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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Noir Archive Volume 1 (Blu-ray)
Noir Archive Volume 1 (Blu-ray)
Columbia Classics // Unrated // April 23, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $49.95
Review by Ian Jane | posted April 22, 2019 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
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The Movie:

Mill Creek Entertainment offers up a collection of nine classic titles from the Sony/Columbia archives in this new three-disc Blu-ray set comprised of pictures from 1944 through 1954.

DISC ONE:

Address Unknown:

Directed by William Cameron Menzies in 1944, Address Unknown tells the story of Martin Schultz (Paul Lukas), a German art dealer living in America who, along with his wife Elsa (Mady Christians), returns to his homeland just as the Nazi's are preparing to take over the rest of the continent. Martin's partner on American soil was a Jewish man named Max Eisenstein (Morris Carnovsky), and his daughter, Griselle (K.T. Stevens), is romantically involved with Martin's son, Heinrich (Peter Van Eyck). Clearly, Martin is conflicted about much of what he sees going on around him.

As Martin communicates with those who he's left behind in America, his letters become increasingly tinged by the foul stench of Nazi propaganda and able to easily write off the anti-Semitism that is on the rise. His life becomes only more complicated from here on out.

A rather harrowing picture for many reasons, Address Unknown is an interesting war-time thriller made before the events at Pearl Harbor sent The United States into the conflict. It's an interesting and stylish picture that, sadly, resonates quite strongly today. Its script is intelligent, interesting and well-written. The performances are quite strong here as well. Paul Lukas in particular is quite good, he really doesn't see the trouble around him that those more removed from his situation do, he plays his part very well. He isn't inherently evil but instead naïvely won over by the propaganda that he's taking in. His story is less about the actual war that occurred and more about what led to it, how Germany got there and how the country was won over by a nationalist showman.

The film is stylish. There are a lot of unusual but very effective camera angles employed throughout the picture and lots of nice, shadowy cinematography. Close up shots are used well throughout to heighten tension and emphasis the actions of certain characters. This is well put together and technically quite impressive. A very good, underrated film that is frighteningly resonant in the modern day.

Escape In The Fog:

Less a traditional noir and more of a spy movie, director Budd Boetticher's 1945 film Escape In The Fog opens with a dramatic scene atop the San Francisco bridge in the middle of a foggy night. Here, a beautiful woman named Eileen Carr (Nina Foch) is stopped by a police officer (an uncredited Dick Jensen) who warns her about being out here alone at night. Just then, a car pulls up and two men jump out, attempting to murder a third. Then… BAM! Eileen wakes up, it was all a crazy dream. She finds fellow hotel guest Barry Malcolm (William Wright) standing by her, and realizes that Barry, who she has never met before, was the man she saw about to be murdered in the dream.

The two go for breakfast and clearly hit it off. There's an obvious mutual attraction here. Barry learns that Eileen has been given an honorable discharge after working as a nurse for the United States Navy while Eileen learns that Barry seems to do a lot of things he can't really talk about very much. When Barry asks Eileen to head to San Francisco with him, she agrees, but there's more to this than just a fun trip. See, Barry is a spy for the American government and a few nasty Nazi's operating out of California led by Schiller (Konstantin Shayne), a clock repairman, are out to get him and get their hands on his top secret papers!

The dream sequence that starts this one off is fantastic, it grabs you and really pulls you into the story. From there, things sort of meander a bit, working humor and a bit of romance in to the storyline, before then getting back on track towards the end. As such, the tone here is pretty uneven, but the film entertains even if it stops short of doing much more than that. The performances are good: Nina Foch is lovely, William Wright is suave and Konstantin Shayne appropriately sneaky. A bit of action, a but of suspense… it's all here. The movie doesn't really stand out all that much, once it's over it isn't all that memorable, but it's a fun way to kill sixty-three-minutes.

The Guilt Of Janet Ames:

Harry Levin directs 1947's The Guilt Of Janet Ames, a picture that stars Rosalind Russell as the titular Miss Ames. She's the recently widowed wife of a soldier who threw himself on a grenade to save a few of the men in his platoon. She is completely distraught by this and, when she gets the name of the men her husband died to save, decides that she wants to meet each one of them to get a feel for whether or not his sacrifice was really worth it. Before she can really get started on this, however, tragedy starts a second time when she is hit by a car, paralyzed and then forced to use a wheelchair to get around.

