Kino Lorber Readies 12th ‘Film Noir’ Collection for April 4 Blu-ray Disc Release

Kino Lorber April 4 will release its 12th collection of vintage black-and-white film noir movies as Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XII.

The collection, with three films released theatrically between 1949 and 1955, will be released on Blu-ray Disc at a suggested retail price of $49.95.

Undertow (1949) — best known for fright fare such as House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler and Let’s Kill Uncle, cult director William Castle turns his lens on guns and gangsters. Scott Brady (I Was a Shoplifter) stars as Tony Reagan, a gambler just out of wartime military service. No longer interested in wagers and speculations, Reagan wants only to open up a mountain vacation lodge. Before this can take place, however, he is framed for murder and forced to go on the run from both the police and the unknown killers. Dorothy Hart and Peggy Dow play the love interests, with John Russell, Bruce Bennett and future star Rock Hudson in his second film appearance.

Outside the Wall (1950) — Richard Basehart stars as Larry Nelson, paroled from prison after serving nearly half of his 30-year sentence. Larry is determined to not fall into the clutches of the law again and takes a quiet job at a country sanitarium. There, he meets and falls for a gold-digging nurse, Charlotte Maynard, and he knows the only way to enter her web is to make a lot of fast money. So when Larry learns that the sanitarium is a front for a robbery syndicate, he soon finds himself a clay pigeon for the gang. Meanwhile, sweet-and-wholesome nurse Ann Taylor does her best to help Larry out of the unpleasant situation. 

Hold Back Tomorrow (1955) — Hollywood great John Agar (Sands of Iwo Jima) stars as Joe, a death row inmate with one final request before his impending hanging: to spend the night with a woman. The police bring him a down-on-her-luck former “waitress” named Dora, played by femme fatale extraordinaire Cleo Moore. At first these two tormented souls meet with disdain, but soon gain each other’s respect. After a night of raw and unexpected passion, Joe informs Dora that, with her love, he will not be afraid to die. Hold Back Tomorrow was written, produced and directed by Czech star and cult auteur, Hugo Haas (The Girl on the Bridge, Bait).

All three films are coming to disc from brand-new 2K masters. The set includes new audio commentaries for Undertow (Brady’s son, Tim Tierney, and professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney) and Outside the Wall (author and film historian Alan K. Rode).

French Noir Collection

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
$49.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.

Speaking of Murder (Le Rouge Est Mist) (1957)
Gaumont;
Thriller;
Stars Jean Gabin, Paul Frankeur, Marcel Bozzuffi, Annie Girardot, Lino Ventura, Thomy Bourdelle.

During the Depression, Hollywood’s tack was to dress chorines as pocket change and have them belt “We’re in the Money” to an audience that didn’t have a proverbial pot to piss in. The Dream Factory made a similarly nightmarish blunder at the outset of World War II by depicting Nazis as stock comic buffoons. Lest we forget, it was Moe Howard of the 3 Stooges, not Sir Charles Chaplin, who was the first to lampoon Hitler on film. True to form, the studios adopted a more illusory approach immediately following the war’s end, but after the havoc wreaked on American families, moviegoers wanted their realism served stark and dark. Swapping out studio re-creations for actual locations was a giant step forward in the emergence of film noir. Director Gilles Grangier’s Speaking of Murder takes great pleasure in carrying on this essential tenet of noir.

We’re greeted by a downhearted saxophone infused with regret, but the melody doesn’t linger. The importance of silence is key to our crooks’ communication. After all, if the planning is right, there’s no room for small talk during the course of an armed robbery. Bookended by heists, the broad daylight stickup that opens the show goes off without a hitch, give or take a gun butt kissing a victim’s cheek. Mob boss Louis Bertain (Jean Gabin) uses his garage as a front for his criminal concerns. It’s the first place the gang heads after the robbery. Loose floorboards conceal a mini-ammo dump. Black paint camouflages whitewall tires. Money is divided evenly with everyone getting their fair cut. And it’s all done with nary a word uttered. It’s only when they begin to talk and emotions start to unravel that things go haywire. No one is surprised when after the robbery elder statesman Frédo (Paul Frankeur) pulls a gun on his compatriots. Just another day at the office and a decision Frédo may live to regret.

The first thing you’ll notice about Grangier’s gangsters is their manner of dress. The same trench coats and fedoras worn by their scruffy American counterparts take on a businesslike demeanor when tailored for a Frenchman. And with all due respect to dark glasses, is there anything cooler than a European goomba made even more sinister when viewing the world through slightly tinted specs? To their credit, the filmmakers think like criminals, but not out loud. Why kibitz when there’s work to be done?

Lino Ventura co-stars as Pepito, a cub criminal working for Louis the lion. When combined, their filmographies spawned dozens of gangsters. Ventura had appeared in a handful of crime films starting with Touchez Pas au Grisbi in 1954, compared to the dozens starring Gabin whose career, beginning at the dawn of sound, spanned almost fifty years. In strictly American terms, watching the two share a frame is reminiscent of De Niro’s combustible Johnny Boy in Mean Streets butting heads with Robert Mitchum in his later, more sensible Eddie Coyle period.

