B&W, 1947, 95 mins. 43 secs.
Directed by Robert Rossen
Starring Dick Powell, Evelyn Keyes, Lee J. Cobb, Ellen Drew, Nina Foch, Thomas Gomez
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
THE DARK PAST
B&W, 1948, 74 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Rudolph Maté
Starring William Holden, Nina Foch, Lee J. Cobb, Adele Jergens, Lois Maxwell
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Kit Parker Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD)
B&W, 1950, 90 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Henry Levin
Starring Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, Millard Mitchel, Dorothy Malone
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Turner Classic Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN
B&W, 1950, 89 mins. 3 secs.
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring Mark Stevens, Edmond O'Brien, Gale Storm, Donald Buka
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Mill Creek (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
B&W, 1952, 87 mins. 57 secs.
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Starring Adolphe Menjou, Arthur Franz, Gerald Mohr, Marie Windsor
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Turner Classic Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
CITY OF FEAR
B&W, 1959, 75 mins. 10 secs.
Directed by Irving Lerner
Starring Vince Edwards, John Archer, Patricia Blair, Steven Ritch
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
If you didn't get enough 1940s and '50s urban angst, backstabbing, and shadowy style with Columbia Noir #1 and Columbia Noir #2 from Indicator, here's another jam-packed box with six gritty crime thrillers in a limited 6,000-unit U.K. set. This time all of the films are making their global Blu-ray premieres, a factor that should easily make this an essential purchase if you love regular doses of 1080p noir.
As usual the set moves chronologically and spans twelve years at Columbia starting off with 1947's Johnny O'Clock, this debut effort from director Robert Rossen before he hit the big time with All the King's Men and The Hustler. Still flourishing in his overhauled tough guy persona after Murder, My Sweet and Cornered, onetime musical nice guy Dick Powell stars as the strangely named title character, who has a stake in a casino controlled by Guido (Gomez), whose wife Nelle (Drew) used to be Johnny's girlfriend, and a dirty local cop. After the murder of a casino hat girl, Harriet (Columbia vet Foch), her sister Nancy (Keyes) shows up to get to the bottom of the crime and ends up winning over Johnny's affections. As the investigating Inspector Koch (Cobb) sifts through the homicide that soon escalates into multiple murders, and Johnny realizes he could end up in much hotter water than he could have imagined.
Featuring some wildly composed camerawork by Burnett Guffey (who went on to shoot Bonnie and Clyde and Homicidal), this is a modest but engaging little thriller that also functions nicely as a character study about a man who's tied to everything without any deep commitments inside himself. First issued on DVD in 2014 as part of TCM's Columbia Pictures Film Nor Classics IV set (packaged with So Dark the Night, Walk a Crooked Mile, Between Midnight and Dawn, and Walk East On Beacon!), the film looks excellent here on Blu-ray with another sparkling Sony scan that's comparable to the strongest entries in the earlier collections. As with the others in this set, the English 2.0 LPCM mono track is also in faultless condition and comes with improved English SDH subtitles. A new commentary by film historian Jim Hemphill is very thoroughly researched and, though covering many aspects of the film, focuses primarily on Rossen including his run-ins with HUAC, his early days in Hollywood, and the recurring leftist themes in his work that found full fruition with his bigger hits later on as well as some cinematic disappointments. Video extras include the theatrical trailer ("Hard... Fast... Dangerous!"), a gallery of 40 stills and advertising odds and ends, and Not One Shall Die (29m28s), a 1957 short by David Lowell Rich (with many of the personnel from this film) featuring Guy Madison, Felicia Farr, and Agnes Moorehead for the United Jewish Appeal about a doctor who, upon arriving at a refugee camp, flashes back to how he lost his wife and could get a new start in Israel. Though she doesn't really come into play until the second half, Moorehead is easily the standout element here as an Egyptian refugee en route to a new home. Though taken from an aged element, it's a welcome inclusion here and presented from what is likely the best surviving material. As usual, you also get a thematically relevant Three Stooges short; in this case it's 1936's Whoops, I'm an Indian! (17m24s), with Moe, Larry, and Curly as casino dealers in Davy Crockett hats whose crooked tactics get them run out of own, prompting them to come up with new identities (which you can probably guess from the title). Much slapping and confusion ensue. Like the rest of the Columbia Stooges shorts we've gotten, this comes from their top-tier restoration series and looks great.
