Dark Victories, Part Two

Up to cinematic no good in sinister back alleys, pitch black nocturnal streets, and, surprisingly, respectable homes and strange locales, FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF CINEMA, VOLUME IV (a three-disc set, now on Blu-Ray from the gunsels at Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/ Universal Studios) opens with a bang.  And, of course, we mean that literally.

As suggested above, what makes this volume different from the others is the diverse choice of shadowy dramas – a perfect example of how, during its peak, the genre could adapt to almost any situation. Case in point, the action-packed steamy-seamy exotic 1947 hit CALCUTTA.  The penchant for noir to be placed in foreign, mysterious locales took on an almost sidebar genre after the war.  Saigon, Singapore, Tokyo Joe, The Bribe, Captain Carey, U.S.A., Mara Maru and a slew of others peppered the spicy fare for nabes, along with the homegrown mean street stuff.  Natch, they were all filmed on the backlots in Hollywood; and, likewise, as in this selection, often starred Paramount’s (again, literally) fair-haired boy, Alan Ladd.

Ladd’s in his tough guy noir element here, as a member of a post-WWII Far Eastern air transport service, along with pals William Bendix and John Whitney.

When Whitney’s character, Bill Cunningham, gets knocked off in a dead end row, Neale Gordon (Ladd) and Pedro Blake (Bendix), sick of official red tape, decide to take matters into their own hands.  Before you can say, blackjacked, Gordon is torpedoed into a whirlpool of oily casinos, oilier casino plungers, ruthless gun runners, jewel smuggling and drop-dead gorgeous dames (Gail Russell AND June Duprez). “You’re cold…and egotistical,” mouths a memorable inhabitant to our hero.  “Yeah, but I’m alive,” is his reply, in a delivery worthy of Mitchum.  The script by producer Seton I. Miller is chock full of lethal bon mots, including this smoothie-doozie: “I would have hated to have killed you.”

The no-nonsense direction is by genre specialist John Farrow, and features shimmering black-and-white photography by John F. Seitz.  A memorable score by Victor Young tops the package on this replay-friendly disc (the movie was one of those Paramounts that used to air on TV constantly throughout the 1960s, then disappeared in the 1970s; it’s so good to see it back in this striking 35MM transfer) that also offers great thesp support from Lowell Gilmore, Edith King, Paul Singh, Gavin Muir, Benson Fong, Gertrude Astor, Jimmy Aubrey, Don Beddoe, Harry Cording, Milton Parsons, and Bobby Barber.

The platter includes audio commentary by critic Nick Pinkerton and the theatrical trailer.

1948’s AN ACT OF MURDER draws the fine line between straight drama and noir, placing people usually divorced from the genre into noose-tightening situations.  In this case, the protagonists aren’t private dicks, returning war vets or guilty amnesiacs, but a happily married middle-aged couple.

Judge Calvin Cooke and his wife Cathy have raised a family and are gleefully looking forward to finally enjoying some golden years alone time.  Cooke, a conservative member of the bar who’s lived by the black or white rule of law is about to be thrown a curve.  Cathy begins suffering from excruciating pains that their family doctor discovers is the worst case scenario.  She has cancer, and will disintegrate mentally and physically, slowly and agonizingly.

The judge, unable to take the stress of watching his spouse die a horrible death fantasizes, then decides to bring to fruition a quicker solution.  He will murder her, thus ending the woman’s torture.  An idea his professional self would have loathed, Cooke learns that there are instances where drastic measures might become the moral and right thing to do.

The final denouement reveals one additional shocking layer to the judge’s story, as the walls keep closing in.

Certainly a movie meant to cause a debate (especially in 1948), AN ACT OF MURDER was directed by then-noir ace Michael Gordon (The Web, Woman in Hiding, The Lady Gambles), before becoming known for his most famous work…Pillow Talk (his second most famous work is grandson Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and coscripted by Michael Blankfort (Gordon would be blacklisted; Blankfort would hire out as a “front”) with Robert Thoeren (from the novel The Mills of Gods by Ernst Lothar).  The cast is first-rate, led by real-life husband and wife Fredric March and Florence Eldridge, and also featuring Edmond O’Brien, Geraldine Brooks, Stanley Ridges, John McIntire, Will Wright, Virginia Brissac, Francis McDonald, Don Beddoe, Clarence Muse, Harry Harvey, Thomas E. Jackson, Ray Teal, and Russ Conway.  The slick black-and-white cinematography is by Hal Mohr and the score by Daniele Amfitheatrof wrap up this controversial package, handsomely remastered for this Kino-Lorber set in 35MM 1080p perfection (extras include a trailer gallery and audio commentary by Sammi Deighan).