To celebrate their success, the boys meet for dinner with their wives and girlfriends in tow. The skirts may not be afforded equal screen time, but there’s more to them than elbow dressing and a pneumatic silhouette. It’s through their taste in men that we begin to dislike the group all the more. As is frequently the custom with pictures of this kind, it’s the women who ultimately bring the world crashing around their vulgar, pistol-packing paramours. Le Catcheur (Thomy Bourdelle), quick to call out Frédo’s honesty, was also the first to play grabass with Pepito’s date.

Hélène (Annie Girardot), a gun moll looking to trade in pajama tops for a golden sheepskin coat, is the Yoko Ono in this band. She’s involved with Bertain’s younger brother Pierre (Marcel Bozzuffi, the actor who will cause you to point at the screen and exclaim, “Isn’t that the guy from The French Connection?). As a test of loyalty, Bertrain flirts with what could have been his future sister-in-law. The moment she begins to show the slightest sign of interest, his slap across her face is punctuated by Bertain yelling, “Whore!” If you’re wondering where he picked up the habit of slapping people, ask his mother. That’s the same punishment meted out when she caught him slapping Pierre. 

The climactic caper entails more than a couple of conks to the head. The crisp location work and an insistence that dialog and silence carry the same weight act as glorious reminders of the lost art of storytelling.

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Back to the Wall (Le Dos Au Mur) (1958)
Gaumont;
Mystery;
Stars Gérard Oury, Jeanne Moreau, Philippe Nicaud, Jean Lefebvre, Claire Maurier.

Fans of double-edged titles won’t want to miss this highborn, cogently designated melodrama. Jacques Decrey (Gérard Oury), a solitary figure clad in regulation trench coat and wide brim fedora, exits an estate heading in the direction of the camera and through the gate. Is he a killer or a cop? The murder took place at the precise moment the groundskeeper was distracted. All we know about the victim is he was shaving at the time of his demise, hence the electric razor dangling by its cord from the wall socket. The icing in this sordid setup is an overall paucity of substantive dialogue during the first 17 minutes or so of the movie. Without words to guide them, viewers have no choice but to focus on images. That leaves them ample time to draw their own conclusions as to who these mute creatures are and what motivates them. Just don’t trust your hunches. It’s fun to be fooled.

With the stiff coiled in a carpet cinched by a necktie and deposited in the trunk, Decrey entombs his victim in a new wall being added to his industrial plant. We flashback to a few months earlier with Decrey returning home early from a hunting trip to find Gloria (Jeanne Moreau), his wife of eight years, planting a goodnight kiss on the lips of another man. Rather than kick Gloria to the curb, he hires the services of a transom-peeper with a candy ribbon bowtie named Mauvin (Jean Lefebvre), who is surprised to learn his client in not only in possession of the two-timer’s name and address, but that divorce is not the objective. His plan is to adopt a pseudonym and, with the aid of a stack of newspapers, cut and paste blackmail letters. He effectively pays his own ransom by giving his wife $200,000 on the pretext that she’s going to spend it on clothes.

Director Édouard Molinaro’s debut feature has its share of efficacious touches. Decrey’s secretary blowing the dust off his passport before handing it to him is a good indication of how long it’s been since he’s used it. When Gloria presents her lover Yves (Philippe Nicaud) with photographic evidence of their affair, she places the dirty pictures on the music desk of a piano. One can’t help but admire Decrey’s commitment to detail. He anticipated everything, right down to the last foregone conclusion. The only thing he couldn’t predict was how it would end. Neither will you.

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Witness in the City (Un Témoin Dans La Ville) (1959)
Gaumont;
Thriller;
Stars Lino Ventura, Franco Fabrizi, Sandra Milo, Robert Dalban, Daniel Ceccaldi, Jacques Berthier.

It was a perfect crime. Not pillaging from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, but a judge forced to acquit Pierre Verdier (Jacques Berthier) of tossing his mistress from a moving train even though it made the cockles of his heart curdle. Hitch would have been proud. He hated whodunits, another trait director Eduardo Molinaro (A Pain in the Ass, Dracula and Son, La Cage Aux Folles) “borrows’” from the Master to set his story in motion. Even before the credits hit the screen, we were made aware of the killer’s identity. Make that killers. Verdier has the distinction of not only being Witness in the City’s inaugural murderer, but its second victim as well. And what better way is there to throw an audience off kilter than leading them to believe Verdier will be the main character, only to have him bumped off 10 minutes into the picture. At least Hitchcock gave Janet Leigh 47 minutes worth of screen time before sending her to the shower.

Verdier arrives home in the middle of what appears to be a robbery that isn’t. What kind of a home invader would purposely ignore the gun he found in a desk drawer or go through the trouble of cutting the electricity while leaving the phone connected? It’s Ancelin (Lino Ventura), the killer cuckold rummaging through the contents of the apartment belonging to the man who an hour or so earlier left him a widower. It’s another chilling reminder of how to keep an audience in suspense without making so much as a peep. When Ancelin finally spoke, it was to inform Verdier that the jury may have dropped the charges, but he hasn’t. While making a last pass through the shadows to make sure he hasn’t forgotten anything, the audience is reminded that the body hanging in the sitting room belongs to Verdier.

