Robert Mitchum shows up twice here, as does Robert Ryan. The two clash in The Racket (1951), where Mitchum is the incorruptible cop, and Ryan is the old-school gangster whose brutally direct methods put him in conflict not only with Mitchum, but with the more sophisticated crime syndicate spreading over the land. The focus of the film is rather split between the two, but is pretty tense, and is further enlivened by a memorably sleazy turn by William Conrad as a VERY corrupt cop.
Ryan for once gets to be the good guy in On Dangerous Ground, though he’s a pretty edgy hero. He’s a cop who takes altogether too much delight in beating suspects to a pulp. Sent out of town after once again losing control of his fists, he becomes involved in a manhunt for what turns out to be the mentally retarded killer of a young girl. Ida Lupino is the sister of the murderer, and she brings out Ryan’s latent humanity. The shift from urban grit to snowy countryside is startling but effective, and Ryan is perfectly cast.
Mitchum’s other performance is in His Kind of Woman (1951), one of the two real oddities in this collection. The film starts off as a straight, tense noir, with Mitchum as an out-of-luck gambler sent to an out-of-the-way Mexican resort for reasons undisclosed to him, but that have something to do with mobster boss Raymond Burr. Gradually, the dialogue and scenes start verging into noir parody, and then Vincent Price arrives, playing a hammy actor, and the film splits into increasingly sadistic suspense (Mitchum’s torture is quite harrowing) and full-on slapstick as Price rides to the rescue. It shouldn’t work. But it does.
Also famously odd is Lady in the Lake (1946). Robert Montgomery stars as Phillip Marlowe, and he also directs. The film is entirely shot from Marlowe’s point of view. The subjective camera very quickly becomes irritating, but not quite irritating enough to derail the film, and it does produce some striking sequences, most notably after a near fatal car crash and “you” are crawling along the ground.
Border Incident (1949) is a piece about illegal migrant workers, and still resonates. Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy are the Mexican and American cop who team up to bust a ring of human smugglers. Their plan, it must be said, could have been fine-tuned somewhat, but as it goes wrong, the suspense cranks up, and there is a remarkably nasty scene involving heavy farm machinery that must have left the film’s initial audiences stunned. It still packs a wallop. Howard Da Silva is terrific as the very laid-back ringleader.
As in the previous collections, all the films are in the original mono. The sound is clean and generally lacking distortion in most cases, though there is a lot of hiss and static to deal with on Lady in the Lake. As well, Border Incident is much too quiet, requiring a massive increase in volume just to be properly audible.
All of the films are eminently watchable, but there doesn’t appear to have been any attempt at restoration. Generally the tones are great and the blacks even better, with decently sharp images. However, speckling and grain are recurring issues, and His Kind of Woman has some pretty bad guitar strings kicking in around the 80 minute mark. This film is also a bit soft, and has some rather harsh tones as well. None of these problems will severely affect the viewer’s enjoyment, but the prints could do with some sprucing up.
Excellent commentary tracks on all of these. All are by film historians, and are wonderful in-depth guides to the films. The theatrical trailer for each film is also provided. The last disc in the box set is a 68-minute documentary, Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light, which is an excellent introduction to, and overview of, the genre. This disc also has five “Crime Doesn’t Pay” shorts to round things off.
Terrific movies all, with great commentaires and a nice bonus disc overcome whatever sound and picture shortcomings are present.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentaries
- Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light Documentary
- Crime Doesn’t Pay Shorts
- Theatrical Trailers