sense Ulmer prefigures the oneiric and sexual motifs of the classic noir period. A must-see.

This trailer I have created focuses on the pervasive eroticism… see the shapely legs of the comely heroine get the Von Sternberg treatment!
The clip has been blocked by NBC Universal on copyright grounds.

Noir Comic Moments #2: Not Sylvester the Cat but Nicholas

Hollywood Story (1951) is a programmer from Universal International that has a 50s television feel.  Richard Conte is a producer in LA who 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.

The actor who plays Sylvester  in the scene featured here is, Joseph Mell,  a 50s bit-player in his first part (uncredited):

Caged (1950): “the plot of our life sweats in the dark like a face”

Caged (1950)

… the plot of our life sweats in the dark like a face
the mystery of childbirth, of childhood itself
grave visitations
what is it that calls to us?
why must we pray screaming?
why must not death be redefined?
we shut our eyes we stretch out our arms
and whirl on a pane of glass
an afixiation a fix on anything the line of life the limb of a tree
the hands of he and the promise that she is blessed among women…”

Patti Smith – Dancing Barefoot (1979)

Caged (1950) is a gritty hard-hitting social problem picture from Warner Bros. A young woman is jailed after she is an unwitting accomplice in a gas-station robbery with her husband, who is killed during the heist.  The sheltered girl on admittance to a women’s prison discovers she is pregnant, but her condition does not protect her from the humiliation and brutalisation of prison life. Melodramatic but with a strong social conscience that targets corrupt authorities, the movie is downbeat and pessimistic.  Eleanor Parker in the lead is powerfully convincing, and is supported by a strong female cast, including Agnes Moorehead as a compassionate and crusading  superintendent, and Hope Emerson as a corrupt and sadistic block matron.  Though set-bound the regimentation and claustrophobia of incarceration is given a strong expressionist treatment by director John Cromwell and DP Carl Guthrie.  A moody evocative score from Max Steiner adds emotional depth.

The trailer which I have put together  is deliberately impressionistic and focuses on the anguished transformation of Parker’s character from scared girl to street-wise dame…