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Warner Home Video presents

Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 (1946-55)

"Get rid of this guy. Be sorry later."- Gavery (Taylor Holmes), in Act of Violence

Stars: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Kirk, Jean Gillie, Edward Norris, Edward G. Robinson, Nina Foch, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix, Cathy O'Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains, Richard Basehart, Audrey Totter, Cyd Charisse, Barry Sullivan
Other Stars: Janet Leigh, Mary Astor, Phyllis Thaxter, Elsa Lanchester, Jan Sterling, Robert Armstrong, Herbert Rudley, Sheldon Leonard, Marjorie Woodwarth, Jayne Mansfield, Patric Knowles, Ramon Novarro, Jay C. Flippen, William Phipps, Ian Wolfe, Helen Craig, James Craig, Paul Kelly, Jean Hagen, Maureen O'Sullivan, Charles Kemper
Director: Fred Zinnemann, John Sturges, André de Toth, Jack Bernhard, Lewis Allen, Don Siegel, Nicholas Ray, Anthony Mann, John Farrow, John Berry

MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 13h:51m:05s
Release Date: 2007-07-31
Genre: film noir

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DVD Review

Hello, my name is Jon D., and I'm a noiraholic. We noir fans have been amply rewarded for our enthusiasm for the genre in the age of DVD, and Warners ups the ante with this, their fourth wave of noir releases, with twice as many feature films as were found in their third go-round. This one is full of many familiar faces, though many of the titles are less heralded—they're all worth at least a passing gander, though, and the set is tricked out with some smashing commentaries as well. So grab that snappy fedora or that perfect little snood, and join me for a walk on Hollywood's dark side, friend.

DISC ONE

Act of Violence (1948)

"You don't know what made him the way he is. I do."
—Frank (Van Heflin)

The opening stanza of the set is a crackerjack B picture directed by Fred Zinnemann, finishing up his apprenticeship before stepping up in class to movies like From Here to Eternity and High Noon. But this will do, and it's almost an encyclopedia of the postwar neuroses that fueled so much of the best noirs. Van Heflin stars as Frank, a vet who has moved West and reinvented himself in sunny California—he's even in on the boom as a developer of affordable housing, and is seen as an all-around swell and standup guy. And then the past comes calling, in the person of Joe, played by paradigmatic noir leading man Robert Ryan—we see Joe hop a Greyhound from dingy New York to the left coast, and his limp, his laconic manner and his relentless pursuit of Frank, his old war buddy, lead us quickly to the conclusion that the man is unhinged.

But things aren't what they seem, and we come to understand that Joe is some sort of avenging angel, who for reasons that are entirely explicable wants to upend Frank and everything in his dainty little life. They served in the war together, and unspeakable things transpired—our sympathies are constantly in play, because while Joe seems like a bit of a psycho, Frank clearly deserves his punishment. Much of the movie is a game of cat and mouse between them, and while they're both excellent, they're hardly on screen together—but the women in their lives help to compensate and sustain our dramatic interest. Janet Leigh plays Frank's wife, who thinks that she's been living a dream only to have a dangerous stranger turn on the lights; and Phyllis Thaxter is Joe's girl, frantic about the crazy things that he's threatening to do. Best of all is Mary Astor, who looks like she's lived several lifetimes in the years since The Maltese Falcon—she's a hooker whose soft spot for Frank, a handsome man in trouble, isn't enough to short circuit her knowing what a big-time mark looks and smells like.

Zinnemann is ably aided by cinematographer Robert Surtees, who finds the menace in every corner—it's like the film knows that you can go to L.A. to reinvent yourself, but that there are some stains that will never wash out. It's a terrifically gripping instance of the genre, and reminds you that you can bury the bodies, but not the ghosts.