For me, 1955’s SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS is VOLUME IV’s gem.

A fictional depiction of the events surrounding the world-famous 1950 Great Brinks robbery, screenwriter Sydney Boehm (working from Joseph F. Dinnen’s story “They Stole $25,000,000 – and Got Away With It”) leaves no crooked stone unturned, as he goes for the grittiest, most violent and authentic lifestyles that a major studio could get away with in the mid-1950s.  The cast is noteworthy (more on that later), the lead spectacular:  Tony Curtis plays Jerry Florea, a person so “genuine,” that I used to think he was he was based on a real dude.

Florea grows up in the slums of Boston, never trusting a cop – always going for whatever it takes to live in high style.  But Florea isn’t a mere thug, he’s an intelligent, savvy, charming playa who quickly learns how to buck the system.

When rookie cop Ed Gallagher takes a liking to him, things seem to be pointed toward the turning-over-a-new-leaf direction.  But, as the years pass, (with Gallagher now a detective), Florea is carving it both ways – an informant for the police, and the mastermind behind the most famous heist in the history of the State, if not the country.

The not-so-secret reason behind Gallagher’s guardian angel jones for Florea is guilt.  He had earlier shot the young thief in a…very vulnerable area.  No exact mention is made (it is 1955 after all), except that he “can never have children.”  Still, pretty raw for the period.  When Gallagher realizes he’s been played for a fool, it’s quite a noirish moment to savor.

Director Joseph Pevney keeps the action and twisting human emotions in check, and master cinematographer William Daniels provides a stark black-and-white tableau of Fifties Massachusetts (where much of the movie was shot).  The cast supporting Curtis is top-drawer, although his two costars aren’t shown to the greatest advantage. George Nader (as Gallagher) is a basically your standard jughead cop, certainly no match for Curtis.  Julie Adams is totally wasted (in a non-alcoholic way) in the role of Ellen, Gallagher’s wife; there are rarely any scenes of the hausfrau outside of the Gallagher kitchen, gratuitously doling out the vittles with a plethora of platitudes (“How was your day?” “Dinner’s ready.” “You look so tired.”  “Hi, Jerry, there’s plenty for three.” You get it).  Everyone else, however, is way up to snuff.  Sal Mineo plays teen Tony and the remainder thugs ‘n’ mugs are ably impersonated by Jay C. Flippen (I think it was the law that every Fifties movie HAD to have either him or Robert Keith in the cast), Jan Merlin, Tito Vuolo, Paul Dubov, Peter Leeds, and Curtis’s real-life off-screen pal Nicky Blair.

The widescreen transfer is aces, and the score by Frank Skinner and Herman Stein functions well, with the credits offering a surprise treat of a title song composed by no less than fellow Universal-International star Jeff Chandler, and sung by Sammy Davis, Jr.!  Extras include commentary by Deighan and a wonderful 1955 TV promo piece with Curtis.

Early proof that Tony Curtis was more than a pretty boy, SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS was the actor’s stepping stone to Sweet Smell of Success, The Defiant Ones and other later successes.

FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF CINEMA, VOLUME IV.  Black and white.  Full frame [1.37:1]/Widescreen [1.85:1 for Six Bridges to Cross].  1080p High Definition.  2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K24734.  SRP: $49.95.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

I cannot fully express the joyous fireworks emanating from my cinematic heart with the Blu-Ray release of the 1968 period action-adventure GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN (now available from the compadres at The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment).  I literally wept with happiness (I really did!) when this title was formally announced for Blu-Ray; I’m not trying to intentionally sound flowery or “gushy” – I genuinely love this movie (it hit me at just the right time way back in ’68).  It’s one of my favorite Sixties epics – and one that I had all but given up hope of ever seeing the light of 1080p day.  So glad I was wrong.