A cabbie that Verdier phoned for is there to greet Ancelin as he exits. Assuming the latter was the one in need of a lift, unwitting witness Lambert (Franco Fabrizi) demands that he make good on the 400 francs he’s out. Ancelin soon learned that murders are like potato chips; you can’t finish off just one. By now, Ventura was more than capable of what has since come to be referred to as opening a picture. His deep-set badass eyes and razor sharp profile are tough to tune out. Borrowing a page from Jean-Pierre Melville (Bob le Flambeur, Le Silence de la Mer, Le Doulos), Molinaro relies on Ancelin’s outsider status, an innocent man who, when called for, was capable of getting in touch with his dark side quicker than you can say “Robert Ryan.”

Of the three films in the collection, Witness in the City offers the most strikingly complex tour of Paris’s underbelly thanks to hard-edged lenswork of France’s King of the Night, cinematographer Henri Decaë (Elevator to the Gallows, A Double Tour, Le Samourai). Decaë broke his bones as a cameraman in the French army. After the war he worked on documentary shorts and industrial films, the combination of which helped to infuse his films with a sense of reality. The tension is shattered just long enough to introduce unwelcome comic relief in the guise of a wrestling bartender. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the film to remember what genre it is before concluding with a foot chase through a neighborhood aviary.

Those looking for bonus features are out of luck. The only perks this package has to offer is a trio of trailers.

 

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XI

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
$49.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.

I Was a Shoplifter (1950)
Universal;
Thriller;
Stars Scott Brady, Mona Freeman, Andrea King, Charles Drake, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson.

Hollywood in the ’50s saw a brief vogue of genre-spanning releases that merged documentary realism with biography and a specialized subject matter within which to focus their efforts. From topical American spies and communists for the FBI to a blood-curdling teenage werewolf, Frankenstein, and zombie, Hollywood was an “I Was A” kinda town. I was aware of previous qualifying titles (I Was a Spy, I Was an Adventuress, I Was a Male War Bride), but the film that officially christened the “I Was A” cycle was I Was a Shoplifter.

What better way to slather a veneer of authenticity than with monotone narration delivered in a manner frequently associated with classroom films? ​​Before getting down to specifics, our stern narrator rattled off a series of statistics — how much money is spent every Christmas, what percentage goes to in-store purchases, credit (or the installment plan, as it was once called), and how much is lost due to shoplifting. It turns out that in 1950, nine out of 10 shoplifters were women. Boosters ranged from kleptomaniacs, mental defectives, or career dope addicts trying to support their habit. Not looking to fill viewers’ heads with tawdry characters, our titular sneak thief is Faye Burton (Mona Freeman), a perky, poor little rich girl looking to draw attention from her father, a celebrated judge. Jeff Andrews (Scott Brady) is a dick working undercover to crack a shoplifting ring. Andrews not only has the makings of an ace shoplifter, he can light a cigarette in a convertible going 30 miles an hour with the top down. Andrews is stuffing a booster box with furs when he first spots newbie Burton working the cosmetics counter. Director Charles Lamont was Abbott & Costello’s auteur du jour, so it’s no surprise he opens with a touch of humor. When the shop girl asked Andrews if she could be of any assistance, he wryly replied, “We’re helping ourselves.”

A gang of professional shoplifters was on the make for first-time offenders to blackmail into lifting items for their team. The bad guys train Burton while the cops use her as bait to lure them to the big boss man who in this case was a skirt named Ina Perdue (an electrifying Andrea King). Audiences were no doubt fascinated by the technological advancements made in the scientific study of crime on display. Rear license plates with a built-in camera turret made undercover video surveillance work much easier while cops on rooftops conversed with walkie talkies as big as a refrigerator.

It’s Labor Day weekend and Burton was going to spend it in San Diego learning the tricks of the trade. She winds up at the non-existent but real sounding Casa de Manana in La Jolla where she’s about to stage her first professional job, until fate sticks out its foot and trips her up. With Burton trapped inside a moving storage van, we kick off a third act chase sequence through San Diego that extends from La Jolla to National City and all points South of the Border, last stop: backlot Tijuana. The aerial coverage is nothing short of sensational, with tremulous camerawork produced added tension, not Bourne-again shaky-cam head trauma.

For a minute it looked like the curtain was going to wring down in Charlie Chan fashion, with all the characters trapped in one space waiting for the cops to make their big reveal. Luckily, Lamont and company had one last chase left in them that ended with a thrilling shootout through a department store.

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A Woman’s Vengeance (1948)
Universal;
Mystery;
Stars Charles Boyer, Jessica Tandy, Ann Blythe, Cedric Hardwicke, Mildred Natwick, Rachel Kempson.

The acting is uniformly superb and the production values are strictly top shelf. The direction is by Mamma Korda’s socialist son, and Alexander’s brother, Zoltan (The Macomber Affair, Cry, the Beloved Country), the score by Miklos Rozsa, and cinematography by deep focus shadow sculpture Russell Metty. So where’s the rub? After working on a trio of literary classics — 2 for MGM (Pride and Prejudice, Madame Curie), one for 20th Century Fox (Jane Eyre) — best-selling novelist Aldous Huxley tried his hand at an original screenplay with this adaptation of his short story, The Gioconda Smile. The dialog crackles like a splash of hydrogen peroxide in the ear, but those looking for the author to conquer brave new worlds of cinema will be a bit disappointed by this mashup of Gaslight (which also starred Charles Boyer) and Rebecca (the name of Boyer’s character is “Henry Maurier”) with a splash of The Big Sleep.