Mystery Street (1950)

"I've got every reason to kill you, and I will."
—Harkley (Edmon Ryan)

One of the markers of noir is its pulpy, street pedigree, so it's a little odd to see Harvard University thanked in the opening credits of this movie—it's not quite Ivy League noir, but it's sort of on the way. One of the most striking things about the movie is that it was shot on location in and around Boston, which you don't ordinarily think of as one of the great noir cities—but master cinematographer John Alton is at the helm, and he invests the town with all of the dark and seedy seaminess that places like New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco hold dear in these kinds of pictures.

The action kicks off with Vivian (Jan Sterling), a bottle blonde in a Beacon Hill rooming house in a state of desperation—there's a (presumably married) man out in Hyannis who won't take her calls or show up at their designated assignation, so she's simply got to find some way out to the Cape to have a showdown in person. Her easy mark this evening is Henry (Marshall Thompson), who throws back a few because his wife is in the hospital after a miscarriage—he's too drunk to know the difference, and soon finds himself riding out to Cape Cod with this fired-up little tart. It's no surprise that her story doesn't end well; we quickly jump ahead six months, when a skeleton washes up on a Barnstable beach, and at the crime scene—smiles, everyone! Smiles!—is Ricardo Montalban as Lieutenant Morales, the local cop who's got a cold case and few clues on his hands.

So this is where Harvard comes in, and what makes this movie something of an ür-text for reams of forensic films and television shows—a crackerjack scientist in the Department of Legal Medicine helps Morales unravel the mystery, based on the skeleton that the lieutenant has helpfully packed up in a cardboard box. The movie has many elements of the police procedural, and it's one of those where we in the audience frequently know more about the facts of the case than the investigators; it also touches on a strain of Yankee nativism, as Morales takes some guff from some Brahmins because his ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower. It's got a handful of kicky performances, too, especially from Elsa Lanchester as the dead woman's greedy, lying landlady, whose merry rummagings through her tenants' drawers leaves her with more information than any of them would like.



DISC TWO

Crime Wave (1954)

"If I turn him in, I'll be running 'til I'm dead."
—Steve (Gene Nelson)

Sometimes noir can feel like a put-on—clipped dialogue in smoky rooms, all style—but this one has the feel of a documentary and even a touch of Neorealism, giving it a kind of streetwise grittiness that makes it kind of a stunner. The title is basically a misnomer, though, as the crime wave consists essentially of an opening sequence in which three toughs boost a 76 station, only to have a suspicious motorcycle cop come cruising in, followed by the inevitable exchange of gunfire. We soon learn that the three have recently liberated themselves from San Quentin, and they're going to seek cover from another colleague from the inside, now looking to go straight. That ex-con is named Steve Lacey—he's played by Gene Nelson, and he's at the heart of the piece. His pretty new wife (a most fetching Phyllis Kirk) wants him to keep to the straight and narrow, and he does too—but it's hard to know if it's the threat of violence or some deeply seated flaw in his character that leads him to providing even a modest amount of cover for these bad apples.

Sterling Hayden is the LAPD lieutenant in charge of the case, and as he always is, he's an actor of extraordinary physical imposition—he's a full head taller than anyone else on screen, and exudes the kind of gruff authority that most cops can't even aspire to. The movie gives us an incredible gallery of rapscallions—one of the escaped prisoners is played by Charles Buchinsky (later to change his name to Bronson) with the mixture of tenderness and menace you see in something like In Cold Blood, though I harbor a special fondness for Jay Novello as a doctor gone south, who after some time in the stir runs a veterinary clinic in the San Fernando Valley.

What may be most notable, though, are the low-budget but creatively fertile technical elements of the piece, for which director André de Toth and cinematographer Bert Glennon can't get enough credit. There are some extraordinarily beautiful expressionistic silhouettes, for instance, but more important, they've captured the pulpy realism of life on the streets in early 1950s Los Angeles. De Toth demonstrates a keen eye for night scenes, in back alleys and in watering holes, and he's great with sharp little visual details, too, like the Hawaiian shirts sported by the telephone operators at LAPD dispatch.

