ESCAPE IN THE FOG
B&W, 1945, 62 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Budd Boetticher
Starring Otto Kruger, Nina Foch, William Wright, Konstantin Shayne
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
THE UNDERCOVER MAN
B&W, 1949, 89 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Starring Glenn Ford, Nina Foch, James Whitmore, Barry Kelly, David Wolfe, Frank Tweddell
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD
B&W, 1954, 82 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Richard Quine
Starring Mickey Rooney, Dianne Foster, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Kelly
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), TCM (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
5 AGAINST THE HOUSE
B&W, 1955, 83 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Kim Novak, Guy Madison, Brian Keith, Alvy Moore, Kerwin Mathews, William Conrad
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
THE GARMENT JUNGLE
B&W, 1957, 87 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Starring Lee J. Cobb, Kerwin Mathews, Gia Scala, Richard Boone, Valerie French, Robert Loggia, Joseph Wiseman
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Imprint (Blu-ray) (Australia R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
B&W, 1958, 86 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Richard Jaeckel, Mary LaRoche
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
All of the major American movie studios dipped their toes into the film noir style that really flourished in the wake of World War II, with the combined influences of gritty crime films and German Expressionism providing a perfect visual style for audiences going through an enormous amount of upheaval. Columbia Pictures kept the faith longer and more enthusiastically than most, turning out a number of major classics like Gilda and The Big Heat. However, they also turned out dozens of gems that didn't get that level of acclaim, and many of them have been compiled in various editions over the years including multiple DVD boxed sets and three worthwhile Blu-ray collections from Mill Creek.
First up (chronologically and in the set) is Escape in the Fog, a 1945 thriller from western specialist Budd Boetticher, a name familiar to Indicator fans, here under his earlier credited name, Oscar Boetticher Jr. First available on Blu-ray in one of the Mill Creek sets (packed on the same disc as the great Address Unknown and The Guilt of Janet Ames), this one barely clocks in at an hour and functions as an atmospheric little programmer with regular Columbia headliner Nina Foch starring as Eileen, a nurse and beret aficionado who experiences an intense, fog-laden dream involving a man being stabbed to death after exiting a cab. Her trauma brings the aid of Barry (Wright), another guest at the inn where she's staying-- and he's a dead ringer for her dream victim. To distract her, Barry offers to bring Eileen into nearby San Francisco so she can stay with his aunt for a few days, but the trip soon plunges her into a plot involving Axis forces, a watchmaker, and a mysterious spy leader named Paul Devon (Kruger).
An odd one to be sure, Escape in the Fog uses an indisputably supernatural hook for its first half with that premonition before spinning into a Hitchcockian story of espionage and secret messages. Foch is solid as always and Boetticher cranks up the atmosphere with tons of fake fog in multiple nocturnal outdoor scenes, making this a fun way to kill an hour even if the film goes to outrageous lengths to pad its running time now and then. For its first special edition, the Indicator Blu-ray features the same solid 2K-sourced restored transfer (with improved compression and more refined and accurate English SDH subtitles, a trait shared by the other titles in the set). The presentation here benefits particularly in the foggy scenes, which are free from the pixellation that tends to creep in; the English LPCM 1.0 mono audio is also in fine shape. A very brisk new audio commentary by Pamela Hutchinson is a good crash course in the film balancing out trivia tidbits with analysis of the visual schemes; the first half hour feels like a marathon of tidbits before settling down into a more modest pace fir the second half. A gallery of 24 images is also included, followed by 1945's "That Fleet That Came to Stay" (21m12s), an interesting short documentary (sort of) by Boetticher about the Battle of Okinawa complete with lots of explosive real footage. Finally the disc closes with a nice touch that carries over elsewhere in the set, a Three Stooges short thematically tied to the main feature. In this case it's 1940's "You Nazty Spy!" (18m2s), which features the boys on an undercover mission in "Moronica" and the spectacle of Moe sporting a Hitler mustache.