The movie recounts the legend of Mexican Army deserter/outlaw Leon Alastray, a thoroughly ruthless, violent, womanizing rogue.  GUNS doesn’t waste a single frame in its 111-minute-running time, opening with a slambang sequence of a wounded Alastray eluding military troops (and practically destroying a village) before galloping his stolen horse up the steps of the local cathedral – a move that guarantees him sanctuary.

Protected by the elderly Father Joseph, Alastray recovers from his injuries – while the aging priest is “rewarded” by being given the most unruly, remote, and dangerous parish in the country – the small ravaged town of San Sebastian.  Knowing the noble man of the cloth will undoubtedly perish provides a glimmer of joy to the hypocritical Cardinals, Vicars, and Bishops who worship only their power and wealth; they also plan to turn Leon over to the authorities, once Father Joseph leaves.  But the wily scoundrel has a trick up his sleeve, and effortlessly escapes by hiding in the Father’s donkey cart.  As they brave the treacherous terrain, Alastray beseeches the old man to head toward a safe place – for both of them.  Joseph refuses, calmly using the Bible’s faith talking points.  The two men come to genuinely like each other – a friendship cut short, when, upon reaching the deserted San Sebastian, Joseph is killed.  The murderer is a lone bandit, working under auspices of Teclo, a warlord chieftain, who controls the town and rules over its inhabitants with unflinching terror.

Leon, mistaken for the long-awaited cleric, is tortured by Teclo, and only given a reprieve when the beauteous local, Kinita, asks for his life.

Revealing to San Sebastianians that he is not the priest they expected (and not a priest at all) falls upon deaf ears, as the villagers don’t seem to care and take their savior any way they can.

Leon’s greatest test comes via his involvement with angelic Kinita – whom he sexually tries to force himself upon, but stops.  Something within him has changed; in a twist, the saintly female WANTS him to satisfy her.  Likely the most difficult character notorious lothario Anthony Quinn ever played (and, yet, this is one of the many parts he was born for).

The title of this piece describes the above-discussed plot-point, but also the motif that runs throughout, in front of and behind the camera.  The town’s populace are sheep, who, under Alastray’s guidance, ironically become wolves – fighting back against the vile Teclo.  Kinita is also a human paradox, an innocent who needs her lust satiated, and ultimately doesn’t care if Leon is a priest or not.  Teclo himself, lives a contradictory life – a man of the land, yet, because of his half-breed heritage – not belonging anywhere.  He is despised by both the Mexicans and the Native Yaquis, who also prey upon the town.  Even the battle for San Sebastian by the two above evil factions is, likewise, a scam, as it’s revealed that Teclo is actually in cahoots with the Indian raiders, led by pureblood Golden Lance.  And, of course, the top religious figures are self-serving fakes cloaked in robes and jewels, who care nothing about their flocks.  In a further touch of irony, the true spiritual element of the piece turns out to be allegorically physical: the almost mythical white stallion that leads a herd of horses through the mountains – an animal desired by all sides.

So, for all its political and nonsecular stuff, GUNS is a stylish cover for a sexy adventure, with the ambiguous mantra of faith being the spur for fighting back (another “wolf”).

The movie was (at least in America) touted as a mammoth spaghetti western, which, while indeed may seem so, is anything but.  It is not a western, taking place in the year 1743, and, in the most southern regions of Mexico/South America (referred to by the more reverential as the New World).  While admittedly looking and sounding like a spaghetti entry, Italy was the only country NOT chiefly involved in GUNS’ production.  The movie was primarily partnered by French/Mexican/American interests.  It was probably the best of the series of motion-pictures made for MGM release by Jacques Bar.  Arguably, the impressive extravaganza does seem largely Italian because of the scenario overtones, the look, and primarily, the sound (post-dubbing by the English speaking international cast), and the score by the one major Italian involved, the great Ennio Morricone.

GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN was lavishly shot in Mexico (Sierra de Organos, Sombrerete, Zaccatecas) by the brilliant d.p. Armand Thirard (cinematographer for Henri-Georges Couzot’s The Wages of Fear and Diabolique).  It was directed by the extremely underrated Henri Verneuil, a director who I championed rhapsodically specifically because of this movie and his subsequent 1969 French gangster triumph The Sicilian Clan.  Had he made no other pics ever, he’d still be on the top of my Great Sixties Directors list because of this pair.

Star Quinn needs no more juice (as mentioned, he’s fantastic in the movie), but his outstanding support, chosen from a variety of global locales, does.  Sam Jaffee is excellent as Father Joseph, as are Mexico’s Jaime Fernandez (as Golden Lance), Pedro Armandariz, Jr. (as Father Lucas, like Joseph, a true man of the cloth), and Silvia Pinal (a Luis Bunuel favorite) as a titled former whore, France’s Fernand Gravet (star of Metro’s 1938 The Great Waltz) as her cuckolded husband, Germany’s Leon Askin as a pompous religious martinet (a superb actor, adored by Billy Wilder, and best known as General Burkhalter on TV’s Hogan’s Heroes), and Charles Bronson as Teclo – just beginning his rise to the top, and soon to be a worldwide A-list star.  I saved my last kudo for the glorious Anjanette Comer as progressive independent Kinita.  When I first glimpsed her in GUNS, back in ’68, I declared to myself that there was at that time and space no more beautiful woman in contemporary cinema.  Looking at her presence now, 53 years later, I can defiantly say that I was right.

Typical of foreign movies destined for key American distribution during the Sixties (El Cid, After the Fox, etc), GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN has a script credited to a Yank, James R. Webb (Apache, Vera Cruz, The Big Country, How the West was Won, Cape Fear).  Yet, there is nothing in the author’s lengthy resume that vaguely comes close to the complex subject matter and relationships (i.e., the “Euro feel”) that weave together during the course of the narrative.  A little researching (before the advent of the internet) revealed the not-so-surprising fact that the screenplay (from the novel by William Barby Faherty) was mostly scripted by Serge Gance, Miguel Morayta, Emilio De Concini, and Elinor Karpf.

As for the previously mentioned score…it is my favorite Morricone composition.  And think about that!  The most rousing, mesmerizing movie music I ever heard (I still constantly spin my FSM CD soundtrack); after screening this new Blu-Ray, I couldn’t stop humming the haunting love theme (with rapturous siren-esque vocals by Edda Dell’Orso), driving everyone within hearing distance of Casa Neuhaus crazy (well, crazier).

GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN was lensed in the anamorphic process FranScope, and, as indicated, sumptuously captured by cinematographer Thirard.  Until this Blu-Ray, the true rich colors of the landscape have never been properly captured (the best prints resembled the quality of the enclosed theatrical trailer – not bad, but nowhere near the perfection of the real thing).  Picture and audio (in remastered stereo) on this platter are top-notch.

FUN FACT:  A “Making Of” featurette that aired on TV stations to promote GUNS in ’68 is also included (I remember it well).  A bit rough-looking for wear, it nevertheless encompasses footage of director Verneuil and star Quinn at work, and even has a nice blooper outtake with Quinn and Comer (as she attempts to mount a horse).  What’s cool is that it was shot by actor-turned-cameraman John A. Alonzo (later to win acclaim for shooting Chinatown), who played one of the Mexicans begging mercenaries for help in 1960’s The Magnificent Seven, a saga sharing similar themes to GUNS.

Recommended without reservation!

GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. CAT # B094B5WFPJ. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment. SRP: $21.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.

Stranger Than Fiction

A riveting true-crime story, 2020’s acclaimed UK mini-series, DES, starring the extraordinary David Tennant, comes to Blu-Ray, thanks to the crackerjack team at Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment, in concert with Sundance Now/all3media/New Pictures.

The three-part narrative revolves around the mild-mannered Dennis Nilsen, who, in 1983 calmly admitted to the serial killing of fifteen men, after the undeniable “death stench” from his North London digs alerted the attention of a local constable.