In Henry’s estimation, wife Emily (Rachel Kempson) is nothing more than a simpering invalid who places such an enormous burden on her husband that at one point he wished her dead. Turnabout is fair play. Emily admits the only reason she fights to stay alive is that it would make Henry so happy if she died. Henry may have ripped the head off a doll in a fit of anger and the traces of arsenic found in the weed killer he purchased the day before Emily’s death were identified in his late wife’s system. Henry even has Doris (Ann Blythe), an 18-year-old bride-to-be waiting in the wings for the first Mrs. Maurier to croak. But all of these insinuations combined doesn’t make him a murderer. Whodunit? Well, the title doesn’t refer to a man’s payback. Was it baby mademoiselle Doris, man-hating Nurse Braddock (Mildred Natwick), or lifelong friend Janet Spence (Jessica Tandy)?   

The real star of the show is Prince of Darkness, Russell Metty. Metty excelled in shadows that bind and constrict, making it impossible for a character to speak with any form of authority. When Maurier reaches for a match to light a candle during a thunderstorm, Janet says, “Don’t! You’re spoiling it.” She’s right. Metty’s hard-edged silhouette cinematography doesn’t look half as good with the lights on.

Special features include a commentary by Professor Jason A. Ney, and the theatrical trailer.

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Behind the High Wall (1956)
Universal;
Drama;
Stars Tom Tully, Sylvia Sidney, John Gavin, Betty Lynn, John Larch, Don Beddoe, Barney Phillips, Peter Leeds.

The credits follow a cigarette marked “Lunch Today” as it’s passed around the exercise yard from convict to convict. The butt landed in Kiley’s (John Larch) hand just long enough for him to read the two-word message before sparking a blue tip with his thumbnail and smoking the evidence. Warden Carmichael (Tom Tully) has been assigned head screw in the six months since his predecessor died. If that day’s interview was any indication, the board appears set to turn down his request for a permanent position. The prison break and subsequent kidnapping of Carmichael ended in a car wreck that claimed the lives of all on board, save the warden and convict/hostage, Johnny Hutchins (John Gavin). There’s also a matter of a suitcase filled with stolen loot that Carmichael conveniently buried just in time for Hutchins to regain consciousness. 

Before moving behind the camera and ultimately making a permanent switch to television, director Abner Bieberman was a familiar face in many memorable pictures (Gunga Din, The Roaring Twenties. The Leopard Man). As a director, Bieberman was clearly more concerned with his actors than he was with visual storytelling. Alas, even Hitchcock couldn’t wring a performance out of John Gavin, but Tully posed a different problem. The personable supporting player formed a career enlivening soldiers, upstanding lawmen, concerned fathers, and clergymen. So likable was he, that when it came time to take the lead as a double-dealing warden, Tully lacked the dark side needed to motivate such actions. (To see how well a similar character was more convincingly performed, and with much less screen time, check out his work in The Turning Point.)  Other than the cash, and a wheelchair-bound wife (Sylvia Sidney) who at one point assures her husband that their savings could see them through hard times, it’s hard to find the rationale behind framing an innocent kid for the death of a cop, intentionally torching a crucial piece of evidence, and walking off with a suitcase filled with green.

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema IX

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
$49.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.

Take One False Step (1949):
Universal;
Drama;
Stars William Powell, Shelley Winters, Marsha Hunt, Dorothy Hart, James Gleason, Sheldon Leonard, Art Baker, Feliz Bressart.

The credits roll over a string of freeze-frame spot gags, all involving people on the verge of taking a wrong step, reminiscent of Warner’s popular Joe McDokes “Behind the 8 Ball” shorts. (There’s a high-wire walker, the groom carrying his bride across the threshold, a young woman hopping a ride with a stranger, and so on.) The last legs we follow carry Prof. Andrew Gentling (William Powell), who pauses for a moment before entering a hotel bar. Gentling arrived in Los Angeles from New York the day before looking to raise the investment capital needed to open a new University. What are the chances of finding a former student cum love interest parked on a barstool awaiting his arrival? Pretty damn good when one considers that Cathryn Sykes (Shelley Winters) caught wind of Gentling’s arrival and planned the impromptu rendezvous. (It was released in 1949 B.P. [Before Poseidon] a time when Universal-International was touting blonde bombshell Winters as the next Jean Harlow.) Both are spoken for — he, happily, she, not so — and Cathryn makes it clear that she’s open to “marrying” Gentling, if only for a few hours.

T.K. Arnspier (Paul Harvey) is a paragon of moral turpitude, a philanthropist known for spreading miles of green, providing the cause is right and the beneficiary void of scandal. Joining Gentling on his fundraising mission are academic colleagues Henry Pritchard (Art Baker, Shinola-white shingling and an immaculate disposition) and Professor Morris Avrum (Felix Bressart, once again answering Central Casting’s call for a crumpled, but cuddly, middle-European philosopher type). No rumpus will be raised on their altruistic watch. Gentling ends their meeting by wryly asking, “If either of you was contemplating anything scandalous between now and tomorrow morning, let me know.” No sooner than Gentling can say, “Foreshadowing!” do we find him accepting Cathryn’s phone invite to a party in her Westwood digs. Even after that happily married educator learned that he was the party’s one and only invitee, he agrees to Cathryn’s request to hit the road in search of a good time.

