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.