Cobb and Foch also turn up on disc two with 1948's The Dark Past, a noir-flavored home invasion story with a Spellbound-style twist and the first of two remakes in this set (in this case, a redo of Charles Vidor's Blind Alley from 1939). Debating with a skeptical rookie officer about the value of psychoanalyzing a young crime suspect, police doctor Andrew Collins (Cobb) explains his own life-changing experience years earlier when he took his family and had some friends over at a vacation cabin. Their getaway is thrown into chaos when escaped convict Al Walker (Holden) and his cohorts including girlfriend Betty (Foch) break in and hold the inhabitants hostage. However, Collins' keen sense of behavioral observation comes in handy when he gets the chance to pry open his captor's psyche and find out what violent trauma lurks deep inside.
With its Freudian dream sequences shown in negative and a committed central performance by Holden, The Dark Past manages to be more than just a footnote precursor to The Desperate Hours thanks to its odd psychology angle and solid dialogue for its leads, who manage to sell the potentially ridiculous material about as well as you could in post-WWII America. Cobb lends great support as always but mostly clears the stage for Holden (sporting an unflattering haircut), who had just come back from World War II and was gladly taken back by Columbia as their literal Golden Boy. Strangely, this one's been out of commission on home video for a long time since its RCA/Columbia VHS release back in 1988 and makes a welcome return here if you didn't catch one of its rare TV airings over the past few decades. Again the elements have been kept in prime condition, making this the first chance to see this in really prime quality for many viewers now. A new commentary by academic Eloise Ross notes how the film operates as both a noir and social issues narrative, extrapolates on the "dark" title component like a flood of other noirs, and elaborates on elements like Foch's presence, the then-recent rumba dance craze, and comparisons to the earlier film version. In "The Poised Performance" (13m47s), film historian Pamela Hutchinson gives a very informative and appreciative survey of the Dutch-born actress' career from drama school onwards that led to her distinctive screen presence and a showbiz affinity that could have gone much further behind the camera. An image gallery compiles 36 stills and lobby cards, followed by a 1940 radio production of Blind Alley from The Gulf Screen Guild Theater (23m2s) featuring Edward G Robinson, Joseph Calleia and Isabel Jewell. (Weirdly, the host tries to push this at the beginning as a "horror story!") Finally, the Three Stooges are back in 1948's Shivering Sherlocks (17m29s) with Larry, Moe, and Shemp interrogated about a car robbery and ending up at a secluded mansion mixed up with the real criminals.
Disc three provides the other remake here, 1950's Convicted, the third Hollywood go-round for The Criminal Code. A play first filmed by Howard Hawks in 1930 and also out on standalone Blu-ray from Indicator, this was one of the first major mainstream successes about prison life and was very familiar to audiences through both its screen iterations and radio performances. Here the character names are all changed for some reason along with the title itself, but the story remains the same with Joe Hufford (Ford) sent up the river after an impulsive nightclub fight ends up in a manslaughter charge thanks to incompetent legal representation. The compassionate new warden, George Knowland (Crawford), who had been the opposing counsel in Joe's case, arrives to live on the premises with his daughter, Kay (a virtually unrecognizable Malone), and tries to help Joe adjust in a climate where, as we all know, snitches get stitches. That moral code is put to the test when Joe refuses to rat on fellow inmate Malloby (Mitchell), who has no scruples of his own, and ends up in solitary, but that's just the beginning of his problems.
The only post-WWII big screen version of this story, Convicted follows the template of Hawks' version and the second go-round, John Brahm's Penitentiary from 1938, but differs significantly with its tone featuring that set-bound Columbia feel from the turn of the decade and the casting of Ford, an all-American good guy (even though he was really Canadian!) who plays nicely off of the always solid Crawford (fresh off his Oscar win for All the King's Men). Interestingly, the character of Malloby isn't as vivid here with Mitchell downplaying it more than Boris Karloff's celebrated, star-making turn in the Hawks film. Widely shown on TV for years, Convicted first showed up on DVD in 2014 from TCM in the Glenn Ford: Undercover Crimes set along with Framed, The Undercover Man, The Lady in Question, and Mr. Soft Touch. The Blu-ray features an audio commentary by this writer and Troy Howarth so that obviously can't be assessed here, but hopefully you'll find it worthwhile. Jonathan Bygraves' "Codes and Convictions" video essay is ported over from Indicator's The Criminal Code edition, comparing the various movie incarnations including the elusive Spanish and French-language versions, followed by a hefty 65-image gallery with tons of fun production and promotional stills (including some of the recently departed Martha Stewart). In 1941's So Long Mr. Chumps (17m24s), Curly, Larry, and Moe are street cleaners who are offered a hefty reward if they go incognito to jail to find an innocent man. Good luck following the logic of the premise, but it's another feast of physical gags including the trio doing hard labor smashing rocks while lugging around a ball and chain.