On to disc two, The Undercover Man from 1949 comes from cult director Joseph H. Lewis who brought the world Gun Crazy, Terror in a Texas Town, My Name Is Julia Ross, and So Dark the Night. Inspired by a Collier's article about the downfall of Al Capone, the film charts the efforts of U.S. Treasury agent Frank Warren (Ford) to cut through a jungle of intimidated witnesses and legal obstacles as he tries to break into the syndicate that's kept everyone under a threat of silence. Complete with occasional voiceover and a gritty docudrama-style approach, it's very much in line with other salutes to the department like Anthony Mann's T-Men two years earlier -- albeit anchored here by Ford's robust central performance and Lewis' tight visual approach as the film weaves through witness line ups, reticent cops, and domestic tension with Frank's wife, Judith (Foch again), whom he's determined to keep safe as he tackles an intricate web of tax evasion. Though obviously fictionalized including the removal of Capone himself, it's also a worthy snapshot of the challenges faced with taking down a man of his stature and a precursor to the TV sensation that would arrive later with The Untouchables.
First released on DVD in 2014 as part of a TCM set of Glenn Ford crime films (along with The Lady in Question, Framed, Mr. Soft Touch, and Convicted), The Undercover Man makes its global Blu-ray debut in this set and looks absolutely mint from start to finish. Regular Indicator contributor Tony Rayns is present with a new audio commentary that incorporates much appreciation for Lewis, notes on the procedural aspects, the aesthetic choices to inform the characterizations and dramatic tension, and the various character actors popping up through the running time. A gallery of 28 images features a variety of stills and promotional items, while Lewis gets the spotlight again with "Man on a Bus" (28m53s), a 1955 short film for the United Jewish Appeal with stars like Walter Brennan, Ruth Roman, J. Carrol Naish, and Lassie in the story of a bus (driven by Broderick Crawford) that breaks down in Israel, with the passengers revealing why they each came to the Holy Land. Though obviously ravaged a bit by time, this is much better condition here than the versions out there streaming online. The Three Stooges fun continues with 1954's "Income Tax Sappy" (16m31s) with the trio falling afoul of - who else? - the Treasury Department over some income tax shenanigans.
Next we come to a rare (but not unique) noir starring none other than Mickey Rooney, who was diversifying from his previous musical hits for MGM. Actually Rooney had developed something of a cinematic fascination for cars in the '50s, first in The Big Wheel and then again as an auto mechanic in big trouble in the memorable 1950 noir, Quicksand. The film in question here, Drive a Crooked Road (co-written by Blake Edwards!) came four years later and feels like something of a companion piece, with Rooney as another mechanic, Eddie Shannon, who falls for a dame named Barbara (Foster). As it turns out, she's setting up him to be the getaway driver for a bank robbery, and when she talks him into participating, he's sucked into a criminal nightmare with the dangerous Steve (McCarthy,a year before his iconic role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Harold (Forbidden Planet's Kelly). Rooney's vulnerable performance is the real highlight here, of course, and his sad-sack demeanor and short stature make him an ideal patsy turned avenger. The shooting style is a little glossy and bright for a noir film, especially the opening scenes, but the subject matter definitely fits, especially Foster's turn as a manipulative seductress.
This one also first turned up on DVD from TCM as the third part in its line of Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics (along with My Name Is Julia Ross, The Mob, Tight Spot, and The Burglar), with extras including a video intro by Martin Scorsese (1m56s) who offers a quick video chat about the film's director, Richard Quine (who helmed some of Kim Novak's more notable films) and the transitioning career of its star. The Indicator Blu-ray (also a worldwide first) ports over the Scorsese intro but also features a new audio commentary by Nick Pinkerton, who does a thorough dissection of Quine, Edwards, the car models, the movie locations, and more, with the pace and level of knowledge kept up nicely throughout. (Odd way of saying "Janet Leigh" though!) Another audio option for the film is 1988's "The Guardian Interview with Mickey Rooney," a career-spanning audio chat with the actor conversing with Tony Sloman at the National Film Theatre and featuring a number of very funny stories about his career and his colorful life (including his multiple marriages). The trailer and a 20-image gallery are also included, while "Screen Snapshots: Mickey Rooney, Then and Now" (9m51s) from 1953 is a staged portrait with the actor guiding a couple of studio execs through the highlights from his childhood acting career. No points for guessing the Three Stooges short here has a car theme, and indeed, 1943's "Higher Than a Kite" (17m32s) features them as mechanics whose catastrophic latest job accidentally drops them into a wartime adventure as fake German officers behind enemy lines.