To the credit of director Chester Erskine and screenwriter Irwin Shaw, Gentling’s devotion to his wife and family remains constant. The first thing he does after accepting Cathryn’s invitation is place a guilt-clearing call to New York asking Helen (Dorothy Hart) to join him in L.A. for a spontaneous vacation. One enduring image shines a fixed spotlight on his familial devotion. He travels with a photo that rests on the telephone table. It’s a picture of Helen with a snapshot of their daughter tucked into the lower left-hand corner of the frame. The upper-right corner is reserved for Getling’s reflection, lovingly beholding what matters most to him. The image is the saltpeter needed to get him through the night.

Gentling and Cathryn never make it to a night spot. Her drunken blubbering becomes too much to bear leaving him with no recourse but to deposit Cathryn on her doorstep. Even then, he finds it impossible to get her out of the car. His only recourse was to abandon the auto and its contents a few doors from home. A bump on Cathryn’s head was an essential touch of character shading necessary to further underscore her groggy state at the time of her disappearance. Andy brakes suddenly and with enough force for Cathryn’s noggin to graze the windshield, her blood staining the scarf of his she borrowed to ward off the evening chill. The reason behind the abrupt halt is never revealed. Returning a few moments later, Gentling spots her groggily inching towards the foot of her home. Assuming all to be well, he drives away.

The next morning during their meeting, Gentling spies Cathryn’s picture splashed across the front page just below the headline, “Housewife Feared Murdered.” For the most part, Powell is playing The Thin Man’s Nick Charles in reverse, a sober-minded, by-the-books professor loved by all. Cathryn’s not the only one crushing on her old professor, as evidenced by friend and former schoolmate/student Martha (the beguiling Marsha Hunt). She’s a crackerjack amateur sleuth in her own right, possessed by the spirit of, if not the spirits in, Nora Charles. It was she who talked him out of reporting the crime to give them time to find the evidence needed to establish his innocence. She also convinced him to trade in the rental car, making it difficult to track, as well as breaking into Cathryn’s home to get to her tell-all diary — it included juicy passages about Gentling — before the cops did. Her crime-solving contributions are far more successful than anything the screenwriters cooked up for the two cops assigned the case, played by the generally dependable Sheldon Leonard and James Gleason.

There is one other character trait that separates Gentling from Powell’s besotted detective in the “Thin Man” series. Asta, his loyal and obedient Wire Fox Terrier, made Nick Charles the envy of dog lovers across the globe. Curiously enough, the guard dog owned by Cathryn’s husband Arnold (Jess Barker) is kind to the two cops entering the house unannounced. When it comes to Gentling, the rabid hound goes full-Cujo on the egghead, ripping into his hand and leaving him in urgent need of a life-saving vaccination. In a scene that to this day remains difficult to watch, Gentling has no recourse but to beat the dog with a candelabra.

The uneven division of comedy and crime eventually gives way to a gripping mystery with more than a few surprises up its sleeve. Special features include the theatrical trailer and commentary by noir maven Eddy Von Mueller.

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Tangier (1946):
Universal;
Adventure;
Stars Maria Montez, Robert Paige, Sabu, Preston Foster, Reginald Denny, J. Edward Bromberg, John Banner.

A very enjoyable serving of World War II propaganda, with a side order of mystery, that begs the musical question, “Who’s That Nazi at My Door?” Shamed war correspondent Paul Kenyon (Robert Paige, an eminently forgettable plank that walks itself) won’t rest until he cracks a big-enough case to land him in the good graces of his publisher. In Kenyon’s mind, all roads lead to Balazar, Madrid’s No. 1 man in the Fifth Column. When not out trying to squash a Nazi ringleader, Kenyon procures the services of Pepe (Sabu), a local crooner who picks up a little scratch on the side trying to pimp the American to Rita (Maria Montez), the star dancer at the hotel cafe. (Her porcupine-quill hat and matching shoulder accessory is enough to keep many a suitor at bay.) Rita’s father and two brothers died at the hands of Balazar. Slowly. No one knew what Balazar looked like, making everyone a suspect. Fernandez (Reginald Denny), a mystery man in a white suit fittingly enough in possession of a mysterious attaché case checks into the mystical confines of Tangier’s Hotel Ritz much to the suspicion of a couple of official-looking house dicks skirting the front desk.

I must confess to loving the closed-captioning option on the remote, the one that offers English subtitles in spite of my sound hearing and relative fluency in the language. It comes in handy when trying to sift through the vernacular of yesteryear — CC allowed me to fully appreciate every chorus of Groucho’s “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” — as well as deciphering the films of Guy Ritchie. And were it not for CC, I never would have realized that the parrot on “The Abbott and Costello Show” cawed, “F**k You!” Though not as delightful as a foul-mouthed Polly, the biggest laugh in this boxed set can be found at the head of Tangier. One can’t pin all the blame on the confused subtitler. After all, Pepe’s “Excuse me sir, you’re new in Tangier, aren’t you?” could be mistaken for a pick-up line. The closed-captioner could have sworn to have heard Pepe (Sabu) propositioning Denny for a night of rough trade, when in truth he was asking if he’d like to employ the services of a “guide,” not a “guy.”