And on we go to disc four with Between Midnight and Dawn from 1950, the third and final bona fide noir directed by Gordon Douglas for Columbia after Walk a Crooked Mile and Mr. Soft Touch. Though still within the parameters of noir, it's also an interesting police procedural showing what offers on night duty deal with ranging from menial tasks to life or death showdowns. Our protagonists here are lifelong friends and war vets Rocky (Stevens), who has a compassionate approach to suspects, and Dan (O'Brien), who's verging on Dirty Harry-ism. Both of them feel attracted to one of their regular dispatchers, Kate (Storm), who isn't interested in dating a man in blue, while their regular beat involves pulling over suspicious people and dealing with precocious kids. However, the danger level amps up considerably when they end up on the wrong side of racketeer Ritchie Garris (Buka), who might make sure that at least one of them doesn't live long enough to see morning.
First seen on DVD in that same Columbia noir set as Johnny O'Clock mentioned above, this is a swift and entertaining ride that throws in some fun unexpected elements like a juicy turn from Gale Robbins as a sort-of femme fatale who works in her considerable movie musical experience here with a glittering nightclub number. O'Brien was apparently incapable of giving an uninteresting performance, and that's true here as well as he etches out a frustrated and frequently questionable officer of the law who foreshadows the types who would turn up later in the novels of Joseph Wambaugh. Douglas also comes up with some inventive ways of working around the studio sets by mounting the camera from the vantage point of the car itself, giving the film a feeling of constantly being in motion that pays off nicely in the expected violent climax. The Indicator disc is another pleasing presentation comparable to the others and comes with an extremely brisk, packed audio commentary by entertainment journalist Bryan Reesman who notes similarities to a British noir-ish cop thriller from the same year he also tackled (The Blue Lamp), the film's arguable status as Hollywood's first "buddy cop" movie, and ties to a slew of TV shows ranging from Adam-12 to Father Knows Best. In "Categorically Dependable" (16m7s), Kim Newman tackles the extensive output of Gordon Douglas starting off with a bit of context from Andrew Sarris and explains the value of a filmmaker who falls far outside of what became embraced by the auteur theory. (And yes, he does mention the camp extravaganza Sincerely Yours.) The trailer and a 47-image gallery are also included, and the Three Stooges walk the beat in 1943's Dizzy Detectives (18m36s) as three inept carpenters who get recruited to the force to hunt down a burglar who operates in an ape suit.
Film number five is one that garnered a hefty amount of buzz in the film community when it first hit DVD back in 2009 as part of the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics 1 box. Made by The Stanley Kramer Company and sporting an opening disclaimer that this is a serious look at the "story of a man whose enemy was womankind," this was part of a run of very solid genre films from director Edward Dmytryk that are often overshadowed by the one big dramatic heavy hitter from that period, The Caine Mutiny, as well as his own controversial role in the HUAC hearings as one of the Hollywood Ten after which this film marked his comeback of sorts. What we have here is essentially the granddaddy of the sniper attack movie, something that would become more familiar later with films like Targets and TV's The Deadly Tower (both inspired to different degrees by Charles Whitman's 1966 shooting rampage in Austin, Texas). In fact, Harry Novak even engineered a scuzzy semi-remake of this film as Zero In and Scream, which would make for a very weird and queasy double feature.
