There are two Lawrence Tierney vehicles here, and the first is the one that made his name, the 1945 Dillinger. Told in flashback for no visible reason, this chronicles Dillinger’s rise from naive and incompetent thief to ruthless, brutal gang leader, and his ultimate fall. There are some startlingly brutal scenes here, for the time, and if Tierney isn’t quite as scary as James Cagney in White Heat, he’s still plenty menacing.
He’s even scarier as an out-and-out psycho…ath in Born to Kill (1947), where he’s willing to kill anyone who looks at him funny. After murdering his girlfriend and a man she was with, he takes off on the run, and winds up becoming involved with the woman who discovered the bodies. Claire Trevor is a pretty icy customer herself, and what we get here is the mating dance of the predators, with Trevor’s brute strength and hair-trigger temper no match for Trevor’s machine-like calculation. Superheated stuff.
Crossfire (1947) was made at the same time as Gentleman’s Agreement, and like its contemporary, directly addresses the issue of anti-Semitism in American society. Most of the characters are recently demobilized soldiers, and Detective Robert Young investigates the death of a Jewish man, and realizes very soon that the prime suspect is an unlikely murderer. Much more probably a culprit is vicious bigot Robert Ryan. Also suspicious of his comrade is Robert Mitchum. Director Edward Dmytryk does wonders on a tiny budget with the noir photography, and the film is uncompromisingly direct in its theme (to the point that it makes you realize how timid most films are today).
The Narrow Margin (1952) is the most straightahead thriller of the bunch (though it does pack a neat twist). Remade with Gene Hackman in the 90s, this sees Charles McGraw charged with protecting a dead mobster’s wife (played in ultra-hard-boiled style by Marie Windsor) on a Chicago-to-LA train run. There are bad guys around every cramped corner. This is a model of efficiency: as tight a thriller as you could hope for, setting up its premise and getting to the suspense with a minimum of fuss.
Clash By Night (1952) is the odd man out here. Despite a noirish cast (Robert Ryan again, Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas) and direction by Fritz Lang, this is actually a relationship drama. Stanwyck is the hard-living woman who returns to her fishing village hometown and seeks a secure future as the wife of the decent but unexciting Paul Douglas. The problem is the promise of passion with bad boy Ryan. There are plenty of heated emotions (and an early dramatic turn by Marilyn Monroe, who gets blasted off the screen by Stanwyck), and this is a strong film, but as there are no crimes committed, it fits in oddly with the other films here.
All the films are in the original mono. Crossfire’s opening music gurgles, but otherwise the sound is clean with essentially no backgrounds hiss or static (this is particularly important in Crossfire’s near-silent opening scene).
There is some minor damage here and there (guitar strings show a couple of times in Clash By Night, for instance), but there is hardly any speckling at all. Most of the time, the black-and-white tones are fabulous, with very deep blacks. There are some shots, scattered over most of the movies, that are noticeably grainier, however, and a few instances where the B&W becomes rather washed out.
All of the discs have audio commentary, and they are all excellent and very informative. The best of a very good bunch are Alain Silver and James Urisini on Crossfire (with interview excerpts from Edward Dmytryk) and Peter Bogdanovich with his extensive Fritz Lang interviews on Clash By Night. Most of the films come with their theatrical trailers, and Crossfire makes up for the lack of trailer with a solid featurette. The menus have scored main screens.
A slightly odd mix, but all of these films are excellent, and the commentaries are first-rate.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentaries
- “Crossfire: Hate Is Like a Gun” Featurette