B&W, 1947, 82 mins. 24 secs.
Directed by Richard Wallace
Starring Glenn Ford, Janis Carter, Barry Sullivan, Edgar Buchanan, Karen Morley
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Imprint (Blu-ray) (Australia R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
711 OCEAN DRIVE
B&W, 1950, 101 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Starring Edmond O'Brien, Joanne Dru, Otto Kruger, Barry Kelley
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Kit Parker Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD)
B&W, 1951, 86 mins. 15 secs.
Directed by Robert Parrish
Starring Broderick Crawford, Betty Buehler, Richard Kiley, Otto Hulett, Neville Brand, Ernest Borgnine
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Turner Classic Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
AFFAIR IN TRINIDAD
B&W, 1952, 98 mins. 9 secs.
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Starring Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, Alexander Scourby, Valerie Bettis
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Mill Creek (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
B&W, 1955, 96 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Ginger Rogers, Edward G. Robinson, Brian Keith, Lucy Marlow
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Turner Classic Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
MURDER BY CONTRACT
B&W, 1958, 80 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by Irving Lerner
Starring Vince Edwards, Phillip Pine, Herschel Bernardi, Caprice Toriel, Michael Granger
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Following swiftly on the heels of its robust and essential Columbia Noir #1, Indicator returns with another U.K. limited 6,000-unit set of Columbia crime classics, all making their domestic HD debuts and half of the six on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere. As usual these are all postwar thrillers with only one made before the 1950s, all with that unmistakable Columbia combination of sun-blasted bright sets and conflicted characters committing dark deeds involving organized crime, domestic murder plots, and other various antisocial behavior.
First comes one of a string of films with Columbia noir leading man Glenn Ford, Framed, which came in the immediate wake of his star-making success in Gilda. Here he's Mike, first seen careening at high speed in a cargo truck through a small mountain town. Thanks to failed brakes he ends up hitting a car fender and later gets a citation, paid for in a bar by the alluring Paula (Carter) who reports her new friendship to her shady partner, Steve (Sullivan). Soon the job-seeking Mike is embroiled in an elaborate murder scheme involving a silver mine, embezzlement, and a severe case of mistaken identity.
Modest but highly effective, Framed gets a lot of mileage out of Ford's everyman persona and particularly Carter's riveting femme fatale, a crackling performance from an actress who remained in steady demand for years but never quite hit the A-list level in Hollywood. It's really a prototypical noir right down to the core with its patsy leading man and jaded view of humanity, with regular studio director Richard Wallace keeping it lean and unfussy all the way to the oddly downbeat "happy" ending. First released on DVD in 2014 as part of the Glenn Ford: Undercover Crimes set (which is odd since nothing's undercover in this film), Framed first bowed in 2020 on Blu-ray in Australia as part of Imprint's Essential Film Noir Collection 1 set featuring a commentary by Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode. The Indicator release is taken from a typically excellent Sony master with a pristine LPCM English mono track and optional SDH subtitles, which applies to the other five films in the box as well. Author Imogen Sara Smith (who's pulled noir chat duties before on titles like The Sleeping City) provides a brisk audio commentary that covers all the bases including the film's writing process (including the origin of that wild curtain raiser), the cast and crew, and the manipulation of noir tropes including the notable characteristics of the Paula character. The solemn but interesting educational 1951 short "The Steps of Age" (24m28s), done in tandem with the National Institute of Mental Health, is pertinent here since it was written and directed by Ben Maddow, the main feature's screenwriter. Essentially a look at how the elderly are treated in a small town and how they pass their time, it's structured around a widowed retiree who feels she's losing connection to her family and trying to find a place in the world. On a much sillier note, 1953's "Up in Daisy's Penthouse" (16m37s) is the first of the Three Stooges shorts appended to each of the discs with some sort of thematic connection to the main film. Here you get Moe, Larry, and Shemp learning that their mom's being cast aside by their father, who's now in the clutches of a nefarious blonde named Daisy intent on seizing his money. The fact that dad is played by Shemp with an incredible set of stick-on mutton chops makes this worth the price of admission alone. As usual, you also get a robust image and poster gallery loaded with fun promotional shots.
