The Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4

Title: The Film Noir Classics Collection Vol. 4fnvol4

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Review

Warner Home Video doubles the stakes in The Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 4, debuting July 31, with legendary Hollywood tough guys and femme fatales once again colliding, this time in ten smoldering suspense classics on 5 double-feature discs. Titles include Act of Violence, Mystery Street, Crime Wave, Decoy, Illegal, The Big Steal, They Live By Night, Side Street, Where Danger Lives and Tension. Dames, gumshoes, the city at night and dark streets – this set has it all!

They Live By Night (1949) & Side Street (1950)
In They Live By Night, Arthur ‘Bowie’ Bowers (Farley Granger) is a 23-year-old prison escapist who teams up with two career criminals after busting out. The two convicts are Chicamaw ‘One-Eye’ Mobley (Howard Da Silva), and Henry ‘T-Dub’ Mansfield (Jay C. Flippen). After the three pull a bank job, they hide out with Chicamaw’s niece, Catherine ‘Keechie’ Mobley (Cathy O’Donnell). Bowie and Keechie start to develop feelings for each other despite not trusting one another initially. Chicamaw and T-Dub are anything but the romantic type and don’t want Bowie to lose his criminal instincts for a dame. Before he knows it, Bowie is roped in by his two counterparts to pull another heist. This time, someone is killed in the process. Bowie is named the leader of the gang in all of the papers. He’s now married to Keechie, but there is little time for a honeymoon. Instead, they hit the road as outlaws, Bonnie and Clyde style. Keechie is now pregnant and Bowie leaves her briefly to try and build a new life for the two of them. But, in typical noir fashion, sometimes getting out of “the life” is not as easy as just running away. Special features include: Commentary by Farley Granger and film historian Eddie Muller and New featurette: They Live by Night: The Twisted Road. In Side Street, Joe Norson (Farley Granger) is a letter carrier who desperately wants to take his wife Ellie (Cathy O’Donnell) on a trip to Europe. His frustration hits an all-time high when he steals $200 from the office of a lawyer (or so he believes). In reality, Norson has stolen $30,000. Shocked, he leaves the money in the hands of Nick (Edwin Max), a bartender friend of his. Norson’s guilt soon overwhelms him. He attempts to come clean about the theft and return the money to the rightful owner. There’s only one problem – Nick the bartender has already stolen the money for himself. Norson is now caught between the killer he stole from and the police. Special features include: Commentary by historian-critic Richard Schickel, New featurette: Side Street: Where Temptation Lurks and the Theatrical trailer.

The Big Steal (1949) & Illegal (1955)
Robert Mitchum has long been the stereotypical face of film noir. In The Big Steal, Mitchum is Duke Halliday, a man held at gunpoint by Capt. Vincent Blake (William Bendix). Duke manages to knock out Blake and steal his identification papers. Joan Graham (Jane Greer) condemns Duke for his rude behavior, then leaves to find Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles), her slippery fiancĂ©, in a hotel room and demands that he return the $2,000 he “borrowed” from her. Fiske promises to repay the money but gets away while Joan is taking a shower. The entire film is cat-and-mouse from the very beginning, with each party chasing and being chased. As it turns out, Duke is being framed for a robbery and chasing Fiske, who is apparently the real thief. Duke himself is on the run from Blake, whose reasons for chasing Duke may be a little more complex than they seem. The Big Steal has fallen through cinematic cracks, mainly due to its main stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. It wasn’t their lack of believability that doomed the film, but rather a previous success that set a very high bar. Mitchum and Greer had shared the screen in 1947’s Out of the Past. The film was a huge hit and audiences expected the duo to recreate that magic. The Big Steal, while entertaining in its own right, did not captivate in the same dramatic way. It wasn’t really a failure, but more of a disappointment spawned in the wake of the first Mitchum and Greer extravaganza. Nevertheless, this film is still as gritty as noir should be, with the requisite quick-witted exchanges and snappy one-liners. Special features include: Commentary by Richard B. Jewell and The Big Steal: Look Behind You. In Illegal, Edward G. Robinson starts out as a hard-hitting DA named Victor Scott, who has an impressive record of sending men to the electric chair. When the police arrest Edward Clary (DeForest Kelley) for murder, despite his persistent claims of innocence, Scott prosecutes him. Scott even hand-picks the jurors for Clary’s trial and Clary is subsequently convicted. Scott becomes a “celebrity” in the aftermath of winning the case and quickly makes preparations to run for governor. After finding out that Clary was innocent (by way of another man’s confession), Scott tries to stop Clary’s execution in time but is unable to do so. This pushes Scott into a depression, full of drinking and never-ending guilt. He tries to start a private practice, but when his one-time friends refuse to send clients to him, he sinks even deeper into frustration. Later, Scott is arrested after punching a man during a fight. While awaiting trial, Scott observes the hearing of Joseph Carter (Jay Adler), who struck a man with a lead pipe during a brawl. When Scott overhears Carter accuse the lead witness, he decides to defend Carter in court. Scott wins the trial and has his self-confidence restored. However, Scott’s clientele becomes more and more shady and it’s evident that his morals are weakening. Yesterday’s defender of law has found himself on the wrong side of the tracks, accompanied by the crooked types he once prosecuted. Jayne Mansfied also appears briefly in this edge-of-your-seat drama. Special features include: Commentary by Nina Foch and Patricia King Hanson, Illegal: Marked for Life, Behind the Cameras: Edward G. Robinson and the Theatrical trailer.

