Film Noir Classic Collection: Volume 3
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Film Noir Classics Collection, The: Volume 3 (DVD) (6-Pack)
Five more film noir classics lined up with genre stars such as Robert Mitchum, Robert Montgomery, Robert Ryan, and Jane Russell, are now available in Volume 3 of the Film Noir Classics Collection series. The new 6-Disc DVD set is only available as a collection and includes a bonus documentary disc on the Noir genre.]]>
Two peak achievements by as many top noir directors ... a customized vehicle for one of noir's premier icons ... an oddball experiment in making a truly "private eye" movie ... and a Howard Hughes remake of his earliest contribution to the gangster genre. Such are the five titles corralled for Warner Home Video's third box set of film noir classics.
For eye-popping dynamism coupled with ferocious intensity, no noir director matched Anthony Mann. Border Incident (1949) was Mann's and cinematographer John Alton's first film for MGM following a string of darkly dazzling low-budget beauties at Eagle-Lion (T-Men, Raw Deal, The Black Book, et al.). In structure it's virtually a remake of T-Men, transposed from the shadowy city where a Secret Service team battled counterfeiters, to California's Imperial Valley where the Immigration Service sets out to infiltrate a gang exploiting--and often murdering--Mexicans eager to work the farms. From the opening night scene of three laborers trying to recross the border and meeting a grisly end, the movie relentlessly imagines ways the human body can merge with the earth. Visually stunning, and replete with memorable villains (headed by Howard Da Silva, a past master at making affability lethal), this is one of Mann's strongest noirs and surely his most inventive. Its neglect can be explained only by people's assumption that nothing worthwhile could come of a movie top-billing Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy (as the government agents). Wrong, wrong, wrong.
After a scalding first reel in big-city night streets, Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground (RKO, 1951) likewise forsakes familiar noir terrain for the countryside--the mountains and snowfields where city cop Robert Ryan seeks a psychotic killer. For both the actor and the director, Ryan's character is an exemplary creation: a man with personal demons whose overzealous pursuit of criminals has pushed him into sadism. His passage from urban darkness into the silent white mountain country becomes a redemptive journey, thanks largely to his interaction with a blind woman (Ida Lupino) in an isolated farmhouse whose younger brother may be the quarry he's after. Ray developed the screenplay with A.I. Bezzerides under the supervision of producer John Houseman (for whom Ray had made his feature debut, They Live By Night). The film boasts a thrilling music score by Bernard Herrmann, anticipating his great soundtrack for North by Northwest.
His Kind of Woman (also RKO, 1951) is a vehicle for both RKO's reigning bad boy, Robert Mitchum, and Howard Hughes' definitive coup of distaff engineering, Jane Russell. Their characters cross paths en route to a seaside Mexican resort, where she aims to continue her gold-digger pursuit of Hollywood ham Vincent Price, and Mitchum will figure in a plot to get deported mobster Raymond Burr back into the U.S.A. The slow-brewing romance between this dauntingly tall, broad-shouldered pair gives off little heat, but the players' good-natured, weary-pro rapport as they go through their mostly preposterous paces makes for very good fun. Still more is supplied by Price, who just about steals the movie when he gets to extend his subErrol Flynn screen heroism into real life--all the while supplying his own florid running commentary on the action. The urbane director John Farrow filled the movie with one delicious, what-the-hell-is-going-on-here scene after another (highlight: a bored Mitchum ironing his money), but that wasn't enough for studio boss Hughes. Richard Fleischer was brought in to stretch the climactic melodrama aboard Burr's yacht in the harbor, and the picture grew to an overblown two hours in length. Not that you're likely to regret a minute of it.
Robert Montgomery directed and played Phillip Marlowe in Lady in the Lake (MGM, 1947), Raymond Chandler's novel as adapted by Steve Fisher (I Wake Up Screaming). The gimmick is that, apart from a few scenes of private detective Marlowe chatting us up in his office, everything is viewed through his eyes, with Marlowe himself remaining unseen unless he glances in a mirror. This literal-minded conceit is more curious than compelling; the camera simply doesn't see the way the human eye does, and the artificiality constantly calls attention to itself. Montgomery, a suave actor who enjoyed playing it coarse and obnoxious on occasion, makes his screen Marlowe more smartass than any other ("dumb, brave, and cheap"). With him cracking wise off-camera, much of the movie is really carried by Audrey Totter, a swell late-'40s dame who has to stand up under more relentless scrutiny than even her shifty character deserves.
The Racket (RKO, 1951) is the second film version of a 1920s play about municipal corruption, gangsterism, and the attempt to squash an honest police precinct captain. John Cromwell had acted in the original Broadway production, which may help explain why, as director, he let so much of this movie turn back into a play. Eventually studio boss Howard Hughes, who had produced the 1928 film version (directed by Lewis Milestone), once again called in another director to do salvage work.