A longstanding cult favorite among noir fans is 1950's 711 Ocean Drive, a pulpy look at shady gambling rackets with Edmond O'Brien (hot off of 1949's D.O.A. and White Heat) getting a meaty antihero role as Mal Granger, a phone repairman whose insatiable horse race betting makes him a target for an unscrupulous bookie to help out local mob boss Vince Walters (Kelley). A violent twist of fate puts the ambitious Granger in the thick of things as the mob wants to initiate him into their fold and the cops have him on their radar, with gangster wife Gail (Dru) sparking a dark romance that sends them on the run when they decide to finally escape the lifestyle.
An opening text crawl implies this film was made at the creators' peril due to illegal forces at large, but that's likely a bit of ballyhoo for a fairly straightforward crime film with a typically excellent O'Brien anchoring the twisty tale. A star in the making at the time who seemed to be everywhere for a couple of years without making the big time, Dru is also solid in a role that earns enough sympathy to have you in suspense during the rather nihilistic finale. The fact that the story is framed by a pair of cops hunting down our hero adds to the attempted true crime vibe, and adding to the fun is some great coverage of the relatively new Hoover Dam (which had only been around for roughly fifteen years), a prominent feature in the climax as well as a priceless snapshot of a major tourist location in its prime. It isn't the zippiest film in the set (probably due to the longest running time), but as a crime procedural it has a lot of offer including an in-depth look at the (now basic) tech trickery involved in the racket. First released on Blu-ray in 2019 as part of Kit Parker and Mill Creek's no-frills Noir Archive Vol. 1 set, this one gets the deluxe treatment here in addition to the usual solid a/v specs. Glenn Kenny provides an enjoyable commentary that manages to fill the time well including his thoughts on trying to classify this film, O'Brien's screen persona, critical reactions to the star and the film, and the complexities of the main character, though the length obviously gets to him after a while as he goes quiet for long gaps after the one-hour mark. A great trailer hosted by O'Brien (again trying to convince you the underworld tried to halt production) and an image gallery are also included, followed by 1945's "Diary of a Sergeant" (24m1s) from the Army Pictorial Service Signal Corps, relevant here because it's by the same director, Joseph M. Newman (who went on to helm This Island Earth and one of the scariest hours of television ever, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour's "An Unlocked Window"). Even without that connection it's a fascinating little slice of Hollywood history charting the course of actor Harold Russell, a future Oscar winner for The Best Years of Our Lives, who went to college after losing his hands during World War II. Both starring and narrated by the actor himself, it's a pretty remarkable study that will make you appreciate his film work even more. Finally the Stooges are back in 1939's "Three Sappy People" (17m21s), which finds Moe, Larry, and Curly as phone repairmen whose mistaken identities lead to a disastrous dinner party turned food fight. This and the other Stooges shorts are, as usual, in gorgeous 1080p taken from Sony's meticulous restorations of these shorts a few years ago.
Next up is the gritty The Mob, an entertaining hardboiled tale mainly designed as a vehicle for actor Broderick Crawford. Still riding high after the success of Born Yesterday and his Oscar-winning lead role in All the King's Men, he became something of a noir staple for a few years in films like Scandal Sheet and Fritz Lang's Human Desire before moving to TV popularity with Highway Patrol. Here he's a detective named Johnny Damico, who goes undercover to break up a criminal network operating out of the city docks after he witnesses a murder committed by someone wielding a police badge. He poses as an irascible dock worker to get into the labor racket that's slowly eating away at the city, all under the guise of a feigned suspension from the source. How long can he tangle with this mob before his cover's blown?