The film is notable for Sabu’s crooning a spirited round of “Polly Wolly Doodle” topped by a mournful rendition of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” as well as a nifty plot twist. Long before Marni Nixon made a name for herself “ghost singing” for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, leggy Louise Allbritton “ghost gammed” for Maria Montez. At one point in the show, Rita stealthily danced offstage to be quickly replaced by Dolores (Albritton). This affords Rita enough time to ransack Fernandez’s room in search of the diamond to be used as payment for the release of a Nazi war criminal.

At 74 minutes, the film barely has time to catch its breath. Directed by Universal Horror Miester George Waggner (The Wolf Man, The Climax), the film was adapted from Alice D.G. Miller’s original story by M.M. Musselman and Monte Collins. If the name of the latter sounds familiar, Collins appeared in over 100 shorts during the studio era, including an unforgettable cameo as the mother of The Three Stooges in “Cactus Makes Perfect.”

Special features include the theatrical trailer and commentary by Felicia Feaster.

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Lady on a Train (1945):
Universal;
Comedy;
Stars Deanna Durbin, Ralph Bellamy, Davids Bruce, Dan Duryea, William Frawley.

In his landmark essay “Notes on Film Noir,” Paul Schrader argues that every film made between The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil were visually impacted by the style that emerged from Hollywood during the war years. Style, not genre, as film noir was a movement similar to Italian neorealism that existed during a specific moment in history, not through time. Only in the loosest terms can dandelion fluff like Lady on a Train be mistaken for film noir, particularly when Deanna Durbin’s one unequivocally everlasting noir, Robert Siodmak’s dark delicacy Christmas Holiday,  has yet to find a home on home video. Not even on DVD!

Durbin stars as Nikki Collins, a ditzy dime-novel junkie hooked on mayhem, who witnesses a murder occur outside the window of her train. It’s a good premise that dead ends even before the train reaches Grand Central Station. She tries to report the crime to the police, but it’s Christmas Eve and Officer William Frawley is too busy decorating the precinct Christmas tree to be bothered by a homicide. Nikki tells the Pullman Porter about the killing but when it comes time to talking to her father, there’s no mention of murder. In this harebrained outing, the law is shown to be so ineffectual that Nikki would rather rely on the services of her favorite mystery writer, Wayne Morgan (David Bruce) to help solve the murder. Nothing’s funnier than Durbin’s rear-screen stroll among the elevated tracks. As for dartboard plotting, she stumbles into a movie theater just in time to spot a newsreel featuring the murder victim.

Directed by Charles David, who rose the ranks as producer for Alexander and Zoltan Korda before tackling this, his penultimate feature. (He only signed two pictures.) Five years later, David and Durbin married, moved to France, and effectively put an end to both their movie careers. They remained together until his death in 1999.

This was one of many attempts by the studio to overhaul Durbin’s career. Dying her hair blonde only resulted in a blonde Durbin. When it came to squeaky-clean images, Doris Day was Stormy Daniels compared to Durbin. Dan Duryea plays a nice guy for a change while Ralph Bellamy once again co-stars as the designated loser. And in a brilliant display of casting against type, Elizabeth Patterson, the kindly neighbor who babysat Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, pimp slaps Durbin in the middle of a funeral. This moment single-handedly made up for One-Hundred Men and a Girl.

 

Kino Lorber Readies Ninth ‘Film Noir’ Collection for Oct. 11 Blu-ray Disc Release

Kino Lorber on Oct. 11 will release its ninth and latest collection of vintage black-and-white film noir movies as Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema IX.

The Blu-ray Disc set includes three 1940s classics: Lady on a Train, Tangier and Take One False Step, and carries a suggested retail price of $49.95.

The collection is being released under Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics banner.

Lady on a Train (1945) stars Deanna Durbin (It Started with Eve) as a young woman on a New York-bound train who witnesses a murder outside her compartment window. With a penchant for reading mystery novels and the help of a mystery writer (David Bruce), she sets out to solve the case after police refuse to believe her story. The plot thickens when she’s caught at the victim’s estate and is mistaken for his showgirl fiancée. Adopting the ruse, she soon discovers that the deceased has willed her most of his vast fortune.

Tangier (1946) stars Maria Montez as a cafe dancer determined to bring a Nazi collaborator to justice. Set in the North African city of Tangier, Montez catches the eye of a down-and-out war correspondent. With the help of a young, local entrepreneur, they battle a Nazi war criminal (Preston Foster) who’s working incognito as a military governor. 

Take One False Step (1949) finds married college professor Andrew Gentling (William Powell, The Thin Man) inveigled by old flame Catherine Sykes (Shelley Winters) into a midnight drive. The very next day, Catherine vanishes. Andrew’s friend Martha (Marsha Hunt) convinces him that he’s a prime suspect and should investigate before he’s arrested. But this only puts Andrew in a deadlier kind of danger when the trail leads him to the crime-ridden streets of San Francisco.