Regardless, she's determined and soon enough meets up with the first of the men, a reporter named Smitty (Melvin Douglas) when he's sent to the hospital to identify her after the accident. As he, a rundown alcoholic out of a job, gets to know her they come to a bit of an understanding and she gets to know more about the men her husband died to save.

This one takes a little while to hit its stride but once it does, it's quite a solid film, even if it is a bit of a stretch to categorize it as film noir. It's more of a drama with elements of romance and mystery thrown in with equal measure. Still, it's well-made. Russell is excellent in the lead, we feel for her and we understand her anguish and her loss. She and Douglas have an interesting chemistry together, it is unorthodox to be sure, but it works. Small parts for Caesar Romero, Nina Foch and Betsy Blair are also noteworthy.

The cinematography is nice if not always remarkable. Production values are fine. It's the script here that makes the movie stand out, however. It's unusual to see a movie deal with loss as harrowingly as it does here, and equally strange to see a film from this period tackle something like PTSD.

DISC TWO:

The Black Book

Also known as The Reign Of Terror, this 1949 film directed by Anthony Mann, is set in the era of the French Revolution (hardly a typical ‘noir setting') and introduces us to Charles D'Aubigny (Robert Cummings). He's a patriotic Frenchman who kills a prosecutor named Duval (Charles Gordon) and then takes on his identity. The point of all of this? Maximilian Robespierre (Robert Basehart) has called for Duval because the black book he keeps with his enemies list inside, those same enemies he intends to see executed, has disappeared!

Wanting to get his hands on the black book before his cover is blown, Charles makes amends with his former flame, Madelon (Arlene Dahl), to do just that.

Those expecting something along the lines of T-Men or Raw Deal will be sorely disappointed by this one. There's very little suspense or action here, and instead we get we get drama and romance. It's an odd inclusion in this set to be sure, but if it isn't great at least it isn't horrible. Cummings might not set the world on fire with his lead but Robert Basehart chews just enough scenery that anytime he's on screen the movie is pretty fun. Arlene Dahl is fine here, just as pretty as a picture, but her character is underwritten. Basehart tends to steal the show.

Mann's frequent cinematography John Alton is behind the camera again, and that also counts for a lot. This is a very handsome film that makes great use of some stark, high contrast lighting techniques to help make this look like less of the maudlin soap opera that it is. Not a great film, but worth seeing.

Johnny Allegro:

Ted Tetzlaff directs this 1949 production about a man named, yep, Johnny Allegro (George Raft). This one-time gangster and former solider meets and a beautiful woman named Glenda Chapman (Nina Foch again) who just so happens to be the main moll of one Morgan Vallin (George Macready), a powerful mobster with a bad attitude and a penchant for archery.

Not surprisingly, Glenda sees Johnny, who since getting out of the big house works as a florist, as her ticket away from Morgan. Eventually, Johnny is asked to go undercover and bust Morgan's enterprise wide open, but of course, things get complicated and before it's all over Johnny doesn't know who he can trust or if he'll even make it out of this in one piece.

Once you get over the unintentionally funny sight of seeing George Raft tenderly arrange a beautiful floral bouquet, this one proves decent enough. Yes, there are a few sub plots that could and should have been cleaned up more than they have been and there are some pacing issues in the middle stretch but by and large this eighty-minute thriller works quite well. Raft is quite fun to watch here, throwing himself into the role and playing the tough guy part as well here as he has anywhere else, while Foch is once again a beautiful bombshell whose acting is just as good as her looks. George Macready is pretty fun as the bad guy, chewing a little bit of scenery, sure, but not too much

There's good tension throughout most of the film. As the story twists and turns we, just like Johnny, easily lose sight of who is good and who is up to no good. It's a fun movie, it hits a nice mix of action and intrigue and it features some good camerawork and interesting locations.

