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Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 (Act of Violence / Mystery Street / Crime Wave / Decoy / Illegal / The Big Steal / They Live By Night / Side Street / Where Danger Lives / Tension)

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(Jul 31, 2007)
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Product Description

Film Noir Classics Collection, The: Volume 4 (DVD)

Ex-World War II pilot Frank Enley (Van Heflin) is a respected contractor and family man. Then his troubled, gimp-legged bombardier (Robert Ryan) shows up with a gun and a score to settle. Perhaps neither man is what he seems to be as director Fred Zinnemann (The Day of the Jackal) guides a searing Act of Violence, "the first postwar noir to take a challenging look at the ethics of men in combat" (Eddie Muller, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir). Murder lives on Mystery Street. John Sturges (The Great Escape) directs a revealing-for-the-era procedural about a Boston cop (Ricardo Montalban) solving a whodunit with the help of a Harvard forsensic expert (Bruce Bennett). Welcome to CSI Noir.



The fourth volume of Warner Video's Film Noir Classic Collection boasts ten titles on five double-feature discs--appropriate packaging for films that mostly run less than an hour-and-a-half and would have shared the marquee with another picture upon original release. It's a welcome set, with entries by top noir directors Anthony Mann and Nicholas Ray, several unheralded gems, and solid entertainment value in nearly every instance. But somebody (and it looks as if that's us) ought to mention that Warners is getting a mite cavalier with the label "film noir." You can have a '40s or '50s movie that's in black and white, involves criminal activity, and features stars like Robert Mitchum or Edward G. Robinson, and still not tap into the pungent atmosphere, perverse psychology, implacable fatalism, and jagged/voluptuous style that are the hallmarks of noir. Indeed, there are several such movies in this set--and in their non-noir ways, they're not bad.

Act of Violence (1948) is the real McCoy, albeit so meticulously directed by Fred Zinnemann in postwar-European style that it's virtually an art-film noir. Van Heflin plays a model small-town citizen suddenly confronted with a guilty WWII past, in the dark, limping, permanently trenchcoated figure of Robert Ryan. The film systematically dismantles the domestic security of Heflin's life till he's forced to flee his own home, which has become a trap, and escape into the nightworld of the big city. Mary Astor is superb as one of its few sympathetic denizens. Co-featured with Act of Violence is Mystery Street (1950), a hard-edged movie about a B-girl's murder and some of the proto-CSI techniques the police use to solve the crime. Directed by John Sturges, from a script by Richard Brooks and Sydney Boehm, the picture is enhanced by atmospheric Boston and Cape Cod settings and camerawork by Mr. Film Noir himself, John Alton.

For case-hardened noiristes, the disc holding Decoy and Crime Wave is the collection's prime catch. Decoy (1946), like Dillinger in Volume 2, is an ultra-low-budget offering from Monogram Pictures and a fascinatingly mixed bag of Poverty Row production values and flashes of directorial ambition (one night scene in a woods strongly suggests director Jack Bernhard had seen Sunrise). Its main attraction is a cold-hearted heroine who could pledge the same sorority as the dames from Double Indemnity, Gun Crazy, and The Lady from Shanghai. (Alas, British-born actress Jean Gillie appeared in only one subsequent film, dying at the age of 34.) Andre De Toth's Crime Wave (1954) places us in the awkward position of being grateful for the chance to see an exciting movie and obliged to disqualify it from the set: it's closer to the '50s police procedural (Dragnet et al.) than to film noir. Shot almost entirely on location, the picture virtually reeks of seedy L.A. nightlife and satisfyingly unreels without benefit of music score. Ted De Corsia, Nedrick Young, and Charles Buchinsky-soon-to-be-Bronson supply juicy villainy, with a characteristically unclean contribution late in the film from Timothy Carey. Gene Nelson plays an ex-con, resolved to go straight yet being forced to abet his newly escaped old cellmates, and the world-weary cop keeping tabs on all of them is Sterling Hayden.

The set's two stellar noir directors share a disc and costars, Farley Granger and the ethereal Cathy O'Donnell. They Live by Night (1948) was Nicholas Ray's maiden effort, and kinetically and emotionally the director found natural rapport with the spooked-animal vulnerability of his hero and heroine. This was the first film version of Edward Anderson's Depression-era novel Thieves Like Us (adapted again a quarter-century later by Robert Altman), and its tale of a young rural misfit drawn into more violent crime by older, harder fellow escapees from a prison farm anticipates the spirit of Ray's '50s teen classic Rebel Without a Cause. Side Street (1949) is fascinating as a bridge between Anthony Mann's great series of noirs shot by John Alton and the Western genre Mann would soon master. Working this time with a conventional MGM cameraman (Joseph Ruttenberg), the director demonstrates that the terrific "eye" that gave us T-Men, Border Incident, et al. was at least as much Mann's as Alton's, and he visualizes Manhattan as a collection of jagged skylines and deep, shadowed canyons. The script (by Sydney Boehm) involves a mail carrier (Granger) who, worried about taking proper care of his pregnant wife (O'Donnell), impulsively swipes an envelope full of money. Hard upon that "one false step," the family man finds himself caught up in a dark scheme involving blackmail and, several times over, murder.