Act of Violence (1948) & Mystery Street (1950)
In Act of Violence, WWII vet Frank Enley (Van Heflin) is honored for bringing a new housing project to the town. Meanwhile, Frank is targeted by Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), a disabled war veteran looking to kill him. After the housing project ceremony, Frank leaves his wife Edith (Janet Leigh) and daughter Georgie to take a fishing trip with his friend, Fred Finney (Harry Antrim). Parkson, still looking for Frank, pays a visit to Edith who tells him that Frank is fishing at the lake with the best spinning reel. This would be the first of many attempts by Parkson to kill Frank. Frank seems like a well-liked and highly respected member of the community. He’s also lauded as a war hero and admired for his patriotism. So why would Parkson want to kill him? As it turns out, Frank and Parkson had been prisoners of war in a German camp. Frank was the ranking officer and Parson the second-in-command. The majority of the men were planning to escape captivity by way of a digging a tunnel. Frank didn’t approve of the plan, but his fellow airmen ignored him and went ahead with the proceedings. Upset that he wasn’t being heard, Frank betrayed the men and tipped off the Nazis. As a result of this, 10 of the 12 men were killed in horrible fashion, leaving only 2 survivors – Frank and Parkson. Now back home, Parkson is after Frank to avenge the deaths of the murdered soldiers. Act of Violence is directed by Fred Zinnemann, who would go on to direct the classic From Here To Eternity just five years later. Mary Astor (of The Maltese Falcon fame) also appears in this 1948 noir drama. Special features include: Commentary by Dr. Drew Casper, New featurette: Act of Violence: Dealing with the Devil and the Theatrical trailer. In Mystery Street, Vivian Heldon (Jan Sterling) is a “B-girl” working at “The Grass Skirt” in Boston. After talking a drunken patron into borrowing his car, she takes off for Cape Cod with the man in tow. The man soon sobers up and realizes that he’s nowhere near the Boston bar. He demands that Vivian turn around and drive back. Instead, she steals the car and later meets a shady character who kills her. The drunk reports his car stolen to his insurance company but never mentions Vivian. Officer Peter Morales (Ricardo Montalban) helps the Boston police to identify Vivian when she washes ashore. Using forensics with the help of Dr. McAdoo (Bruce Bennett), they discover her identity. Morales is now more interested in how Vivian died, and moreover, who’s responsible. Morales finds the stolen car and Henry Shanway, the drunken man, and questions him. After being wrongfully chosen from a police lineup, Shanway is charged with the murder. Naturally, all is not what it seems. There’s a real killer on the loose and Morales soon discovers that he may have the wrong man. Exciting chases and heart-pounding action make this noir a must see! Film aficionados will no doubt recognize Elsa Lanchester, best known as The Bride of Frankenstein, in the cast as Mrs. Smerrling. Lanchester is really one of the film’s more prominent components despite not receiving a high billing. Special features include: Commentary by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, New featurette: Mystery Street: Murder at Harvard and the Theatrical trailer.

Crime Wave (1954) & Decoy (1946)
In Crime Wave, three escapees from San Quinton named Doc Penny (Ted de Corsia), Ben Hastings (a young Charles Bronson) and Gat Morgan (Nedrick Young) stick up a gas station. The caper quickly goes wrong as a policeman is killed and Gat is wounded in the process. Ben and Doc leave Gat behind with some of the stolen money and a boosted car while they head south for another heist. Gat makes his way to the home of Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson), a former San Quentin inmate who no longer participates in criminal activity. Lacey is hesitant to let Gat stay around, seeing as how his wife Ellen (Phyllis Kirk) and his job as an airplane mechanic could be jeopardized by harboring a convict. Gat forces his way in at gunpoint and dies shortly after from his robbery injuries. Lacey panics, figuring the police will think he volunteered to help Gat. Soon after, the Lacey residence is visited by Detective Sims (Sterling Hayden), a sergeant with the LAPD who has learned the identities of the three robbers. Sims believes Lacey to have been a willing participant. Despite trying to explain himself, Lacey is held by Sims for three days. Sims offers to release Lacey if he’ll help locate the remaining two hoods. Lacey fears getting in deeper but agrees and is released. Once home, he finds Ben and Doc hiding in his apartment. Lacey informs them that the cops are on their trail (in an attempt to get them to leave), but Doc is unfazed and demands that he help them in yet another holdup. This is the beginning of the real downward spiral. One of the robbers kills a doctor who knows more than he should and Sims pursues the gang after finding Lacey’s car at the scene. When the planned holdup is finally put into action, the cons find themselves in the company of many tipped-off police officers. The fireworks fly in the thrilling conclusion of this shadowy tale. Special features include: Commentary by James Ellroy and Eddie Muller, Crime Wave: The City is Dark and the Theatrical trailer. In Decoy, Dr. Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley) hitches a ride to San Francisco and walks lifelessly to Margot Shelby’s (Jean Gillie) apartment to shoot her before dying himself from a gunshot wound. While she lay dying on her couch, Margot tells detective Joe Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) the events that led to her shooting in flashback mode. Portugal is an eerily calm personality who rarely shows the slightest hint of emotion. Margot’s story goes like this: her boyfriend, Frankie Olins (Robert Armstrong) stole $400,000 in a bank robbery and hid it before being arrested. Olins was sentenced to die in the gas chamber because a bank guard was killed during the robbery. Margot feigned love for gangster Jim Vincent (Edward Norris) and promised him a cut of the loot for helping to remove Olins’ body from the gas chamber immediately after the execution. Apparently there is some sort of antidote for the poisonous gas, which, if administered immediately, will revive the executed Olins. The antidote works and Olins gives Margot half of a map showing the location of the windfall, keeping the other half for himself. Margot provokes Vincent to kill Olins and steal the other half of the map, which he does. Margot and Vincent force Craig (who is able to drive through police roadblocks because of his physician status) to drive them to the hidden money. Vincent is planning to kill Craig but Margot tricks him into fixing a flat tire and runs him over with the car before he can do so. It looks like Margot may be noir’s stereotypical femme fatale whose victim prowls the city streets looking for revenge. As she finishes relating her story to Portugal and dies, the detective breaks open the box supposedly containing the money and happens upon a shock. Special features include: Commentary by Stanley Rubin and Glenn Erickson, Decoy: A Map to Nowhere and the Theatrical trailer.