That was Nicholas Ray, whose scenes include police captain Robert Mitchum's pursuit of the man who has just bombed his home. Mitchum's fellow cast members include Robert Ryan as the ultra-paranoid gangster; husky-voiced noir blonde Lizabeth Scott as a nightclub thrush romanced by Ryan's brother; future Perry Mason D.A. William Talman as a dedicated street cop; and Ray Collins and William Conrad as two municipal officials negotiating a delicate dance with morality and expediency. --Richard T. Jameson
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My favorite film of the set is the Nick Ray gem - 'on dangerous ground' - which is a beautiful example or Ray's mastery.. and it features a soundtrack by Bernard Hermann... Robert Ryan gives a solid performance as a cop with a serious problem..
Another great film in the set is 'The Racket' which also features Ryan along with Robert Mitchum... It is a pretty bleak tale of the underworld which at times absolutely sizzles..
'Border Incident' is a film which has some great moments.. It is directed by the great Anthony Mann.. It is a very poignant tale which is very relevant to modern issues.. It shows that the issue of immigration has roots in the past and corruption.. not just the modern 'invasion' that fox news would have you believe.. a complex movie on a complex topic beautifuly filmed..
'His kind of Woman' is probably the most 'fun' of all the films.. Robert Mitchum and Vincent Price light up the screen - in a film that is almost as comic as film noir gets..
Which brings me to the final film 'Lady in the Lake' which is unintenionally comic.. It was a bold experiment in using a subjective camera throughout an entire picture.. in my opinion it fails.. but in a way it is so bad its good.. i wish mystery science theatre would have a go at this one.. but it is interesting to see nontheless.. and a piece of film noir history..
Mann's trademark violence is also very much in evidence, with the film offering one truly strikingly unpleasant death for 1949 - when shooting and being brutally rifle-butted in the head doesn't finish off the victim, something even more searingly violent does the trick: dust to dust indeed. But that's very much in keeping with the characters' brutally disinterested attitude to death. People aren't just killed, they're literally swallowed by a callous and impersonal land that leaves no trace of their ever having existed. Once there's no more profit to be made from the illegals or their own cohorts, they simply disappear forever. Mann had no equal in using the landscape to define character, but here the landscape itself is not just a character but an accomplice.
A big part of the credit belongs to cinematographer John Alton, who Mann apparently insisted on taking with him when he moved from Eagle-Lion to a contract with Leo. His deep blacks, his great sense of changing perspective (an important visual motif in all of Mann's films), his intelligent use of long lenses to expand the moral and physical distance between protagonists, and one remarkable night sequence where a truck leaves an almost luminous trail of dust in its wake help elevate what could have just been a production-line procedural into something much more primal and substantial. It's not just a matter of making striking images - the director and cinematographer's complimentary visual imaginations don't simply serve the story but also establish these characters' place in the world and their shifting relationships as power and loyalty become increasingly fluid commodities.
Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy may seem unlikely leads, but they work better than expected, and there's a great cast of character players to back them up - Alfonso Bedoya, Arnold Ross (so memorable in Mann's Reign of Terror), Charles MacGraw, Arthur Hunnicutt and the great Sig Rumann. Quietly towering over them all is Howard Da Silva's confident and almost casual ringleader, a man who finds that control is illusory. Despite having the best (but still unshowy) dialogue, the temptations to become a stereotype are avoided in favor of a much more interesting and rounded creation - he doesn't need to act menacing because he has people to do that for him.
Like most of Mann's noirs (with the exception of the period thriller Reign of Terror), it's not one of the great Mann films - but it ends up a damn good one. I kinda liked it...
On Dangerous Ground is a flawed favorite, boasting an exceptional performance from Robert Ryan as a man as much attracted as repulsed by his own capacity for violence - the look on his face before beating a suspect into the hospital, the almost sexual glee tinged with disgust as he repeats "Why do you make me do it?" to justify his own imminent enjoyment to himself give him a disturbingly raw emotional violence that's far more worrying than anything his fists can do. Even Ward Bond's distraught and vengeful father of a murder victim is disturbed by the joy of the hunt he finds in that face. Nicholas Ray's camerawork is similarly on the brink of falling to pieces in the opening city section, eavesdropping in and out of windows and windscreens before erupting into a brutal alley chase shot with a bold use of handheld camera that's still seems shockingly vital for a 50s studio picture. They're both matched blow for blow by Bernard Herrmann's strikingly violent score, with a main title like a sword slashing through flesh and striking bone but with passages beautifully underlining the loneliness and sadness behind the savagery. Mad With Much Heart indeed.