Nilsen, nicknamed “Des” never denied the horrendous acts; his placidity only intensified the ensuing investigation with an aura of creepiness.  He was as fascinated with himself, as were the detectives, psychologists, and the public.  “Why did you do it?,” he was repeatedly asked.  “I don’t really know,” he answered disappointingly, “I was hoping you could tell me.”

The series, which covers the discovery, the incarceration, the on-going sleuthing, the trial, and its aftermath is first-rate television drama at its best.  In the land of Jack the Ripper, it’s quite a back-handed compliment to be officially acknowledged as the most prolific serial killer in the country’s history.

There are engrossing intertwining stories in DES that figure prominently in the scenario, specifically that of DCI Peter Jay, who tries to understand what compelled such an intelligent, quiet member of the community to commit such horrors.  That Nilsen’s lonely personal life in freakish ways mirrors Jay’s is but one of the minefields explored in this thriller (the bizarre parallels continued long after the case ended; both men died in 2018).  The third human connection is that of Brian Masters, a noted author, who gains Nilsen’s confidence, becoming the killer’s Boswell and, in a series of interviews, puts together the makings of what would make a best-selling book of the case,  A Killing for Company (off and on with Des’s approval).  The fact that the three work together to hopefully and ultimately solve the mystery of Des is what makes this show so great.

Not all of Des’s marks became victims.  Some were let free after spending the night talking about their lives with the genial monster; indeed, he became known as “the kindly killer,” who, nevertheless, on another occasion, would boil a guest’s head in a stew pot.

Additionally hampering the case are the political ramifications enforced by Jay’s superiors and civilian ties.  Suppression of evidence becomes a roadblock the frustrated DCI must rise above when it is revealed that Nilsen was himself a former cop during the previous decade (he left the force because of homophobic bullying), and, the fact that one of Des’s (still missing) vics may be the son of a connected influential family.  This further makes both Jay and Masters wonder if fifteen is really the total number of Des’s “work” – a reasonable question, as there were over 8000 missing persons reported during the five years Nilsen preyed upon the local gay male community.

Naturally, DES is a tour de force for the three leads, especially star David Tennant.  Prior to this, I had just finished watching the hilarious Good Omens, where the actor played the riotous, snarky Crowley.  Most viewers know Tennant as the male lead in Broadchurch, but this chameleon actor has also rocked such diverse a resume as Jessica Jones, Dr. Who, Fright Night, Mary Queen of Scots, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the voice characterizations in such animated fare as DuckTails, Postman Pat, Thunderbirds are Go, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.  As his chain-smoking Des, the Shakespearean-trained Tennant adapts an almost Tony Perkins/Norman Bates vibe, not only in demeanor and affability, but, amazingly, in his physical appearance.  No wonder he achieved a slew of new accolades for his performance.

Not far behind are the Beta roles of DCI Jay and Brian Masters, beautifully realized by Daniel Mays and Jason Watkins. Other stellar turns are delivered by Ron Cook, Barry Ward, Faye McKeever, Doc Brown, Bronagh Waugh, Jay Simpson, Alex Bhat, Joel Morris, Chanel Cresswell, Jonathan Coy, Oscar Garland, and Cal MacAninch.

Balancing the on-camera histrionics are the behind-the-lens efforts, notably the top-notch direction (Lewis Arnold, who also created the project for television), scripting (Luke Neal, Kelly Jones), intentionally dingy widescreen camerawork (Mark Wolf), and scoring (Sarah Warne).

The single-disc Blu-Ray of DES is splendid, looking and sounding aces; a special ten minute supplement accompanies the bravura episodes.

LSS, I heartily recommend DES without reservation.  It’s quite likely you’ll want to watch the entire 145 minutes in one sitting, probably with your jaw dropped to knee level.

DES. Color.  Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/Sundance Now/all3media/New Pictures. CAT# SUN13440BD. SRP: $29.95.

Dark Victories, Part One

The second most popular and collectable home video genre (the first, being “horror”), film noir, gets a big boost in the arm (and gorilla punches to the gut) with the superb Kino-Lorber Studio Classics box set collections of FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF CINEMA.