Decoy (1946)

"People who use pretty faces like you use yours don't live long."
—Joe (Sheldon Leonard)

Another rediscovered gem, Decoy is a spectacularly loopy mixture of dizzying plotting, the meanest dame you're ever gonna meet, and a healthy dose of Frankenstein. We're tossed right into the middle of things—that tends to happen, when your movie is only 75 minutes long—and soon find ourselves both enchanted and repelled by the slinky Margot. Jean Gillie is the leading lady, and her career was awfully brief but terrifically memorable—she's from the other side of the pond, but this Englishwoman seems to have all of the men in a 50-mile radius of San Francisco doing her bidding. There's her husband Frankie, in jail for having pulled a $400,000 heist; Frankie's muscle man and financier, Jim, who seems to be keeping mighty close company with the prison widow; Dr. Craig, the prison physician who has the kind of access no one else does; and Sgt. Joe Portugal, who knows that she and her gentleman callers are up to no good, but still loves a good whiff of her perfume.

The plot hinges on a preposterous bit of forensic science: Margot and her men have stumbled upon a potion that can counteract the effects of a lethal injection, so when the People of California determine that it's time for Frank to meet his maker, Margot gets the body out of there and a syringe into it, and, presto changeo, Frank is back among the living. (His reincarnation is priceless, as he staggers around the scummy doctor's office: "I'm alive. I'm alive!") It's a movie of relentless nastiness and increasingly creative violence—you watch it and can't quite believe that they're getting away with all this on screen in 1946. We learn from the extras package that Gillie was married to the film's director—she was his big discovery, but ditched him between the end of principal photography and the movie's release, making you wonder just how similar in life she may have been to this maneater of a character. She's trouble, but you can see how any red-blooded man is going to be buying whatever it is she's selling.



DISC THREE

Illegal (1955)

"Every time you sit there and have a thought, remember that I sat there and had it before you."
—Scott (Edward G. Robinson)

This one is more legal potboiler or melodrama than it is film noir, really, and its 1955 production date sort of pushes the limit of what we think of as the classic noir period in Hollywood. But it's still a fantastically serpentine (if deeply improbable and frequently silly) story. Edward G. Robinson stars as Victor Scott, a crusading D.A. with his eye on the Governor's mansion. But when his overzealous prosecution sends an innocent man to the electric chair, Scott's political career and internal fortitude die along with the executed man—he gets into bar fights and starts racking up the drunk and disorderlies, and barely makes it back to his feet as an ambulance-chasing defense attorney, one armed with singular knowledge about the inner workings of the prosecutor's office.

Scott semi-reluctantly becomes a Mob mouthpiece, and as the new lawyer for the organized-crime boss in town, he breaks the heart of his protégée, Ellen. She's played by the bewitching Nina Foch, and the character is the orphaned daughter of Scott's mentor—the fallen prosecutor has served as a surrogate father to her, but there's the strong suggestion that despite the difference in their ages and the specter of Electra-like issues, the sexual attraction between them is powerful.

The plot is dizzyingly soapy, and unfortunately a lot of the acting is wooden and pretty hacky (Foch and Robinson being the notable exceptions). But it is crammed with all sorts of loony courtroom theatrics—lawyers slugging witnesses, for instance—and you can see lots of faces familiar from television in the cast. Dammit, Jim, I'm a convict, not a miracle worker—DeForest Kelley plays the poor innocent sap forced to walk the green mile in the picture's first reel, and, would you believe, Edward Platt, later the Chief in Get Smart, plays Robinson's straight-arrow successor in the D.A.'s chair.

The Big Steal (1949)

"I'll tell you what, Chiquita—you believe me, and I'll believe you."
—Duke (Robert Mitchum)

This inordinately convoluted chase picture runs just an hour and ten minutes, but that's plenty of time to lose every possible strand of the plot. It's so rich in atmosphere and energy, though, that you sort of don't mind—in the first scene, for instance, William Bendix, armed and in a fedora, busts down a door and starts punk slapping Robert Mitchum. One glimpse of that, and I'm in.

