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A Mixed Bag
on November 11, 2010
Since I already own and enjoy the previous four volumes of the Warner Brothers Film Noir Classic Collection, this fifth volume was eagerly anticipated. Well, I've watched all eight films twice and the set turns out to be a decidedly mixed bag. As others have said, not all of these films are true noir and a couple of them were actually fairly lame. Here's what I like from first to worst:
1) Armored Car Robbery: This is the cream of the crop. Excellent noir, hardbitten characters, and no sentimental nonsense that interferes. Good story, great locations, strong performances.
2) The Phenix City Story: Not true noir but a gripping tale about city openly corrupt and controlled by a vicious cabal of ruthless criminals quick to murder anyone who seriously opposed them and to randomly thrash anyone suspected of thinking about it. It takes a few courageous men led by a crusading lawyer to finally bring real law and order to a town that had suffered under the criminal syndicate for a century. Best of all, the basic story is a true one. The lead-in interviews are distracting and obnoxious but the movie itself is a winner. Note black characters in sympathetic and even heroic roles, very unusual for the times. The protagonists and the antagonists play their roles to the hilt!
3) Desperate: Another good noir that has Raymond Burr in fine form as the ruthless head of a gang that tricks a truck driver into participating in a warehouse burglary that goes sour when a cop stumbles on the scene and is killed. The gang-leader's brother faces the death penalty and Burr wants the truck driver to take the rap...or else! The ending is sweet vindication for the driver and for justice.
Here's where it gets harder to choose...which is worst?
4) Dial 1119: Though hardly noir, I kind of enjoyed this tale of an escaped mental ward patient who seeks to kill the doctor who had him committed. He has no compunction about killing anyone who stands in his way because he believes his imagined war-time experiences have given him the right to kill. The lead man here does a credible job of acting deranged and will keep the viewer wondering who will be next to reap his wrath until finally the tables are turned on him.
5) Cornered: A convoluted tale of a man seeking the Nazi collaborator who killed his wife during the war. And the trail leads...to Argentina! Hard to follow at times, this film will take several viewings to figure out who is who and what is what.
6) Backfire: More of a romantic mystery with noirish touches, this movie has its share of odd twists but some of the goofy touches keep it from being the kind of movie it could be were it better written.
7) Deadline at Dawn: Unbelievably silly tale of a sailor, a dime-a-dance girl, a meddling taxi driver and a dead body. There is an element of romance here, but the sailor is hapless and hopeless and the taxi driver a pontificating fool. Where'd they dredge this one up?
8) Crime In the Streets: An almost unimaginably hokey tale of juvenile delinquency that threatens to blossom into outright criminality. Full of stock characters including the inevitable crusading do-gooder. The gang fight that opens the film is a joke and the film goes rapidly downhill from there. Give this rubbish one star.
Despite my misgivings about a couple of the films, overall I found the set enjoyable. But for the price, extras could have been provided. Commentary by industry insiders often elucidates that which seems dense and impenetrable. I am already looking forward to Volume 6. But please, Warner Brothers, make it a noir!