Volume 4 of Warner’s Film Noir Classic Collection series raises the bar over its wonderful predecessors by doubling the number of movies on offer: ten this time around.
Acts of Violence sees two former war comrades (Van Heflin and Robert Ryan) on a violent collision course. The former is a respected citizen, the other is, well, Robert Ryan, and he’s never up to any good, but things are more complicated than they appear.
Mystery Street is touted on the box as “CSI Noir,” which makes it seem like semi-documentary procedurals were rare at the time. They weren’t, but that doesn’t make this flick any less fun. Maybe not, strictly speaking, a noir, but who really cares?
They Live By Night has young lovers Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell having to work despite themselves for veteran gangsters. This was director Nicholas Ray’s debut.
In Side Street, Granger and O’Donnell prove they have no luck at all as a couple, as this time he goofs up and steals some money, and when he tries to make amends, finds out that he has dunked himself and his wife into a whole heap of trouble.
Robert Mitchum and Faith Domergue are a different sort of trouble couple in Where Danger Lives. They’ve just disposed of her husband, and are on the run. Gotta love the black romances of noir.
In Tension, put-upon husband Richard Basehart plots revenge against faithless wife Audrey Totter. Things do not turn out as planned.
Illegal sees the inimitable Edward G. Robinson as a DA who, after he sends an innocent man to the chair, switches teams and plays for the defense, and isn’t too worried about how he wins his cases. Look for Jayne Mansfield in her debut, DeForest Kelly as the innocent man, and Edward Platt (“Chief” from Get Smart) as a DA called (what else?) “Chief.”
The Big Steal has Robert Mitchum again, again on the road (this time with Jane Greer) but rather than fleeing, they’re on a manhunt (or more precisely, a man-with-a-suitcase-stuffed-with-cash hunt).
Is the city suffering a Crime Wave? Then who better than Sterling Hayden to have as the cop on the case. Then again, if you’re an ex-con struggling to go straight, having Hayden’s implacable hostility aimed your way can’t be good.
And in Decoy, Jean Gillie is about as fatale as a it is possible for any femme to be, as she betrays and murders left and right, bringing back one boyfriend from the dead (the Wonders of Chemistry!) in order to find out where his stolen loot is, and going out with a final scene so hard-boiled, she makes Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell look like Anne of Green Gables.
There’s a marvellous range here, from procedurals to dramas to lost Poverty Row gems (Decoy being a prime example of the latter). This is an amazing collection of classic entertainment in one box.
The original mono is the only option here, and that’s just fine. I’ve heard all the unfortunate stereo remixes I need to, thanks, though I’m sure more are down the line. At any rate, the static is held to a minimum, and the dialogue is always crisp and clear. The sound delivers exactly what it should, and nothing that it shouldn’t.
Though not perfect, it is more than adequate. Each film, it seems, is going to have a few shots that are noticeably grainy and soft, but generally the image quality is sharp. Damage is minimal (there are some guitar strings, but they are faint), and the black-and-white tones are strong. These aren’t beautifully restored prints, but they are still in very good condition, and are more often than not a pleasure to watch. One oddity: though the films are 1.33:1 or 1:37:1 in their original format, Illegal is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Every film comes with a commentary track, and the range of contributors is impressive, from co-star/AFI instructor Nina Foch on Illegal to James Ellroy on Crime Wave to the always dependable James Ursini and Alain Silver on Where Danger Lives. Consider this a graduate course in noir. There are solid featurettes for each film as well, along with a vintage one for Illegal. The theatrical trailers are present and correct, too.
Great films, great extras, great collection. Did I mention this was great?