The storyline here isn't really the selling point, as The Mob is mainly an exercise in moody style with an amazing rogue's gallery of ultra-manly character actors: Richard Kiley, Neville Brand (Eaten Alive), Ernest Borgnine, John Marley, and even a bit role for Charles Bronson. You can practically smell the stale cigarette smoke and whiskey wafting off the screen, while composer George Duning (Picnic) supplies just the right dose of swanky musical polish. First released on DVD in Turner Classic Movies' Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics III set, the film makes its Blu-ray premiere here looking great with the catalog HD scan holding up quite nicely even in the many dark scenes. A packed new commentary by filmmaker and writer Gina Telaroli gives lots of props to Crawford (including a welcome shout out to his memorable hosting gig on Saturday Night Live) while also giving plenty of attention to director Richard Parrish and some of her favorite elements like scene-stealing character actor Jay Adler. Borgnine is represented twice here, first with an audio track for the film featuring his 2001 The Guardian Interview chat with Clyde Jeavons at the National Film Theatre in London for 79 minutes about his life and career in the usual color manner that made him such a beloved interview subject. Then "Ernest Borgnine in Conversation" (48m52s) features him in 2009 going over his career with Adrian Wootton at the BFI Southbank, even waxing poetic on occasion as he covers his work on the stage and both big and small screens, including a great bit about The Wild Bunch's gun violence. Following the theatrical trailer and another hefty image gallery, the disc closes out with the 1956's Three Stooges short "Hot Stuff" (16m2s) with Shemp, Larry, and Moe going undercover to foil a plot to snatch a professor and his internationally valuable rocket fuel.
A successful attempt to recapture the magic of Gilda, 1952's Affair in Trinidad reunites Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth (who gets a couple of flashy dance numbers again here) in her first film for the studio in four years. Here the action takes place in the frequently rain-soaked colony where nightclub performer Chris (Hayworth) discovers that her husband, whose recent death has been ruled a suicide, was actually murdered. The arrival of her brother-in-law, Steve (Ford), who's under the impression his brother was getting him a job, complicates things further as they embark on a perilous investigation that uncovers some nefarious activities by family friend Max Fabian (Scourby).
Unlike his role in Framed, Ford mostly stands around here and keeps out of the way of his leading lady who's obviously the star attraction here. The camera really loves every moment of her in a variety of stunning outfits, with her beaming smile delivering more production value than anything else on the screen. The film's positive commercial reception meant it's been a mainstay for years on TV airings and on major video formats including an RCA/Columbia VHS and two DVD releases from Sony (one a standard pressed release in 2008 as part of that odd Martini Movies line and then and a later DVD-R under its Sony Choice Collection line). The first Blu-ray edition appeared from Mill Creek when it was jammed into the company's 12-film Rita Hayworth: The Ultimate Collection set. The Indicator edition gives it a lot more love with a much better compression job that benefits both sight and sound here, and as with the other films in the set, the English subtitles have been tweaked to be more accurate and comprehensive than before. A new commentary by Lee Gambin is observant and often very funny as he spends a lot of time on Hayworth, her appeal, her time at Columbia, other Hollywood tangents along the way (you'll hear Jack the Giant Killer namechecked early on), and other thoughts on the social and pop culture ramifications of '50s Hollywood. One of the greatest video extras in the set is certainly "The End of the Affair" (24m5s) with Ford's son, Peter, appearing at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre in 2012 to chat about his father's life and work with the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller following a screening of The Big Heat. As with the book he wrote about his father, the chat is frank and admiring without sidestepping some of his father's less honorable aspects and touching on his place in the industry as well as the process of writing the book (initially with his dad's involvement). The trailer and a lengthy image gallery are followed by 1951's "Caribbean" (25m1s), a music-packed documentary short about the daily lives of Caribbean residents with a narrator doing his best George Sanders impression. Finally, "Saved by the Belle" (17m24s) has the Three Stooges (Curly, Larry, and Moe) getting stuck with revolutionaries and earthquakes on a tropical island.
On we go to disc five with another one of the more widely released films in the set (going back to the VHS days), the '55 thriller Tight Spot. Dance legend Ginger Rogers stars here (with some really bizarre hairdos) in an excellent turn as a hardened criminal moll who decides to turn state's witness against a nefarious gangster (Lorne Green!) under the guidance of the district attorney (Robinson, wonderfully jowly). Her boyfriend's already dead on his way to offer testimony, and now she has to decide where her courage and loyalty really lie.