Despite a screenplay by Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett and direction by John Farrow (The Big Clock), Where Danger Lives (1950) is easily the weakest entry in Vol. 4. Robert Mitchum plays a doctor who saves a would-be suicide, then falls for her without noticing she's crazy as a loon, and homicidal to boot. Soon they're on the run, sought by the law and at the mercy of every larcenous character between them and the Mexican border. Despite yeoman work by Mitchum and RKO shadowmaster Nicholas Musuraca, and the too-brief participation of Claude Rains, the film founders on the femme-fatale casting of Howard Hughes discovery Faith Domergue. A more memorably dodgy female complicates everybody's life in Tension (1950), the next-to-last Hollywood film for director John Berry before his blacklisting. This one's played by Audrey Totter--never a major star, but a delicious and definitive late-'40s dame (who also supplies sharp commentary on the auxiliary audio track). Her milquetoast husband, pharmacist Richard Basehart, sets up a second identity for himself under which to seek revenge for her numerous infidelities--till the new man he has become makes the acquaintance of neighbor Cyd Charisse. (No, Charisse does not dance, but those awesome legs are nevertheless put to creative use.) Eventually someone is dead, and cops Barry Sullivan and William Conrad enter the picture, contributing their own shades of gray to the noir palette. Another satisfying, little-known film that collections like this one lead us to discover.

There's also satisfaction to be had from our final pairing, Illegal and The Big Steal--even if both these titles have to be turned back at the noir border. Illegal (1955) is the third version of The Mouthpiece, a '30s play and film about an esteemed district attorney who falls from grace but rebounds as a spellbinding defense attorney much-sought-after by the criminal class. It was probably the best part Edward G. Robinson had in the '50s, and he's all the reason we need for watching. But the role and the story predated noir (the previous renditions came out in 1932 and 1940), and this movie, for all intents and purposes, postdates noir. In addition, sad to say, it's an artifact from that era when Warner Bros.' movies had started looking like the studio's TV shows. By contrast, The Big Steal (1949) springs from the heart of the classic noir era, was produced for perhaps the most noir-friendly of studios, RKO, and even boasts the costars and screenwriter of the sublime Out of the Past--which is to say, Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Daniel Mainwaring (a.k.a. "Geoffrey Homes"). The whirlwind first reel plops us right in the middle of several chases, with as many switcheroos of allegiance and direction, in pursuit of an "it" that won't be specified till some time later. All nimbly managed by director Don Siegel, on location in Mexico yet, and briskly over with in 72 minutes. But it's a comedy-adventure, not a film noir. Not even close.

Most of the films come accompanied by authoritative voiceover commentaries, including contributions by L.A. crime novelist James Ellroy (on Crime Wave) and surviving cast members Nina Foch (Illegal) and Audrey Totter (Tension). However, for a sporadic series of primers on noir style, which feature absurdly florid lighting of the talking heads and lesson-plan intertitles that belong on a blackboard, somebody at Warner Home Video should be taken for a ride. --Richard T. Jameson

Special Features

  • Includes:
  • Act of Violence (1948)
  • Commentary by Dr. Drew Casper
  • New featurette: Act of Violence: Dealing with the Devil
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Mystery Street (1950)
  • Commentary by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
  • New featurette: Mystery Street: Murder at Harvard
  • Crime Wave (1954)
  • Commentary by James Ellroy and film historian Eddie Muller
  • New featurette: Crime Wave: The City Is Dark
  • Decoy (1946)
  • Commentary by writer Stabley Rubin and film historian Glenn Erickson
  • New featurette: Decoy: A Map to Nowhere
  • Illegal (1955)
  • Commentary by Nina Foch and film historian Patricia King Hanson
  • Vintage Behind the Cameras segment with Edward G. Robinson from the Warner Bros. Presents TV series
  • New featurette: Illegal: Marked for Life
  • The Big Steal (1949)
  • Commentary by film historian Richard B. Jewell
  • New featurette: The Big Steal: Look Behind You
  • They Live by Night (1948)
  • Commentary by Farley Granger and film historian Eddie Muller
  • New featurette: They Live by Night: The Twisted Road
  • Side Street (1950)
  • Commentary by historian-critic Richard Schickel
  • New featurette: Side Street: Where Temptation Lurks
  • Where Danger Lives (1950)
  • Commentary by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini
  • New featurette: Where Danger Lives: White Rose for Julie
  • Tension (1950)
  • Commentary by film historians Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
  • New featurette: Tension: Who's Guilty Now?

Product Details

  • Actors: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Cathy O'Donnell, Farley Granger
  • Directors: André De Toth, Anthony Mann, Don Siegel, Fred Zinnemann, Jack Bernhard
  • Format: Box set, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Full Screen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 5
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: July 31, 2007
  • Run Time: 833 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000PKG7DE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,268 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 (Act of Violence / Mystery Street / Crime Wave / Decoy / Illegal / The Big Steal / They Live By Night / Side Street / Where Danger Lives / Tension)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By calvinnme HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 24, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This collection is the DVD debut for all ten of these films, and I don't even know if any of them are available on VHS. I've only seen them thanks to Turner Classic Movies playing them at odd hours, along with other cable channels presenting them over the years. They are excellent but not well remembered film noirs. I would rate them all between 4 and 5 stars. I thought I would list their descriptions, stars, and special features below, not in any particular order:

Crime Wave: (1954) Starring Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson. An ex-con is trying to go straight, but circumstances force him into crime one more time. Gene Nelson plays a hard-nosed cop. Note a young Charles Bronson playing a minor role.