Don Siegel directs this labyrinthine tale, which may not even really qualify as noir—there's nothing urban about it, for instance, and, deeply unsettlingly, almost none of the story takes place at night. Anyway, it's sort of a double chase—Bendix is after Mitchum, who in turn is after Patric Knowles, and the upshot is this: Knowles has a suitcase filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars, which he has stolen, and has tried to pin the crime on Mitchum. It's been a successful frame-up so far, as Bendix is after Mitchum for the felony of the movie's title—making this even more dire is that the loot belongs to the U.S. Army, which doesn't much care for its currency being lifted in this fashion.

Almost all of the movie is a hothouse road race through Mexico, and Siegel uses the locations to great advantage. (Occasional matte shots are kind of intrusive, and it looks as if some chase scene reshoots might have been done on Mulholland Drive.) And of course there's a girl involved—Jane Greer was Knowles' fiancée, but he cleaned out her bank account before he moved on to making the Army his mark, and she's come south of the border, too, to exact a bit of revenge. Sparks fly when she and Mitchum meet, but initially, at least, they decide that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and they become partners—and we've seen enough of these movies to know where that partnership is headed. A couple of the chase sequences are inspired, even if the plotting isn't; and there are a handful of terrific takeaway images, like Bendix adrift in a sea of goats, which are more than enough.



DISC FOUR

They Live By Night (1946)

"I'm just a black sheep, there's no getting away from it."
—Bowie (Farley Granger)

The front end of the Farley Granger/Cathy O'Donnell double feature on the fourth disc of the set is a pip, and an obvious influence of generations of bad-kids-on-the-run movies, from Gun Crazy to at least Bonnie and Clyde and beyond. It's also especially notable for being the directorial debut of Nicholas Ray, who would hone these themes of disaffected youth, most notably in Rebel Without a Cause. It's the dense and jargony story of three cons who bust out of the big house—Howard Da Silva is the self-important ringleader, Chicamaw, and Jay C. Flippen is his faithful deputy, T-Dub. But our focus is squarely on the youngest of the crew: Granger plays Bowie, whose wounded eyes show us that he's been battered by the world, though he may not be a bad apple, even if he runs in the wrong circles.

The Juliet to his Romeo is O'Donnell as Keechie (aren't these character names a kick?), a sweet young thing who knows nothing of the world—when these two crazy kids decide to run off and get hitched, we just hope that they stand a ghost of a chance in this nutty, mixed-up world. It is really is just that hokey, but Ray and his cast embrace it, and so it's really kind of winning, and it's also a movie about honor among thieves. What is Bowie's debt to the fellas who got him out of the stir? Is he obligated to spend a lifetime as their wheel man, or can he safely move along and feel that his debt is paid? (It's a point gotten at by the title of the novel on which this is based: Thieves Like Us, which is what Robert Altman used when he shot the same story in the early 1970s.)

Ray gives us not just the moody hopefulness of late adolescence—he's also a technical innovator, and it's striking to see some of the first helicopter shots in movie history here. He's also got kind of a genius for casting. Granger always seems a little wooden, but it suits the gangliness of his character here; and those of us who grew up watching 1776 each and every Independence Day will get a bit of a scare from Ben Franklin himself, Da Silva, as a loutish sociopath.

Side Street (1950)

"Sometimes I just get mad at the world. You were handy."
—Harriet (Jean Hagen)

A mailman steals $30,000 while keeping his appointed rounds, and asks a bartender to hold onto it for him. That's the sort of silly premise that you've got to run with here, and director Anthony Mann does a serviceable job selling it—but that's just the necessary conceit to get things up and running for this grisly little tale of temptation and dire consequences. Granger is teamed again with O'Donnell—he plays Joe, a fella trying to make ends meet, and she plays Ellen, his lovely wife about to give birth to their first child. (It's almost like they're the characters in They Live By Night a few years out.) While dropping off the morning mail, he steps into a dirty little scheme, in which tarty young things ensnare rich old geezers into love nests, and have their boyfriends snap lots of compromising photographs for blackmail purposes.