Even the prolonged section with Ida Lupino's blind woman and the possibility of another, more compassionate way of life avoids mawkishness, not least because pity is neither sought nor given. Only the miraculous ending doesn't work. Whether this is due to the 10 minutes of studio-imposed cuts and the re-editing and restructuring the film went through during more than a year on the shelf or whether it was always a problem we'll probably never know (it would have been nice to have included the script as an extra, especially since Glenn Erickson's scripted audio commentary is often awkwardly delivered and often lacks the substance of others in the Film Noir boxed set). There is definitely the feeling that the whole third act of the movie has gone, making Ryan's decision seem almost arbitrary and not allowing us to see if he really has changed back on his home ground. Indeed, it probably would have been better to have ended the film a minute earlier with the almost purgative drive back to the city. But so much of what has gone before is so remarkable that it's a failure you can forgive.
I'd never been able to get past the first couple of reels of The Racket on TV and it certainly looked like being the makeweight of this collection, but once you get past the lunking Howard Hughes-imposed Nicholas Ray-directed prologue it turns into a surprisingly engaging and gripping crime drama. Structurally it's certainly unusual, probably as a result of Hughes' typical interference - it's more than 17 minutes before Mitchum makes his entrance, and there are some sporadically awkward crosscuts to inserts shot by Ray and others after John Cromwell (who co-starred in the play the film was based on in the 1920s) had left. Robert Ryan is surprisingly not quite there for once: not exactly bad, but somewhere between phoning it in and, in his early scenes at least, possibly drunk on set - his timing is slightly askew, his usual excellent instincts abandoned along with his sense of proportion in moments that are just a little over the top. But there's so much to admire that even the unlikely escalation of the feud between the two protagonists is carried along. There's a fine shootout in a garage, a neat car chase that sees the cops plough through a billboard for a mob-backed political candidate and a terrific death scene at the end. The supporting cast are intriguing too, with William Conrad's cop and Ray Collins' DA both corrupt but not so entirely that they're lost causes: they exist in a gray area that throws the leads into sharper relief. Eddie Mueller's audio commentary is quite excellent and well worth listening to.
His Kind of Woman should be a mess, but somehow it emerges as a highly enjoyable insane asylum of a movie as much thanks to as in spite of the constant interference by Howard Hughes: credited to John Farrow, Richard Fleischer spent months shooting and reshooting the yacht finale at the mogul's whims in a desperate attempt to get out of his own studio contract. Even Raymond Burr's villain is a case of third time lucky after Howard Petrie and Robert J. Wilke played the part without meriting Hughes' approval. Snappy dialogue ("You're the guy who shot (him). How did it feel?" "He didn't say."), unlucky gamblers, fortune-hunting gals, randy Wall Street types (played by no less than Mr Magoo himself, Jim Backus), Nazi plastic surgeons, Italian mobsters, Robert Mitchum betting his shoe and ironing his money, and a very wonderful hotel set courtesy of Albert D'Agostino - this has everything Hughes' money could buy. Mitch and Jane Russell have real chemistry, and she comes over as far more genuinely likeable than in many of her contemporary roles: for all the chaos, you get the sense that they're actually having fun (certainly she looks genuinely happy when she sings in her opening scene). But the show belongs to Vincent Price's ham actor, who doesn't fear death - he's too well-known to die - loves guns, never shuns the spotlight - even if it is wielded by gun-toting mobsters - but isn't too wild about his wife. He should destroy the movie if you're still expecting the bleak noir it began as, but by the time he appears you know that this is a log ride that drifts with the prevailing current and his outrageous hamming somehow compliments the sadism and prolonged action of the extended finale perfectly. A shame that the DVD has a noticeable scratch during the yacht sequences
Lady in the Lake is a lot more fun than a gimmick movie should be. Perhaps that's because the script is good enough not to need the gimmick, which is just as well because Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter are far too arch for their roles to really convince. The gimmick, of course, is that aside from the bookends and sporadic interruptions to fill in details, the film is shot almost entirely from Phillip Marlowe's point of view: we see what he sees, and the lens gets punched when he gets punched. Doubling as director, Montgomery has fun with the technique, allowing the camera's `attention' to get sidetracked by a passing secretary or getting knocked out by a suspect, although he is completely stumped as to how to show a phone call, leading to the film's worst shot (a dull shot of a door with a receiver in the foreground). You tend to forget you're watching the gimmick, and in some scenes, such as Marlowe crawling away from a car wreck to a phone booth, it works incredibly well. There are some problems with the plotting, though: there's a huge clue to the central mystery in the cast list (two, in fact), and it's a shame that the entire lake section of the story is simply relayed in straight-to-camera dialogue (by far the most awkward part of Montgomery's performance). Jayne Meadows' performance also veers the film to the purely comic, but Lloyd Nolan is a convincingly unpleasant flatfoot and there's one great one-sided Christmas Eve phone conversation in the police chief's office.