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Kino on Video presents
Film Noir: Five Classics From the Studio Vaults (Scarlet Street, The Hitch-Hiker, Contraband, They Made Me a Fugitive, Strange Impersonation) (1940-53)

Adele Cross: Next thing you'll be painting women without clothes.
Christopher Cross: I never saw a woman without any clothes.
Adele Cross: I should hope not!

- Rosalind Ivan, Edward G. Robinson

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: February 01, 2008

Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson, Brenda Marshall, William Gargan, Lyle Talbot, Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman, Trevor Howard
Other Stars: Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Rosalind Ivan, Margaret Lindsay, Joss Ambler, Raymond Lovell, Esmond Knight, Harold Warrender, Eric Maturin, Mark Daly, Olga Edwardes, Eric Hales, John Longden, Hay Petrie, Charles Victor, Hillary Brooke, Ruth Ford, George Chandler, Sally Gray, Griffith Jones, Rene Ray, Mary Marrall
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for adult themes, violence
Release Date: November 20, 2007
UPC: 738329057725
Genre: film noir

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB- D+

DVD Review

Re-packagings are always a handy thing, especially when they save space and money. That's what we get with Kino's new Film Noir box, collecting six of their noir line titles in one box of slimline cases. Naturally, if you've already picked up some of these discs, it may rankle a bit, but for others it's a good way to get a good collection of films for a very reasonable price compared to buying them singly. There's no thematic concern here, and the films aren't all noir in the classic sense of the term, but they're all quality works.

Chronologically, the set is led off by Michael Powell's 1940 espionage thriller Contraband. Not a noir per se, this features Conrad Veidt as the captain of a Danish vessel in the days after the start of World War II. A routine stop by British forces to check his ship results in a night's layover, during which two passengers escape. Veidt and his first mate (Hay Petrie) work to track them down, leading into trouble with Nazi intelligence men and a difficult situation for Veidt to escape from. With Powell directing and Freddie Young doing the lensing, you'd expect something pretty good, and this doesn't disappoint. It isn't top shelf Powell, but it's a perfect good picture by any standard.

Next up is the best film of the set, Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street, from 1945. Starring legendary tough guy Edward G. Robinson as a complete wimp dominated by Joan Bennett, playing the trashy slut Kitty. This is primo stuff. Made without Hayes Office interference, this allows Lang and company to push things further than they ever would have been able under the thumb of a studio. The truly grim ending highlights an already great film, and leaves the viewer in doubt about whether one truly can get away with murder. This edition of the film comes from a Library of Congress restoration, and should not be confused with one of the scummy pub domain coasters out there.

We leave Scarlet Street for the odd man (or woman, such as it is) in this collection, 1946's Strange Impersonation. Here, Brenda Marshall stars as Nora Goodrich, an extremely dedicated scientist researching anesthetics. When she is forced to experiment upon herself in order to speed up the research process (blame those pesky bureaucrats), her duplicitous assistant wrecks the procedure, leaving Nora badly scarred, and ready for revenge, which she carries out thanks to some plastic surgery and a little identity swapping. A lesser known Anthony Mann film, this is entertaining stuff, if fairly implausibible. It twists and turns and despite an ending that is perhaps less than it should be, will likely entertain you as well.

From there, it's They Made Me a Fugitive from 1947, in which the hard-as-nails Trevor Howard plays Clem, a disenchanted war vet who joins up with a gang of black marketeers before getting framed by the gang's leader Narcy (Griffith Jones), a sociopathic thug. Things go badly wrong for the upper class Clem, who finds himself falsely accused of murder and goes in search of revenge. The class system in England plays strongly into the plot and characters here, and the cast are very good. I always have time to watch Trevor Howard, and he's in fine form here, playing a nasty customer who's willing to do whatever takes to get to Narcy. Good stuff all around.

Finally, we have Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker, from 1953. The film is notable if only for being directed by Lupino, a female director being rare enough in those days, but it's also a very good film regardless of that. Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy play ex-soldiers who decide to take a fishing trip, only to be waylaid by the appearance of Emmett Myers (William Talman), a lunatic killer who commandeers the two men into helping him get to safety, after which they're to die. This a plot rife with suspenseful possibilities, and Lupino makes good use of them. Tallman was marvelously cast, and the picture oozes danger.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: These discs are unchanged from previous single releases, so do not expect new transfers or the like. All are at least passable, and Scarlet Street, coming from a Library of Congress restoration, looks very fine indeed. There's nothing here transfer-wise that will blow anyone away, but don't be scared away by this either.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Much like the visual quality, each film here works as well as can be expected, with varying levels of hiss and fidelity. I did not find that any of the soundtracks here hampered my enjoyment of the films themselves.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 60 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David Kalat
Packaging: Box Set
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills gallery (on Scarlet Street)
Extras Review: The only title with bonus features is Scarlet Street, which has a superb commentary from writer/critic David Kalat and a photo gallery that includes images from deleted scenes. The rest are bare bones titles.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Noir fans have had it good from the DVD companies in recent years, and this set simply adds to the bounty, assuming you don't already own several of these titles. The discs are unchanged from their previous stand-alone releases, aside from being put in slimline cases, a nice space-saving tactic. The print quality varies from title to title, but none are unwatchable. Extras are mostly nil, aside from Scarlet Street. The films range from the good to classic, and make this a set that shouldn't be passed up.


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