Where Danger Lives (1950) & Tension (1949)
Robert Mitchum strikes again! He was known as noir’s usual suspect. He didn’t always play the heavy; in fact, more often than not he was the one looking to collar the wrongdoers. In Where Danger Lives, Margo (Faith Domergue) is married to Frederick Lannington (Claude Rains), a much older millionaire who seems to be a bit of a sadist. As one would assume, being married to such a man can weigh heavily on the mind of a woman. It weighs heavily on Margo when she attempts suicide. She doesn’t succeed and is taken to the hospital where she meets surgeon Jeff Cameron (Robert Mitchum). Cameron falls in love with her and begins dating her without the knowledge of her existing husband. The two men soon become aware of each other and a drunken confrontation ensues. Frederick is naturally jealous of Cameron, so the dispute turns physical. In the struggle, Cameron knocks Frederick out with a poker and stumbles out of the room dazed from his own head injury. Returning a few minutes later, Cameron realizes that Frederick is dead. Margo convinces Cameron that he is her husband’s killer. In fact, Margo had smothered the old man and blamed Cameron, knowing that in his altered state of mind, he wouldn’t be able to dispute her claim. This is Film Noir, right? So what happens? The two lovers take off for the highway and head towards Mexico. During the course of their trip, Cameron realizes that his female companion may not be the most stable person. Faith Domergue is terrific as the deadly femme fatale and Mitchum is top notch as the quintessential victim. Special features include: Commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini, Where Danger Lives: White Rose for Julie and the Theatrical Trailer. In Tension, Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) works honestly at a 24-hour drugstore to support his unappreciative wife Claire (Audrey Totter). Though Quimby knows that his wife has been unfaithful to him, he remains a devoted husband who tries to please her every whim. Claire isn’t interested in her husband’s shortcomings; she’s more interested in the gifts she receives from her mysterious male friends. Quimby saves enough money to buy a house in the suburbs but Claire refuses to live away from the city. She leaves Warren to shack up with her lover, Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough), who has impressed her with his new car. Quimby refuses to take this and storms over to Deager’s house to get his wife back. After finding them together on the beach, Quimby and Deager come to blows but Quimby is clearly outmatched and beaten. Dejected and embarrassed, Quimby goes to his job and tells his co-worker, Freddie, about the incident. Freddie advises Quimby (almost half-joking) that he should’ve killed Deager for such treatment. Quimby takes the advice seriously and undergoes a procedure to change his appearance and take on a new identity – all in preparation to murder Deager. He chooses a new name, Paul Sothern, and moves into a new apartment that he’s planning to occupy during the weekends. While moving into the apartment, Quimby meets Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse), a neighbor and amateur photographer. The two soon share a romance. Quimby continues to plan Deager’s murder, but, as he’s about to act it out, he changes his mind and drops the idea. He has Mary now, after all. When Deager turns up murdered anyway, Quimby finds himself the center of attention. Special features include: Commentary by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward with Audrey Trotter, Tension: Who’s Guilty Now and the Theatrical Trailer.

Conclusion

Warner Brothers has already given us three incredible Film Noir sets, and this fourth offering is no less stellar! Packaged like it’s wrapped in a Dick Tracy caper, The Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 is full of double-crosses, desolate nights, paranoid figures, shadows and despair. Those familiar with noir ambiance will find this set, and its numerous bonus features, the perfect companion to a stormy evening. This is a highly recommended addition for enthusiasts and novices alike. Pick up yours today!

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