All three films are coming to disc from brand-new 2K and 4K masters. The set includes new audio commentaries for Tangier (film critic Felicia Feaster) and Take One False Step (film historian Eddy Von Mueller).

Kino Lorber Sets June 7 Release Date for Next Film Noir Package

Kino Lorber on June 7 will release its seventh and latest collection of vintage black-and-white film noir movies as Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VII.

The Blu-ray Disc set includes The Boss, Chicago Confidential and The Fearmakers, and carries a suggested retail price of $49.95.

In 1956’s The Boss, ruthless World War I veteran Matt Brady (John Payne) inherits the clout of his political kingpin brother and climbs the ladder of corruption all the way to the top of the state. His amoral practices and sheer arrogance lead to broken friendships (William Bishop) and romances (model-turned-actress Doe Avedon and Gloria McGehee) along the way. Based on the real-life scandal of Kansas City politico Tom Pendergast, The Boss was directed by Byron Haskin and written by  Dalton Trumbo, although it was originally uncredited due to Hollywood’s blacklisting.

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Chicago Confidential, from 1957, finds Brian Keith battling corruption as hard-nosed State’s Attorney Jim Fremont. When union crooks in collaboration with a gambling syndicate try to pin a murder rap on uncooperative union leader Blane (Dick Foran), Fremont smells a set-up. Together with his co-worker fiancée Laura (Beverly Garland), he launches an investigation to prove Blane’s innocence and to punish the true villains. Chicago Confidential was directed by Sidney Salkow from the bestselling pulp novel by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer.

The Fearmakers, a 1958 film directed by Jacques Tourneur, is a potent parable about the power of people who control our ideas. Dana Andrews stars as Alan Eaton, a Korean War veteran who returns home after being tortured and brainwashed as a P.O.W. and resumes work at a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. He finds that things aren’t quite as he left them, as he uncovers a hotbed of political manipulation that ensnares him in a web of suspicion. The film also stars Dick Foran, Marilee Earle and Mel Tormé.

All three films are from brand-new 2K masters. The Blu-ray Disc boxed set from Kino Lorber includes new audio commentaries for The Boss (from author and film historian Alan K. Rode) and The Fearmakers (from film scholar Jason A. Ney). 

Kino Lorber Sets Dec. 14 Release Date for Trilogy of Film Noir Classics

Kino Lorber on Dec. 14 will release a set of three rare film noirs on Blu-ray Disc.

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema includes Because of You, Outside the Law and The Midnight Story.

The set carries a suggested retail price (SRP) of $49.95, with retailer orders due Nov. 16.

Because of You (1952) stars Loretta Young and Jeff Chandler in a classic noir romance.  Blonde bombshell Christine Carroll (Young) finds out too late that her fiancé Mike Monroe (Alex Nicol) is a gangster — and she’s his unwitting accessory. Emerging from prison with dark hair and an interest in nursing, she becomes a nurse’s aide in a war hospital and soon marries a battle-fatigued patient, Steve Kimberly (Chandler). The happy couple have a daughter, Kim, but Christine’s secret past threatens to tear her family apart when Mike reappears, forcing Christine to help him escape across the Mexican border. Joseph Pevney, the director of Six Bridges to Cross and Female on the Beach, directed the film, shot by the great cinematographer Russell Metty (Touch of Evil). The title song was Tony Bennett’s first No. 1 hit and became one of his many signature songs.

Outside the Law (1956) is centered around ex-con Johnny Salvo (Ray Danton), who is given the chance to redeem himself, and revenge the murder of an old Army buddy, by going undercover and helping the authorities break up a ring of international counterfeiters. But first, Johnny must earn the respect of his Treasury-man father (Onslow Stevens) and the trust of his buddy’s widow (Leigh Snowden). Prolific filmmaker Jack Arnold, the director of It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Man in the Shadow, directed the film, which features the cinematography of noir specialist Irving Glassberg (Larceny, The Price of Fear).

The third film in the set, 1957’s The Midnight Story, features a powerful performance by screen great Tony Curtis.  When beloved priest Father Tomasino is murdered in a San Francisco alleyway, traffic cop Joe Martini (Curtis) vows to catch the killer. Ordered off the case by homicide detective Kilrain (Ted de Corsia), Martini turns in his badge and investigates alone. He follows a hunch that Italian restaurant owner Sylvio (Gilbert Roland) could be involved and decides to hide his previous life as a cop in order to become friendly with his suspect’s family. But as Martini starts to unravel the truth behind Father Tomasino’s murder, he falls in love with the suspect’s cousin (Marisa Pavan), and his world is torn apart by old and new loyalties. Joseph Pevney, the director of The Strange Door and Foxfire, helmed this psychological crime drama that features CinemaScope cinematography by Russell Metty (Spartacus).

All three films come with new audio commentary tracks and the original trailers.

‘The Amazing Mr. X’ and ‘Frankenstein’s Daughter’ Coming on Disc in October From Film Detective

Special editions of the film noir classic The Amazing Mr. X (1948) and the 1950s cult classic Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958) will come out on Blu-ray and DVD in October from Cinedigm’s classic streaming network and film archive, The Film Detective.