The slipcovered (mostly) trilogies, generally featuring selections from the Universal Pictures archive, are a more than welcome addition to the Blu-Ray fold.  Comprised of titles that used to play TV constantly throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, but had all since disappeared (even on TCM), these noirs have been given the best rebirth possible – in stunning new 1080p masters from 35MM materials; another plus: where applicable, they shine in their original widescreen aspect ratios.

Are they of the ilk of, let’s say, Out of the Past or The Big Heat?  Well, admittedly, no.  But they DO encompass top stars and directors recounting nasty tales of anti-heroes pursued by twisted twists, drooling psychopaths, and crooked partners.

The three entries in VOLUME II  (THUNDER ON THE HILL, THE PRICE OF FEAR, THE FEMALE ANIMAL) all hail from the genre’s crossover period from golden to twilight years.  That is to say, that some of these offerings aren’t “straight-up” noir, but certainly contain enough elements to make the grade.  While one did play bottom half to a featured U-I attraction, ALL contain expert photography and technical credits.  LSS, each of these flicks is an entertainment pip, sure to delight every noir fan in the house.  I guarantee that many of you have never heard of most of these noirs, which makes their availability all the more enticing.  So, pour yourself a slug (better than taking one), light up a coffin nail, and be prepared for anything!

1951’s THUNDER ON THE HILL has some mighty formidable credentials.  It costars Claudette Colbert with everyone’s bitch-daughter-you-love-to-hate, Ann Blyth, and it’s directed by Douglas Sirk!  Colbert and Sirk had already scored with noir in 1946’s Sleep My Love, an underrated Gaslight saga; furthermore, Sirk had excelled with 1947’s Lured, a personal Neuhaus favorite from the director’s outstanding filmography.

THUNDER transcends mere noir, adding elements of horror, and unfolds its nightmarish scenario, via a tight script by Andrew Solt (who wrote two of the genre’s greatest, In a Lonely Place and Whirlpool) and Oscar Saul (adapted from the play by Charlotte Hastings).  Colbert is a nun ensconsed (along with her sisters) in a creepy castle-like structure during a violent storm.  The storm, a ferocious reminder of Mother Nature’s fury, has become a refuge for the traumatized townsfolk, having already destroyed much of the surrounding rural property (and populace).  The survivors cram into the “sanctuary,” along with a makeshift medical team to care for the villagers wounded during the tsunami.

Among the newest arrivals is shackled Valerie Carns, a convicted teen murderess, waiting for the squall to subside so that she can be properly executed.  Carns’ nasty, snarky demeanor doesn’t win her any of her fellow inhabitants’ sympathy – save Sister Mary Bonaventure, who suspects something is amiss.  A little detective work leads the nun to believe that the young woman, ranting of her innocence, could be telling the truth – and, worse, that the demented true psychotic is among them.

Sirk, along with ace cinematographer William Daniels, doesn’t miss a trick; the goth trappings (Universal leftovers from their trademark monster outings) are beautifully rendered in crisp monochrome.  A stellar supporting cast aids the proceedings, and includes Robert Douglas, Anne Crawford, Philip Friend, Gladys Cooper, Michael Pate, John Abbott, Connie Gilchrist, Gavin Muir, Norma Varden, Queenie Leonard, Gertrude Astor, Arthur Gould-Porter, Tudor Owen, and Tempe Pigott.  A nice score by Hans J. Salter helps raise the goosebumps. Those wary of any movie featuring a nun should shelve their worries aside; THUNDER ON THE HILL is an excellent thriller that will definitely not disappoint your viewers.

Along with a perfect noir title, 1956’s THE PRICE OF FEAR is appended by an expert cast, and plot.  To use an oft-turned phrase, it’s got more twists than a pretzel, and one that’s extra salty.

Pampered heiress Jessica Warren, thinking, like so many of the 1%,  that she’s above the law, recklessly kills an innocent pedestrian in a hit-and-run during a drunken late night drive home.  She feels remorse for all about ten seconds, even briefly considering calling the police.  But then her perfect alibi emerges as Dave Barrett becomes the ideal noir fall guy – at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Jessica slithers off, correctly assuming Dave’ll be blamed for the death.