This one was directed by Phil Karlson, a busy craftsman with an occasional classic under his belt like Kansas City Confidential and The Phenix City Story, and the approach definitely drifts even further from the darker terrain of immediate post-WWII noir. The stage play origins of the story give it an odd feel not unlike Rogers' color/scope thriller from the previous year, Black Widow; why she decided to move in this direction instead of sticking with musicals or romantic comedies is anyone's guess, but the results are certainly wild to behold. Long available on DVD in a variety of iterations (including an early Japanese noir set of Sony titles, a standalone PAL release in the UK, and that TCM box mentioned above), Tight Spot makes its Blu-ray debut here and looks as good as its peers. A new commentary by Nora "The Nitrate Diva" Fiore fills up every second of the film with an even balance of critical observation and facts as she parses out the film's oddball mixture of moody Karlson crime film and stagy drama, with some fun juicy bits along the way like the tension that may nor may not have arisen between two of its stars. On the video side you get the energetic theatrical trailer, which is a bit curious as it promises a film "tense with suspense" and "long, loud, low-down laughs!" Well, yeah, Brian Keith has a lot of fun zingers, but... Then there's another comprehensive image gallery, followed by "The Senate Crime Investigations" (61m27s), which can be viewed in four parts or in one big chunk documenting the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce and its queries under Senator Estes Kefauver to wade through hundreds of witnesses. (Check out Indicator's disc of The Valachi Papers to find out what happened the following decade.) Finally, 1945's Three Stooges short "Idiots Deluxe" (17m32s) with Moe, Larry, and Curly landing in court over an assault incident (imagine!) before heading to a country cabin for a very grizzly encounter.
Finally we reach the sixth film in the set and one of the most hotly desired titles on Blu-ray among many noir connoisseurs: Murder by Contract, a superb study in the development of a professional assassin featuring perhaps the best performance ever from a young Vince Edwards (before he became TV's Ben Casey). Here he's cast as Claude, a young man solely focused on getting his $28,000 dream house as quickly as possible. Holed up in a hotel room, he approaches a known gangster about becoming a hit man but is left waiting to hear back for days via a vital phone call. When his first gig finally comes in, Claude proves more than adept at rubbing out his targets thanks to his sociopathic ability to suppress any kind of empathy whatsoever. When he's assigned a female target, court witness Billie (Toriel), he realizes he may be in over his head and tries to find a way out.
With its jaunty score (essentially The Third Man goes Sicilian) and gorgeous stylized cinematography by the great Lucien Ballard (The Lodger, Laura, The Wild Bunch), Murder by Contract grabs you by the throat right from the beginning with its pared-down portrait of an isolated young man on a dogged quest to realize his dream no matter how many killings it might take to get there. The bulk of the film has an amoral tone that's surprisingly edgy for 1958, with only the consequences piled on at the end keeping it within the confines of the Production Code. Though it wasn't a big hit upon its release, the film has amassed a steady cult following over the years with Martin Scorsese giving it props on multiple occasions as a major influence on him. Scorsese even filmed a video intro (4m58s) for the film's DVD debut in the 2009 Sony DVD set, Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 1, which is naturally ported over for Indicator's Blu-ray release (again, the first anywhere in the world and reason enough to pick up this set). The film's very bold visual style works well here in 1080p, with the original grainy, gritty texture left intact while offering quite a bit more detail compared to the DVD (which was already pretty good in the first place). Here you also get a new audio commentary by film critic and writer Farran Smith Nehme, who starts off focusing on Scorsese and Ballard before branching out to cover most of the major names involved and touching on the stage of film noir this late in the game as studios were moving away and the style was becoming far more prevalent on TV. As this was recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, she also notes some of the weird ramifications the film carries today, too, and notes the curious dearth of critical coverage of the film when it was released. The theatrical trailer is also included (in its original form and then hosted by Larry Karaszewski for Trailers from Hell), plus an image gallery and an Oscar-nominated short film by the director of Murder by Contract, Irving Lerner: 1943's "Swedes in America" (17m9s), which features Ingrid Bergman hosting a look at the experiences of Swedish immigrants in the U.S. in everything from shopping to churchgoing. Our last Three Stooges short was shot by none other than Ballard himself, one of many he did for the comedy trio at Columbia: 1938's "Violence Is the Word for Curly" (17m51s), with the boys as gas station attendants who, through a fiery mishap, end up posing as athletic teachers at the all-girl Mildew College.
Reviewed on February 19, 2020