711 Ocean Drive:

Joseph M. Newman was the man in the director's chair or this rock-solid slice of classic noir from 1950. The film stars the inimitable Edmond O'Brien as Mal Granger, a telephone repairman by trade. Mal, like so many leads in films like this, is a flawed man. He's got a bad gambling habit and has racked up more than a little debt from this problem. Fortune seems to shine on him when his knack for new voice recording technology earns him a spot on the good side of local bookie Chippie Evans (Sammy White). He brings him on board to do his thing and use the information he's able to get them to expand their enterprise.

Pretty soon, a competing gangster named Carl Stephans (Otto Kruger) wants to muscle in and take over. As things get complicated and Granger winds up with blood on his hands, his relationship with the lovely Gail Mason (Joanne Dru) becomes tricky given that she's the wife of Stephans' right hand man, Larry Mason (Don Porter). And, well, Lieutenant Wright (Howard St. John) starts snooping around too. We won't spoil anything here for those who haven't seen this one before.

Good stuff. Shot in and around some really seedy California locations, this one is maybe a bit too typical of a ‘rise and fall of a criminal' story in some regards but it's done right. Newman paces the film really, really well and O'Brien, a bit of a noir stalwart, does a great job in the lead role. We feel for him, at first at least, but we can see pretty early on where he's headed even if he can't. at the same time, he's relatable in a sense in that he's ambitious if maybe not in all the right ways. Some great interplay between he and Dru makes their characters interesting to watch. She's very good here as well and you can't help but love Otto Kruger as the heavy.

Newman paces the film nicely, the camera work is strong and the movie generally feels grounded enough that we never really have to suspend our disbelief.

DISC THREE:

The Killer That Stalked New York:

Earl McEvoy's seventy-five-minute 1950 production The Killer That Stalked New York isn't about a knife wielding maniac or a gun toting psychopath running about the streets of Manhattan but instead about a break out of small pox. The story revolves around a sultry diamond smuggler named Sheila Bennett (Evelyn Keyes) who is smart enough to realize that upon returning to the United States after her latest trip abroad that she's being tailed. But is it for the reason she suspects… her smuggling activities? Regardless, rather than risk it she mails her latest assortment of sparkly contraband to her husband, Matt Krane (Charles Korvin).

Sheila is, of course, infected but she doesn't know it yet. The more people she comes into contact with upon arriving in New York City the more likely that the disease is to spread, even more so once she is let out of the emergency room after being misdiagnosed by a doctor. Meanwhile, Matt is running around behind his wife's back with her sister, Francie (Lola Albright) and then, once he gets the diamonds, makes plans to fly solo and take off with the loot. When he's unable to fence the gems for a few days, he's stuck in town while things heat up and turn dangerous with both Sheila and Francie.

Based on an article originally published in Cosmopolitan and shot on location in New York using a gritty, almost documentary style, The Killer That Stalked New York is far from a typical noir but it does have enough elements to make it worth seeing for fans. The performances aren't as exciting as you might hope, however. Evelyn Keyes is beautiful and far from terrible in the role but not quite able to get us as invested in her character as we should be. Likewise, Charles Korvin should make quite an impression here as he's given the chance to play a completely despicable character but he never quite makes it. Lola Albright is a stone cold fox and gives her character some dramatic weight, but isn't in the film as much as the others.

Still, the good outweighs the bad. There's an interesting idea here and, given current news reports about the anti-vax movement quite literally making the rounds as this review is being written, the movie remains quite timely. The location photography is great and it gives us a look at the 1950's New York that really doesn't exist much anymore. The pace is quick and there's a definite, dark vibe to all of this that goes a long way towards making it work.

Assignment Paris:

In this 1952 picture from director Robert Parrish, a prominent New York City newspaper has satellite offices in different prominent cities in different prominent countries around the world where they employ reporters to keep up on things. One of these reporters is Jimmy Race (Dana Andrews), and he works out of the Paris bureau. That is, he does, until his boss, Nicholas Strang (George Sanders), sends him to communist Budapest to report on the Hungarian ambassador and whatever sneakiness he might be up to.

Good reporter that he is, Jimmy makes the trip and, while behind the Iron Curtain, winds up being framed as a spy, but not before he hits it off with female reporter Jeanne Moray (Märta Torén)…

A decent thriller with a very predictable plot, Assignment Paris actually spends most of its time not in the city of love but in Budapest, but regardless, it's a decent film. The cinematography is good and there are some solid twists and turns here. The casting is decent. Sanders is fun in his supporting role and Swedish Märta Torén good as the love interest. Most of the screen time goes to Andrews and because he's Andrews we figure he's going to make it through all of this intact. He just has that presence and plays that character.