But everyone has a past – and connections.  The innocent ain’t always so innocent.  Vicious gangster Frankie Edare discovers the truth, and blackmails Warren, using her as bait in a murder plot; Barrett, meanwhile, has friends in high places who’ll give him just enough rope to either hang himself or lasso the actual culprit.

This neat and tidy little noir was helmed by Abner Biberman, the actor-turned-director (he was “Louie” in Hawks’ His Girl Friday), who, not surprisingly, had a great rapport with thesps.  And, indeed, he does get some nice results from his notable players.  Merle Oberon, definitely now on the B-list, is simultaneously creepy and sympathetic; Lex Barker, as the designated dupe, makes a believable “hero.”  Add Warren Stevens (as Edare), Charles Drake, Phillip Pine, Mary Field, Konstantin Shayne, Stafford Repp, Robert Carson, and Biberman himself and you have quite a rogue’s gallery of perilous punims.  The taut script (from a story by Dick Irving Hyland) is by Robert Talman, best known for such iconic TV mysteries as Ironside, Hawaiian Eye, Suspense, Climax, M Squad, and Perry Mason.  Topping it all is the moody black-and-white widescreen photography by Irving Glassberg, lensed in the weird aspect ratio of 2:00, a shape that Universal momentarily experimented with in the mid-Fifties.  The music by Heinz Roemheld is typical of the studio during that period. 

FUN FACT:  THE PRICE OF FEAR went out nationally at the bottom half of U-I double bill with The Creature Walks Among Us.

1958’s THE FEMALE ANIMAL is a rather nasty look at Hollywood – practically a sub-genre in 1950’s cinema.  In effect, imagine Sunset Boulevard, as envisioned by the publishers of Confidential (with a sprinkling of Mildred Pierce) – and you have a good idea of where this gritty, sordid drama is headed.

Glamorous, horny and aging movie star Vanessa Windsor (glamorous, horny and aging Hedy Lamarr, in her final movie) can’t stop salivating over studio extra (wait for it) Chris Farley (aka, George Nader).  But Vanessa has many secrets, the most lip-biting being her grown, beauteous daughter Penny (Jane Powell, in a definitely different kind of part).  Vanessa and Chris initially can’t wait to claw and paw each other in a carnal carnival.  Then, Chris happens across Penny getting into a bad situation with a bad crowd.  Now both women can’t wait to claw and paw him, and smirking  Farley ain’t exactly objecting (to cut the beefcake some slack, he doesn’t know Penny is Vanessa’s daughter…at first).  Realizing that he could end up like William Holden – riddled with Swiss cheese bullet holes at the bottom of a swimming pool, Farley is delighted when his buddy/agent arranges a Euro deal to star in some action movies.  But first the action of another kind in the States still has to play out, and the ultra-pretty women are about to make it mucho ugly.

Gloriously produced by Albert Zugsmith (read my earlier pieces on Mamie Van Doren) and directed by Harry Keller (the guy who reshot some of Touch of Evil), THE FEMALE ANIMAL benefits from an acid-tinged script by Robert Hill (story by Zugsmith), a nifty supporting cast (Jan Sterling, Jerry Paris, Gregg Palmer, Mabel Albertson, James Gleason, Richard H. Cutting, Ann Doran, Max Showalter, Laurie Mitchell, Almira Sessions, Frank Sully, and William Henry ), and, best of all, slick black-and-white CinemaScope photography by the great Russell Metty.

Sterling is particularly slutty, tossing off some great one-liners (“Keep on sharecropping,” she sneers at Nader).  Lamarr, faking authenticity before showing her talons offers Nader and Powell a cringe worthy “I want you two to love one another as we love each other!” Yikes!

FUN FACT: In addition to “cleaning up” Touch of Evil, Keller was given another bonus when this pic had the Welles movie supporting it in the direct-to-nabe/grindhouse/drive-in circuit.  Yep, you read right – Touch of Evil was bottom-halved with this flick, no doubt abiding to the theory that experienced female animals like it on top.

Ain’t these flicks cool?

FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF CINEMA II. Black and white.  Full frame and widescreen [1.35, 2.00 & 2.35:1, respectively; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA mono.  Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios.  CAT # K24664.  SRP: $49.95.