The film that pushes the noir definition to its limit the most in this set comes next with 5 Against the House, which has been a home video staple for a while including appearances in a Sony Film Noir Classics I DVD set (with The Big Heat, The Lineup, The Sniper, and Murder by Contract) and inclusion in Mill Creek's noir line (on a disc with The Night Holds Terror and New Orleans Uncensored). Here crime film vet Phil Karlson directs a flashy tale of gambling and crime adapted from a magazine serial / novel by Jack Finney (Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Attending college thanks to the G.I. Bill, four friends -- Brick (Keith), Ronnie (7th Voyage of Sinbad's Mathews), Al (Madison), and Roy (A Boy and His Dog's Moore) -- who accidentally stumble into the middle of a robbery at Harold's Club in Reno. That up-close experience inspires Ronnie to come up with a heist plan of their own that also entangles Al's nightclub singer girlfriend, Kaye (Novak), with everyone persuaded by a promise that the robbery will be strictly for excitement with the stolen loot returned afterwards. As far as the noir elements go, that's tough to go into much without spoilers but it definitely tweaks the formula in an interesting way, particularly at the end with the "fatale" character quite different than usual. The film also touches on postwar issues in an interesting way as well, particularly the new lives given to soldiers after combat and (via Keith's character) the factor of PTSD that was often swept under the rug at the time. Novak is excellent here too, fitting into the Nevada setting nicely and making for a very convincing and beguiling torch singer.
The Indicator marks the first real special edition of this film in any format, and this may be the best looking title in the batch simply by virtue of the crystal clear, bright cinematography that has always made this one look beautifully crisp. David Jenkins offers a new audio commentary that's more low key than the others in the set, casually commenting on the action and doling out facts about the noir elements, the cast, the gambling milieu, and the use of editing and composition to the accentuate the wonderfully sharp script (by Stirling Silliphant, William Bowers, and John Barnwell, with Silliphant's hand the most in evidence). A video of "The Guardian Interview with Kim Novak" (66m47s) from 1997 is a wonderful addition with the Hollywood legend in good spirits as she chats with David Robinson about getting her start, refusing to alter her name, and working her way through the studios on a number of films that have since become beloved classics. Along with the trailer (in much better quality here than elsewhere) and a 34-image gallery of stills and posters, the disc features another apropos Three Stooges short, 1958's "Sweet and Hot" as the troublemakers come up with a way to boost their friend, farm girl Tiny, to fame as a nightclub singer. This one also marks a switch in the Stooges to widescreen, and as with the other shorts, Sony's restoration looks gorgeous.
The prize for the most turbulent production in the set easily goes to the fourth film, The Garment Jungle, which was begun by Robert Aldrich who clashed with the studio over numerous issues (with claims ranging from his purported desire to shoot on location entirely in New York City to the levels of violence in the film). During a brief time off he was suddenly replaced with director Vincent Sherman (Mr. Skeffington), who had been adversely affected for several years by the fake HUAC Communist hunt. An interesting pro-union noir, the film begins with garment company owner Walter Mitchell (Cobb) arguing about workers' rights with his partner, who's promptly killed by a sabotaged freight elevator. Walter calls in his son, Alan (Mathews again), who's just finished his time in the Korean War and is sympathetic to the workers being terrorized by the local mob headed by the ruthless Artie Ravidge (Boone). With the help of Theresa (Scala), the wife of a murdered union organizer, Alan tries to win over his father and come up with a plan to escape the clutches of the criminal underworld.