Very much a product of its time, the movie makes some obvious pot shots at communism and can be a bit heavy-handed at times, opting on occasion to rely more on playing up 1952 America's fears of the Soviets than in crafting a stronger narrative. This could have been a better film than it is but as it stands, it isn't bad.

The Miami Story:

Directed by Fred F. Sears and released in 1954, The Miami Story, produced by legendary B-movie auteur Sam Kurtzman, introduces us to a mob boss Tony Brill (Luther Adler) and his hitman Ted Delacorte (John Baer), two nogoodniks operating out of Miami, Florida. An attorney named Frank Alton (Dan Riss) wants to see these guys put behind bars where they belong and to make this happen he brings Mick Flagg (Barry Sullivan), a former murder suspect/gangster now working as a farmer, out of hiding. Why? Because Flagg is just the man Alton needs to infiltrate Brill's gang and get him the info he'll need to throw the book at them.

Flagg is hesitant at first but eventually remits, and as Alton hoped, makes his way into Brill's gang. He easily earns the trust of the boss but also Holly Abbott (Beverly Garland), the lovely sister of Brill's girlfriend, Gwen (Adele Jergens). Things get bad when Flagg's son Gil is kidnapped and Holly is harshly beaten, leading Flagg to up the ante and try to trap the two crooks before things go from bad to worse.

Clearly made fast and cheap with a bit too much stock footage thrown in for its own good, this seventy-five-minute thriller is passable but not really much better than that. It's entertaining, there's some fun, punchy action here and the over the top tough guy speak is amusing but it lacks the artistry that better entries have. It is, however, just fine as a programmer, a fun throwaway film highlighted by a pretty manic performance from Luther Adler. Adele Jergens and Beverly Garland are decent here and Barry Sullivan makes for an okay hero, not a great one, but an okay one. Look for famous stripper Lili St. Cyr in a small part.

The story is heavy on flag-waving patriotism and anti-Cuban sentiment, and as such, it's definitely a product of its time, but Sears keeps the action moving quick, though (like quite a few of the other films in this set) the film is more of a traditional gangster picture than a noir in the more traditional sense of the word.

The Video:

The nine films in the set are spread across three 50GB Blu-ray discs, each disc holding three films. The features are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and generally speaking look very nice. Every film is presented in 1.33.1 fullframe except for The Miami Story which is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Framing looks correct for all nine features, save for a few spots in the 1.85.1 presentation where things do look a tad tight. In fact, oddly enough The Miami Story is actually the worst looking of the bunch. It's got more visible print damage, less fine detail and more noticeable compression than the other pictures, the bulk of which actually look quite nice. The other transfers generally look very nice. The black and white pictures show good contrast and very little print damage or compression. Black levels tend to be quite good and, that one film aside, detail and depth are more than solid. You'll spot the occasional scratch here and there, Escape In The Fog has a couple of noticeable one, and periodic black crush can be spotted now and again, but the good does definitely outweigh the bad.

The Audio:

Each of the nine films in the set gets a DTS-HD Mono track, in English, with optional subtitles provided, also in English. Generally speaking, the films sound just fine. There are spots where you might pick up on some light hiss here and there but these are exceptions, not rules. Levels are typically well-balanced and dialogue stays easy to understand. It shouldn't surprise anyone to know that range is a little limited, these are older single channel mixes after all, but keeping that in mind the audio here is fine.

The Extras:

There are no extras on the discs. Each disc does include static menus allowing you to turn the subtitles on/off and select the movie you want to watch, but that's it.

Overall:

Noir Archive Volume 1: 1944-1954 9 Movie Collection is a barebones affair but it does offer up nine films of varying degrees of quality in generally nice shape at a fair price. True, not all of these qualify as ‘true' noir so purists may take issue with that, but there's enough crossover appeal in all of the films that most of us won't mind so much. There's more good here than bad and you can't argue with the price. Recommended.

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.

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