Commentary by James Ellroy and Eddie Muller

Crime Wave: The City is Dark

Theatrical trailer

Decoy: (1946) Starring Gene Gillie and Edward Norris. Sci-Fi meets Film Noir in this story of a woman who will stop at nothing to retrieve 400K stolen in a robbery. Gillie would make Barbara Stanwyck proud as she chews up man after man in her quest.

Commentary by Stanley Rubin and Glenn Erickson

Decoy: A Map to Nowhere

Theatrical trailer

Illegal: (1955) Starring Edward G. Robinson and Nina Foch. Robinson plays a D.A. whose upwardly mobile career faces a train wreck when a man he convicted is executed and then found to be innocent. After he hits bottom he resurrects his legal career, this time as a criminal attorney. The plot can be hard to follow, but Robinson's performance is great.

Commentary by Nina Foch and Patricia King Hanson

Illegal: Marked for Life

Behind the Cameras: Edward G.
Read more ›
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Whoever put this collection together should get a promotion, a raise, and a personal letter of thanks from every serious noir fan. This is an absolutely wonderful assortment of moody, gritty noirs that deserve to be better known. Of the ten (yes, TEN!) movies in this collection, none except "The Big Steal" has ever been on commercial VHS, much less DVD. "Decoy" is so scarce that the only version generally circulating before now was taken from a European TV broadcast, complete with Croatian subtitles.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea: these are not masterpieces. They are, however, very good movies and quintessential noir. The selection has been made with care and affection. This set is ideal for newcomers to noir who have seen a number of the genre cornerstones and want to further steep themselves in the essential style without the glitter of A-list productions. Dedicated noirphiles, of course, have been awaiting official high-quality transfers of these films for years.

I can't say enough good things about this set. The intelligent mini-documentaries for each film and the insanely low price tag are the icing on this ten-layer cake. We can only hope the same people will be in charge of Volume 5 of this series! Maybe we'll get a similar assortment of worthwhile "Never on home video" films such as The Breaking Point, Cry of the City, The Locket, My Name is Julia Ross, Nightfall, The Prowler, Screaming Mimi, Talk About a Stranger, The 13th Letter, The Unsuspected, The Verdict, and more. (Okay, I didn't bother to check who owns the rights to those movies, but you get the idea.)
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Okay...I'll let others go into the actual films..
I enjoy them all for different reasons but am a noir fan and a big fan of Mitchum and Sterling Hayden who appear here so I didn't need convincing to purchase. Lets not forget these are directed by Andre De Toth, Nicholas Ray,Don Siegel, Anthony Mann,John Sturges and Fred Zinnemann...legends all. Its also fun to see Charles Bronson as a bit player in "Crime Wave" along with Gene Nelson (not singing or dancing in this one) as well as a young Janet Leigh in "Act OF Violence".

I'd like to review the DVDs themselves...(having just made my way through much of this).
first ...the transfers are excellent (typical for WB's older titles)
The extras...commentaries are by legit experts who know the films and add real value.The commentary by James Ellroy on Crime WAve is the most unbelievably NONPC and hysterically funny/interseting one I've ever heard PERIOD. The short featurettes are also enlightening and give extra value to the project as well as info on the films which added to my enjoymment. These featurettes which feature folks like Oliver Stone, show film clips and the interview subjects are shot/lit very noirish which ads to the flavor and class of this presentation.

I picked this up for $39...thats $4 per film!! If you are a noir fan its simply a no brainer and if you aren't ...why are you reading this(not being smart , sincere). If you have an interest you will not be dissapointed with the quality of the presentation on these films. I agree with the other reviewer..after a slight misstep on NOIR 3..WB is back on the ball...great job!
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I as a little annoyed with Volume 3 in the series. The films were all good choices (let's face it, I'm a noir completist, so just about any classic noirs making it to DVD qualify as good choices to me), but the packaging was irritating - the titles were not sold individually and they were packaged in dinky slim cases not in keeping with the rest of the series. Now, not only has Warners gone back to the original packaging, but they are generously offering 10 films as double features for the same price as the previous 5, all of them great lesser-known choices (the top of the heap here being Crime Wave, They Live by Night, Act of Violence, and Where Danger Lives), plus commentaries and short documentaries for each and every feature and the original trailers for many of the films. Here's hoping for Volume 5 - I can't imagine there's much left in the vaults, but then again I believe Warners owns the whole RKO catalog, so there are probably enough additional titles to make another set. Note to Warner's - please release ALL of your noir holdings. And don't forget about some of the espionage films that fall loosely into the noir category - perhaps a separate box set of those?
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