Whatever its problems may have been behind the scenes and however softened this may be compared to Aldrich's original conception, the resulting film is an enjoyable and unusual thriller with a social statement angle that sets it apart from its ilk. The first Blu-ray appeared in 2020 from Imprint as part of its very pricey Essential Film Noir: Collection 1 set (packaged with Framed, Alias Nick Beal, and Detective Story) featuring an audio commentary by Alan K. Rode, a trailer, and a 2007 Q&A with Robert Loggia. The Indicator expands the slate considerably starting off with its own commentary with film historian Kevin Lyons, who's pulled duties for the label several times before. Much of the track is devoted to extensive background info on the cast and crew, the most interesting being an in-depth look at the full story of actress Valerie French and the final 15 minutes or so when he really gets into the whole Aldrich story. Apart from an odd stumble here and there (like citing Mathews' The Boy Who Cried Werewolf as a made-for-TV film), it's a dense track with a lot of info. The Loggia interview from 2007, "It's a Jungle Out There" (19m42s), is present here from his Q&A at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood following a screening, focusing primarily on his memories of Aldrich and the convoluted story about the wrangling with the producer and studio. In "Law of the Jungle" (15m5s), Indicator staple Tony Rayns gives another take on the Aldrich saga and the odd path the film took to completion, followed by the trailer, an image gallery of 45 images, and the most amusingly on-point of the Stooges shorts in the box, 1953's " Rip, Sew and Stitch" (16m39s), in which the boys' garment shop becomes the focus on a bank robber's plan.
Finally we reach one of the most celebrated films in the set, the wonderfully hard-boiled The Lineup from the dream team of director Don Siegel and (again) screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, which first turned up on DVD in that aforementioned Sony set from 2009 and featured a wildly entertaining and raucous audio commentary by author James Ellroy and the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller, with the colorful novelist doing his un-P.C. shtick full blast here. The film also got the Mill Creek Blu-ray treatment (on a disc with Man on a String and the umpteenth variant of The Crimson Kimono) and a standalone MOD Sony DVD-R, not to mention a shoddy Spanish bootleg Blu-ray to be avoided entirely. More below, but the Indicator is the one to get for a key film noir title and one worth visiting more than once. Derived from the popular radio show of the same title (which also became a TV series that ran concurrently with this film's release). The action starts before the main title even appears as a larcenous cabbie fleeing a cruise ship fatally smashes his car and leaves a pistol out on the passenger seat. A pair of assassins for a local heroin smuggling ring, Dancer (Wallach) and Julian (Keith), conspire to retrieve a drug stash hidden among the disembarking passengers at the San Francisco shipyard, but when two of the tourists inadvertently foil their plans for a drop-off at a museum, they're have to scramble to save their skins and find a way to avoid the wrath of their mysterious boss, The Man. Meanwhile investigating Lt. Guthrie (Anderson) and his men are on the trail of the crime ring as the mayhem quickly escalates to kidnapping and murder.
The Indicator release expands quite a bit on the preceding editions and also looks the best of any available options, with Sony's mint HD master looking terrific here with excellent detail (apart from a jarring unavoidable moment of rear projection). The older Ellroy-Muller commentary is carried over here, and you also get a far more genteel new track with David Del Valle (whose cousin Jaime produced the film) and the erudite C Courtney Joyner; it's more of a traditional movie buff kind of track with plenty of tidbits about the relationship to the TV show, "prickly" cinematographer Hal Mohr, other '50s noirs around the same time, the various actors (including a very young, very blond Richard Jaeckel as the ring's driver), and more. Ported over from the Sony DVD set is "The Influence of Noir" (6m29s) with Christopher Nolan chatting about the cinematic style's impact and defining traits, while the new "The Streets of San Francisco" (7m8s) covers the multitude of real shooting locations staggered throughout the film. Also included are three episodes of the radio series of the same title (which preceded both the film and TV series): 1950's "The Candy Store Murder" (29m50s), written by Blake Edwards and featuring Raymond Burr and Jeanette Nolan; 1951's "The Case of Frankie and Joyce" (30m51s) featuring Howard McNear, John McIntire, Nolan, and Virginia Gregg; and 1951's "The Harrowing Haggada Handball Case" (25m56s), written by Edwards and Richard Quine with guest stars including Hy Averback and Dave Young in addition to regular stars Bill Johnstone and Wally Maher. You also get the theatrical trailer (both standalone and a Trailers from Hell option presented by Josh Olson), a small gallery of nine images, and our final Stooges short, 1953's "Tricky Dicks" (15m57s), a very funny send-up of crime procedurals with Moe, Larry, and Shemp having a very eventful day at the police station while a killer's on the loose. The limited edition (6,000 units) also comes with a 120-page book.
Reviewed on November 15, 2020