In the 40's and 50's the juiciest roles for actresses in Hollywood were often in B-pictures that explored the dark side of life: starring roles as cool, calculating gals who could stick a knife in a man's back and make him like it. Lizabeth Scott, Gloria Grahame, and Evelyn Keyes were some of the best of the period, and are among Noir fans' favorites for their roles in such classics of the genre as Dead Reckoning and The Racket (Scott), The Big Heat and Human Desire (Grahame), 99 River Street and The Prowler (Keyes). Here's your chance to see them at work in some great films straight out of the vault, newly restored and re-mastered, for the first time on DVD. Co-starred with the likes of Edmund O'Brien, Charleton Heston, and Vittorio Gassman these dames shine a like the brightest stars in Hollywood, and each film packs in plenty of the best bad girl behavior.
The femme fatale is front and center in volume 1 of Bad Girls of Film Noir
, a quartet of low-budget, Truman-era crime movies from the Columbia vaults. Evelyn Keyes is the most extreme example of deadly female in 1951's The Killer That Stalks New York
; she's a smuggler and unwitting carrier of smallpox who passes the disease to the innocent and unscrupulous alike. Based on a real smallpox outbreak in New York in 1947, the film is part medical thriller and part educational film thanks to a doom-and-gloom narrator (the ubiquitous Reed Hadley) who informs the viewer of Keyes's progress in spreading death. Also from '51 is Two of a Kind
, with the morally questionable Lizabeth Scott and Alexander Knox scheming to bilk an elderly couple out of their savings by passing off gambler Edmond O'Brien as their long-absent son; it's a somewhat lighter shade of noir, thanks to the presence of a youthful Terry Moore as the couple's naive niece, though veteran scene-stealers Scott and O'Brien have their moments. And Scott returns in Bad for Each Other
(1953), a sudsy drama with Charlton Heston as a weak-willed army doctor who falls under the sway of a socialite (Scott, naturally) who lures him away from his small-town practice. Less of a noir than what the industry used to call a "woman's picture," Bad
succeeds largely as a camp practice, thanks in part to Heston's voracious scenery chewing.
Volume 1 is rounded out with The Glass Wall (also '53), with Vittorio Gassman as a Hungarian immigrant searching for the American G.I. (Jerry Paris) whose life he saved during World War II so that he can attain legal status. Noir fave Gloria Grahame is the out-of-work factory employee whose own desperation drives her to help Gassman. Period footage of Times Square is a highlight of the picture, as is the presence of Grahame in a rare good-girl turn. The double-disc presentation includes original trailers for all four films, the best of which is the spot for Glass Wall, which attempts to sell Italian actor Gassman to stateside audiences by telling them that if his wife, actress Shelley Winters, loves him, why shouldn't they? There's also a breezy 1956 episode of The Ford Television Theatre (billed as All Star Theatre) with the always-reliable Howard Duff as a private eye who becomes entangled with a dangerous Janet Blair. And a recent interview with Moore, which covers her tenure as a contract player at Columbia, when Two of a Kind was made, is an interesting capper for this pleasantly pulpy set. --Paul Gaita