Due Oct. 5 is The Amazing Mr. X, which stars Turhan Bey as Alexis, a mystery man who claims to communicate with spirits. Appearing on the beach one night, Alexis easily charms a depressed widow (Lynn Bari) and her sister (Cathy O’Donnell). The sly Alexis makes a living by separating gullible people from their money, but before this tale is over, he will learn that the living are far more dangerous than the dead.

The film has undergone a 4K restoration from original 35mm film elements.

Special features include audio commentary from professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney; a full-color booklet with the essay “The Amazing Mr. Bey” by Don Stradley; and “Mysteries Exposed: Inside the Cinematic World of Spiritualism,” an original documentary from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

The Film Detective is also offering an exclusive opportunity to own the film with The Amazing Mr. X NFT (non-fungible token) auction, live on Rad. The winner of the auction will receive an exclusive physical framed lithograph of the movie poster, two Blu-ray copies of The Amazing Mr. X and NFT tokenized access to view the movie on Rad. The auction is currently available and will close on Oct. 4.

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Due Oct. 19 is Frankenstein’s Daughter, which finds Dr. Oliver Frank (Donald Murphy) carrying on the legacy of his late grandfather, the notorious Dr. Frankenstein, by building his own hulking beast with the transplanted brain of a beautiful, young woman. Bringing a fresh twist to Frankenstein films, Frankenstein’s Daughter takes place in ”modern” Los Angeles, where — despite news reports of a female monster menacing the neighborhood — nothing stops the local sun-soaked teenagers from partying poolside.

Directed by Richard E. Cunha, the film also stars John Ashley, Harold Lloyd Jr. and former Playboy Playmate of the Month Sally Todd.

This special-edition release marks the latest in a series of collaborations between The Film Detective and The Wade Williams Collection. Restorations of Flight to Mars (1951), Giant From the Unknown (1958) and The Other Side of Madness (1971) have also been released recently on special-edition Blu-ray and DVD.

Special features include an audio commentary track with author and historian Tom Weaver; a full color booklet with an original essay by Weaver; “Richard E. Cunha: Filmmaker of the Unknown,: a new retrospective from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, featuring an archival interview with the famed director; and “John Ashley: Man from the B’s,” a new career retrospective featuring film historian C. Courtney Joyner.

Slasher Film ‘Edge of the Axe,’ 1940s Noir ‘Black Angel’ Due on Blu-ray From Arrow and MVD Jan. 28

The Spanish-American slasher film Edge of the Axe and the 1940s film noir Black Angel are being released on Blu-ray from Arrow and MVD Entertainment Group Jan. 28.

From Arrow Video comes Edge of the Axe, which follows a masked killer picking off people in a small California village with — that’s right — an axe. The new 2K restoration of the cult classic (from the original camera negative) includes English and Spanish versions of the film; two new audio commentaries; a newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks; “The Pain in Spain,” a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur; an image gallery; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn; and for the first pressing only, a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes.

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Due from Arrow Academy is the 1946 film noir Black Angel, which marked the final time behind the camera for prolific director Roy William Neill. In the film, after a man is convicted of murder, his wife and the victim’s ex-husband fight to prove his innocence. Hated by author Cornell Woolrich whose novel served as the source material, Black Angel nevertheless is a sleek and stylish film for genre fans. It stars Dan Duryea, June Vincent and Peter Lorre. Special features on the new restoration of the film include a video appreciation by film historian Neil Sinyard; new audio commentary by the writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode; the original trailer; a photo gallery of original stills and promotional materials; a reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Philip Kemp.

‘Noir Archive Vol. 3’ Coming to Blu-ray Sept. 17 From MVD and Kit Parker

The film noir collection “Noir Archive Vol. 3: 1957-1960” is coming to Blu-ray Disc Sept. 17 from MVD Entertainment Group and Kit Parker Films.

Making its debut in HD for the first time, this collection of nine film noir pictures is curated from the Columbia Pictures library. The three-disc set also features the film’s original aspect ratios.

Titles include The Crimson Kimono (1959), directed by Samuel Fuller and starring Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta; The Lineup (1958), directed by Don Siegel and starring Eli Wallach, Robert Keith and Warner Anderson; Man on a String (1960), directed by Andre DeToth and starring Ernest Borgnine, Kerwins Mathews, Colleen Dewhurst and Alexander Scourby; The Shadow in the Window (1956), directed by William Asher and starring Phil Carey, Betty Garrett, and John Barrymore, Jr.; The Long Haul (1957), directed by Ken Hughes and starring Victor Mature, Diana Dors and Patrick Allen; Pickup Alley (1957), directed by John Gilling and starring Victor Mature, Anita Ekberg and Trevor Howard; The Case Against Brooklyn (1958), directed by Paul Wendkos and starring Darren McGavin, Maggie Hayes and Bobby Helms; The Tijuana Story, directed by Leslie Kardos and starring Roldolfo Acosta, James Darren and Robert McQueeney; and She Played With Fire (1957), directed by Sidney Gilliat and starring Jack Hawkins, Arlene Dahl, Dennis Price, Bernard Miles and Ian Hunter.

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