Much of the movie was shot on location in New York, and the movie is kind of a mash note to the city and the NYPD—it's a cop who delivers lots of voice over, and the film opens with a valentine of a shot of the Manhattan skyline, emphasizing the Empire State Building. Mann has a keen eye for street life, too—it's great to see the old elevated train, and kids jumping rope, and especially, in the terrific climactic chase sequence downtown, the ghost town that the financial district becomes between Friday's closing bell and the opening of trading on Monday morning.

Granger was a handsome young man, but not necessarily the most dynamic screen presence—O'Donnell hardly appears at all, really, as most of the movie is of her man on the run. The most memorable bits come from a gallery of supporting players, then, the best of whom is Jean Hagen as a boozy nightclub singer who's yours for a couple of kind words and a few shots of rye—the character is a world away from Lena Lamont, and the performance is a testament to the talents of what seems in retrospect like one of Hollywood's great underutilized resources.



DISC FIVE

Where Danger Lives (1950)

"I lied because I love you."
—Margo (Faith Domergue)

Dr. Mitchum will see you now. The final disc of the set kicks off with Robert Mitchum's return, this time improbably in surgical scrubs—he's a kindly doctor in the quietest possible E.R., one that looks more like a department store than a hospital, and he's even got the prettiest nurse to scrub in to agree to meet him for drinks after work. Ahh, but then he's thunderstruck, with l'amour fou, as the dangerously beautiful Faith Domergue is dropped off, an attempted suicide, with a dashing young man delivering her and then hightailing it as quickly as possible. She becomes convinced that only the good doctor can provide the path to her salvation, and he plies her with some unusual therapeutic techniques, principally frothy cocktails at local nightclubs.

It seems the handsome stranger who deposited her at the hospital was on to something, because the doctor's life starts unraveling thanks to the increasingly lunatic interferences of this woman. She is of course fantastically wealthy; she's got a droll guardian, played with great humor by the wonderful Claude Rains; and wherever she goes, bad things seem to happen. On some level, this is an incredibly clear distillation of so much of film noir: the well-meaning sap allowing himself to be ensnared by the woman who presents herself as helpless while reeling in her prey. Too much plot description will spoil the fun, but it does become a film of increasingly improbable coincidences as the pair go on the lam and become tabloid fodder.

On some level the movie never does quite make the sale—we never quite get at why Mitchum is such an easy mark for her, and his continuing self-diagnoses about his own medical condition leave him no time, apparently, to realize that his new partner in crime is round-the-bend bonkers. But director John Farrow keeps things hurtling along so, like Mitchum, we don't have time to stop to ask questions, even if it's the director's wife, Maureen O'Sullivan, who plays the sweet thing that Mitchum tosses over for the bad girl.

Tension (1949)

"I could kill you, and I could get away with it, too."
—Quimby (Richard Basehart)

Bringing up the rear in the set is a strangely cautionary tale about the potential evils inherent in contact lenses. Richard Basehart stars as Warren Quimby, a sap of a guy who has taken a job as the manager of a 24-hour drugstore to please his wife—but she's a trampy little thing, content to pick up men under her husband's nose, even right at his lunch counter. Audrey Totter is delicious in the role—her Claire is more of an obvious tart than, say, Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, but is at least as dangerous and alluring. She captures the eye of a local tough guy, Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough), and she finally leaves Warren for Barney and his Malibu beach house.

But a bit of crazed inspiration strikes when Warren is forced to visit the optometrist—perhaps if he got rid of his eyeglasses, he could establish a new identity and rub out the fella who stole his girl. It's like the bizarro world version of Clark Kent—without the glasses, he will be unrecognizable and able to perpetrate evil deeds unpunished. Warren goes so far as to establish a whole new identity: he takes on a new name, rents a new apartment, and, wouldn't you know, even meets a new girl. She's played by Cyd Charisse, and she's smitten, so the tension is set up for the battle for his tormented soul: will he land on the side of the angels, with Cyd, or give in to the forces of darkness, with Audrey?

