1954's Cry Vengeance was directed by Mark Stevens who also plays the film's lead character, Vic Barron. When we first meet Vic, a former cop working the streets of San Francisco, he's being released from prison after doing some time for dipping his fingers into a cookie jar full of stolen money. Vic's glad to be out but he's only got one thing on his mind: vengeance. The title sort of gives that away. At any rate, it seems that Vic was actually framed for a crime he didn't actually commit by a bunch of hoodlums who wanted to see him out of the picture. Not only did they get him locked up but they blew up a car and killed his wife and child, leaving Vic with a seriously nasty burn mark across half of his face.
So understandably, Vic isn't the nicest guy around. He's been given a bad hand by fate and he's pretty much fed up about it. He's also had a lot of time to sit in a cell and fume. He's more than confident that one of the top crooks, Tino Morelli (Douglas Kennedy), is the man who orchestrated all of this simply because before his life got completely rocked, he was inches away from sending Tino to prison on racketeering charges. Vic's old boss, top cop Pat Ryan (Don Haggerty), insists he stay away and let the fuzz take care of things all nice and legal like, but soon after his release Vic's got a gun and is ready to use it. He hooks up with an ex-girlfriend named Lily Arnold (Joan Vohs) who has connection to Nick Buda (Lewis Martin), a nightclub owner up to some shady dealings. From her he learns that Tino has high tailed it out of town to Alaska, and before you know it, he's on his way north. Once he's there he hooks up with a bartender named Peggy Harding (Martha Hyer) who helps him finger Tino, now pretending to be a businessman named Corey. He seems to be a changed man, acting as a good dad to his kid, but Vic seems intent on killing him even when he says to him that he didn't do it. Meanwhile, Vic's been followed by a hitman named Roxey Davis (Skip Homeier). It's all about to very get ugly and complicated…
This one starts off very strong and sets Vic up as a classic tough guy, the kind that makes a good noir a great noir. And for a while, he does just that. Stevens has got an appropriately surly screen presence and the fact that he's running around with a nasty burn mark across half his face means he cuts an imposing figure when he's on screen. We also get to travel through plenty of shadowy dive bars and similarly seedy locations not just in San Francisco but even once the film shifts to Alaska as well. This gives the movie some welcome grit and a nice, shady sort of atmosphere. As the movie progresses, we want to see Vic get that payback he craves. These guys killed his wife and kid and sent him to jail and took his job, he deserves something in return. We don't blame him in the least for wanting to pump some bad guys full of hot lead, and in fact, it looks like that's exactly what we're going to get.
And then, somewhat predictably, Vic's icy heart begins to melt. The warmth he feels from Lily and then later from Peggy obviously has an effect on him and this once hardboiled man starts to wonder about the ethics of killing a man who has to care for a daughter. The revenge plot soon becomes polluted by melodrama and the film's hardboiled beginnings soon start to weaken. The movie stays interesting and Stevens the director manages to keeps Stevens the actor busy enough with some interesting subplots, but it gets a little too sweet a little too quickly and in ways that are a little too obvious to help the movie. As such, we wind up with a movie that's simply good instead of great.
Similar in some ways to the far superior Fritz Lang picture The Big Heat, the picture moves at a good pace and does do a very good job of capturing the remote Alaskan locations used for much of its running time. Skip Homeier steals every scene he's in as the nutjob hitman keeping tabs on our (anti) hero while Hyer and Vohs make for nice eye candy even if they're not given much to do in the way of serious character development. There's enough here to make it an interesting watch for film noir fans even if it's a middle tier picture. The cast do a decent job with the material, it's nicely shot and looks good in widescreen and the score is actually pretty cool in its own right. Had this not gone in such a predictable direction towards the end it would hold up far better than it does but even with those obvious easy way out plot devices there's enough to like about Cry Vengeance that if you're a fan of the genre you should make a point of seeing it.
Cry Vengeance looks very nice on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1., even if it's obvious by the many small scratches on the image that the film hasn't been given a proper full blown restoration (which is par for the course with Olive's catalogue releases). There's a nice amount of natural looking film grain present that results in a very film like presentation without the picture ever looking too deteriorated or dirty because of it. Texture is good and black levels are strong, with very average shadow detail for an older picture made on a modest budget. As is often the case with Olive's older black and white catalogue releases, the movie could have been cleaned up more than it has been, but it still looks pretty good and it offers a reasonable amount of depth. A few stock footage inserts are used in the movie and those are a bit rougher looking than the feature itself but that's no fault of the transfer and is obviously source related. All in all, this is a perfectly respectable presentation.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in the film's original English language, no alternate language or subtitle options or offered. The audio is clean and clear and easy to follow, the dialogue easily discernible and the score sounds fine. There are no issues here with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout the movie. Range is obviously limited by the age and format of the source material, so expect some flatness throughout the movie, but overall the movie sounds decent enough.
Aside from a static menu and chapter selection, there are no extra features at all on this Blu-ray disc from Olive Films.
Cry Vengeance is not a masterpiece but it does introduce us to an interesting lead character and offer up a few memorable performances and locations. It takes the easy way out towards the end but the buildup is great and the production values slick enough to make this worth seeing. Olive Films' Blu-ray offers no extras, but most fans know that by now they really don't bother with that type of thing anyway. The transfer is solid as is the audio and this one comes recommended to film noir fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.