Deeply disturbed Eddie Miller (Franz) is so resentful of women he wants but can't have that he burns himself in frustration, with a particular hatred expressed against the objects of his obsession who are out in public with their boyfriends or husbands. Lieutenant Frank Kafka (Menjou) is put in charge of the urgent investigation when Eddie sends a letter in to the police begging for someone to stop him, which comes into play when the young man pulls out a rifle and starts shooting random female pedestrians. Shot around San Francisco with a naturalistic style that seems indebted to Italian neorealism at times, the film keeps up a steady amount of tension throughout while also operating a showcase for familiar character actors ranging from Marie Windsor to Richard Kiley and Wally Cox. The subject matter is handled with an admirable amount of delicacy, all things considered, and it was enough of a prestige film with Kramer attached to snag an Oscar nomination for its original story. The Indicator edition carries over the Martin Scorsese intro (3m17s) created for the 2009 DVD and that disc's thorough and engaging audio commentary by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller, talking about the film's origins conceived by writers Edna and Edward Anhalt, the novelty of the real locations used in the film rather than studio exteriors, and the sociological concerns at play concerning criminal psychology and justice. The trailer and a really grim 43-image gallery are included, while 1953's Three Lives (23m3s) is another United Jewish Appeal short this time bringing back Dmytryk, Franz, and the Anhalts for a look at how three lives were impacted by the organization. This one hasn't been kept in the greatest of shape, but it's wild to see Charlton Heston, Jane Wyman, Franz, and Randolph Scott turning up as your hosts on a movie set offering the framework for a mixture of stock footage and dramatizations. Continuing the three theme but little else in 1945's Three Pests in a Mess (15m20s) with The Three Stooges going to extravagant lengths to obtain a patent for their fly-catching machine, which puts them in the crosshairs of some gun-happy criminals that ends up with mass confusion involving a mannequin and a cemetery. This one's actually perfect for Halloween viewing, complete with gags involving skeleton and devil costumes.
Last up is City of Fear from 1959, a follow-up of sorts to the previous year's superb Murder by Contract reuniting director Irving Lerner and star Vince Edwards. This one hasn't gotten quite as much traction as that earlier film, even with its placement in the 2010 Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II set (rubbing shoulders with Human Desire, The Brothers Rico, Nightfall, and Pushover). However, it's rather potent viewing now with its theme of a city at risk from contamination, putting this in tiny company with Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets from 1950 as film noir viewing of choice during the pandemic era. Edwards chucks his pretty boy persona out the window here as Vince Ryker, first seen speeding through the night in a car with his fellow inmate after escaping from prison. Vince is toting along a canister he's swiped that he believes contains a pound of heroin that could turn a quick profit, but it's actually housing a dangerously radioactive substance, Cobalt-60. Disguising himself as a bespectacled businessman, Vince makes his way into San Francisco and starts to sweat profusely as the authorities and scientists desperately scramble to find him before the rest of the population is contaminated as well.
Easily the most extreme of the urban paranoia nightmares in this set, City of Fear tosses an effective atomic age twist on the usual manhunt scenario here and gets a lot of mileage out of the inky cinematography by the great Lucien Ballard, who had already shot Stanley Kubrick's The Killing and went on to San Peckinpah films like The Wild Bunch and The Getaway. If Ballard's earlier work on Murder by Contract showed his agility with limited sets and a low budget, here he and Lerner get to explore an entire city and its outskirts with multiple elements at play trying to cut off our toxic bad guy. The Indicator release carries over a short video interview with filmmaker Christopher Nolan, "Pulp Paranoia" (6m22s), in which he espouses the relevant merits of film noir rather than this film in particular. A new audio commentary by Adrian Martin touches on the pandemic connections and draws in comparisons to a number of other names like Godard while expounding on the traits that exemplify noir, particularly its portrayals of city life. Also included are the trailer and a 30-image gallery, while Lerner gets represented extensively in three additional shorts including 1943's The Autobiography of a "Jeep" (9m29s), which he directed. Complete with a brisk commentary by Jeremy Arnold, it's a fascinating curio commissioned by FDR as part of a patriotic newsreel line -- in this case basically touting the value of the then-recent vehicle in a variety of military capacities. Lerner's role as a producer is spotlighted with 1944's Hymn of the Nations (28m58s), a Verdi performance by conductor Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra (presented here in its rarely-seen full version with a Russian segment at the end among its climactic patriotic anthems), and 1945's The Cummington Story (20m1s), essentially a salute to American neighborly behavior from the U.S. Office of War Information showing how refugees can find new homes in American towns. Finally, 1958's Oil's Well That Ends Well (16m13s) is our final Three Stooges offering (and the only widescreen one here) as Larry, Moe, and Joe get a letter from their father urging them go find a wealth of uranium(!) at his mining facility, which in turns lead to a much more splashy discovery. The sturdy box also comes with a 120-page book featuring essays by Peter Stanfield, David Cairns, Michał Oleszczyk, Adam Scovell, Fintan McDonagh, Andrew Nette, Jeff Billington, and Ramsey Campbell (on the Stooges!), plus an assortment of archival articles and interviews, with fascinating notes along the way about everything from Dmytryk and Guffey to composer George Duning and the strain of atomic-themed noir thrillers.