It's an oddly set up movie as well, beginning with a homicide cop talking directly to the camera—director John Berry is as interested in police procedure as he is in the warring impulses in his compromised hero. Barry Sullivan is a standup guy as the cop who narrates our story, and just as good is William Conrad as his partner. But for all the structural strangeness, it is awfully good at getting at what it's like when a relationship goes south—Warren and Claire probably didn't have much of a chance to begin with, but it's still kind of brutal when they start spitting tacks at one another. And as the last film in the set, it's sure to leave you hankering for still more.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer


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 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame no - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes yes
Anamorphicno yes


Image Transfer Review: Illegal, the most recently produced film in the set, is the only one not shot in the 1.33 ratio; image quality varies between the rest, with Alton's work on Mystery Street looking especially strong. Crime Wave stands out as well; Where Danger Lives is probably the worst of the lot, looking faded and grainy.

Image Transfer Grade: B
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: It's English mono tracks for all the titles; they all sound pretty reasonable, though you can hear the clarity get better as the years progress, even if the set hopscotches around chronologically.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 85 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
8 Original Trailer(s)
11 Featurette(s)
10 Feature/Episode commentaries by Drew Casper; Alain Silver & Elizabeth Ward; James Ellroy & Eddie Muller; Stanley Rubin & Glenn Erickson; Nina Foch & Patricia King Hanson; Richard B. Jewell; Farley Granger & Muller; Richard Schickel; Silver & Ursini; Ward, Silver & Audrey Totter
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Each of the films has a commentary track, and all but Decoy and They Live By Night have original trailers as well—Illegal comes with two featurettes, each other feature with one. (More on all of this below.) You start seeing some of the usual suspects recurring in the bonus material—noir historians like Alain Silver and James Ursini, filmmakers like Oliver Stone, critics like Richard Schickel, and famous fans like Dick Cavett—all of whom seem, after going through the whole set, like part of one great big seedy noir-loving family.

COMMENTARIES

USC film professor Drew Casper provides a punchy commentary track for Act of Violence—you can tell just how excited he gets about this stuff, even if he does peter out after a time. But he's got some excellent insights, about this film in the evolution in Zinnemann's career, the elements of documentary realism that are fused with arch noir style by Surtees, and generally how the technical elements help fuel the drama. Noir scholars Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward pair up for the Mystery Street track, displaying a remarkable knowledge of noir arcana and no reluctance to show it off—they're actually very bright and fun if occasionally a little smug, and as much as I admire D.P. John Alton, it may be overdoing it just a bit to compare him to Marcel Duchamp.

Novelist James Ellroy and noir historian Eddie Muller tag team on Crime Wave, giving us a fantastically energetic commentary track. Ellroy loves slipping into the jargon of the period (e.g., when a pretty face shows up on screen, he asks: "Who's the quail?"), and he's generally one of the great talkers of our time, ably aided and abetted by Muller, who's especially sharp in providing location details. Ellroy tosses out some outrageous stuff simply to be provocative (for instance, calling this a better film than Chinatown); he also has some issues with Curtis Hanson, who directed L.A. Confidential, based on Ellroy's novel. Both are especially enamored with Sterling Hayden, whom Ellroy discusses as the onscreen image of Bud White—the profanity has been rather daintily bleeped out on the commentary, but there's no mistaking what Ellroy says about one of the lead actors in L.A. Confidential: "F--- Russell Crowe."

Stanley Rubin, who wrote the original story that was the basis for the Decoy screenplay, is joined on the commentary by film writer Glenn Erickson; the track functions both as a career overview for Rubin, and as an examination of the history of the movie's reputation, which reached its zenith just a couple of years ago after the film had been too long out of circulation. The Illegal track twins leading lady Nina Foch with the American Film Institute's Patricia King Hanson, and it is a pip, largely thanks to Miss Foch, at 82, a house afire. (Full confession: I once took an acting class from Nina, and adored it and her.) Foch is great on the changing of acting styles, and how the technical limits of the filmmaking here led to lots of wooden performances: "It's embarrassing." And Hanson has seemingly encyclopedic knowledge about even the bit players in the cast, which Foch admires as she insults: "I don't think pictures are worth the kind of effort you bring to them." It's truly one of the most entertaining tracks you'll listen to.

USC professor Richard B. Jewell teases out the convoluted production history of The Big Steal on his engaging track. Leading man Farley Granger is joined by noir writer Eddie Muller on the They Live By Night track—Muller's enthusiasm is infectious, and Granger is friendly and courtly, but not at all forthcoming. They're good on discussing some aspects of the production history—Howard Hughes bought RKO after the film was shot but before it was released, and for his own reasons, held up the theatrical exhibition of the picture for two years—but far more typical is this exchange, about a particular scene:

Muller: Do you recall shooting this?
Granger: No, not really.

Richard Schickel gets the microphone solo for Side Street—he's done a lot of these, and I've been hard on him before, but he's better than usual here, full of trivia about the filmmakers and cast, more general comments on film noir, and random ruminations on things like the lengths of neckties in 1940s cinema. Silver recurs and partners up with James Ursini on Where Danger Lives—as you might expect from the editors of The Film Noir Reader, the track is thick with details about the history and pedigree of the noir series. And the conversation between Silver and Elizabeth Ward on the Tension track is occasionally peppered with excerpts of Ward's previous discussion with leading lady Audrey Totter—the two scholars are very engaging, but you'll sort of long for more from such a treacherous leading lady.

FEATURETTES

For Act of Violence, critics Richard Schickel and Alain Silver and filmmaker Oliver Stone, among others, discuss Dealing with the Devil (5m:07s), about the genre generally, and the performances of Ryan and Astor in particular. Murder at Harvard (4m:53s) is the Mystery Street entry, with an emphasis on the relatively primitive though cinematically galvanizing forensics, and a few choice archival clips of Alton. The City is Dark (5m:57s) is the Crime Wave entry, highlighted by archival footage of the film's director, André de Toth. The Decoy piece (A Map to Nowhere — 5m:39s) covers much of the same ground as the commentary, though it also includes remarks from Dick Cavett and Molly Haskell.

Illegal sports two featurettes: Marked for Life (4m:34s) is your typical brief overview, and the leading man only makes a cameo in Behind the Cameras: Edward G. Robinson (11m:31s), for the focus is on the film's legal advisor, there to vouch for courtroom authenticity, and to show us extended clips from movies like The Life of Emile Zola. The piece on The Big Steal is called Look Behind You (4m:34s), and focuses on the Mitchum/Greer pairing, together again after their combustible outing in Out of the Past. The Twisted Road (6m:08s) is the featurette on They Live By Night, which offers a good amount of plot rehash and a look at its importance as Ray's directorial debut.

Where Temptation Lurks (5m:49s) is the Side Street piece—it emphasizes the movie's place in the body of work of director Anthony Mann, who could squeeze a great noir picture out of the tiniest budget, and got more to work with on this one. White Rose for Julie (6m:14s) is the Where Dangers Lives entry, emphasizing Howard Hughes' influence and continuing fascination with boosting the careers of RKO's leading ladies. And finally, Who's Guilty Now? (5m:48s) is the piece on Tension, emphasizing director John Berry's work with Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater, and his later blacklisting.

Extras Grade: A
 

Final Comments

A spectacular panorama of the various aspects the genre has to offer, and a set that demonstrates how arbitrary genre distinctions can be—there's as much of the police procedural and of Neorealism here as there is of what we think of as classic noir, but what ever label you want to slap on it, it's all very welcome.

Jon Danziger 2007-11-30