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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema III [Abandoned / The Lady Gambles / The Sleeping City]
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents three unique film noir entries from the Universal Studios vault in the third boxed set of their Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema collections. Here's what's inside…
The Sleeping City:
Released by Universal Studios in 1950 and directed by George Sherman, the story begins when a doctor named Foster (Hugh Reilly), an interne at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, is shot dead outside the massive structure. The cops, led by Inspector Gordon (John Alexander), are called in to investigate but they don't get anywhere outside of a rather vague response from head ward nurse Ann Sebastian (Coleen Gray) who had wanted to talk to Foster that day about ‘nothing.' When the cops realize they're not going to get any useful info, they decide the best course of action is to bring in an operative so undercover that not even his fellow detectives know who he is, to work the case ‘from the inside out.'
Enter Fred Rowan (Richard Conte), a cop with two years of medical school training under his belt. He's going to pose as a transplant from Los Angeles named Fred Gilbert in hopes of cracking the case. He impressive the hospital administrator and winds up rooming with an emotional, angry young doctor named Steve Anderson (Alex Nicol). As Fred gets comfortable with his new surroundings, he starts to get closer to Ann, maybe to close, and strikes up a begrudging friendship with Steve. He also befriends kindly old Pops (Richard Taber), a hospital veteran who has been working the night shift in the elevators for thirty-years. It takes a little while, but soon Fred starts putting together the pieces of the puzzle, though by the time he's finished he may not like the picture that he sees…
A solid thriller with some legitimately great twists and turns, The Sleeping City is a winner with a few things working in its favor. Shot on location in Bellevue, which was and still is very much a working hospital in New York City, with the vast majority of the storyline taking place within in its walls, the movie has an atypical setting for a noir picture. This helps it to stand out from a lot of similar films. When the action does head outside of the hospital, these scenes too are also shot on location, and we get some great footage of the Manhattan skyline, some nice shots of the Williamsburg Bridge and a fair bit more. The cinematography may not be as ultra-stylish as some noir pictures are, but it's more than competent and does a fine job of bringing us into the storyline.
The acting is also top-notch. Conte makes for a great leading man, convincing enough to make us believe he's smart enough to pull this off, but able to communicate very effectively how nervous and stressed out his character is during a few key moments in the film. Coleen Grey is excellent as the film's de-facto femme fatale, beautiful and kind seeming, we can easily see why Fred would fall for Ann. She plays the part very well. Supporting work from a surly John Alexander and consistently grouchy Alex Nicol is also very good, while Richard Taber steals pretty much every scene that he's in as Pops.
All in all, eighty-five-minutes very well spent indeed.
The Lady Gambles:
Directed by Michael Gordon in 1949, The Lady Gambles introduces us to a woman named Joan Booth (Barbara Stanwyck) who we first see being assaulted by some bad dudes who have busted her using loaded dice in a back alley game of chance. It turns out that she and her new husband, David (Robert Preston), a reporter working on a story about a dam, have been on their honeymoon in Las Vegas. Joan used to write too, and she's hoping to get back in the game with a story about gambling, and if she plays her cards right she just might get it published back in her hometown of Chicago.
When she gets caught using a hidden camera to take pictures inside of a casino, the owner, Corrigan (Stephen McNally), has a change of heart and actually allows her to go ahead and take all the pictures she wants. He even lets her have a few rounds of chance on the house. David is quickly getting burnt out from work, leaving Joan in the casino night after night, playing on the house, where some of the other players start to see her as a good luck charm of sorts. When Corrigan doesn't get what he wants from her and she can't gamble for free any more, she winds up getting some cash out of a safe to keep playing, then, when that runs out, dropping off her camera at a nearby pawn shop. Joan's bad luck turns good and she wins what she needs to, but when her older sister Ruth (Edith Barrett), shows up things get even more complicated and David heads back without his wife...
Stanwyck is the reason to watch this one, she's quite a tour de force in this picture and does very fine work as the picture's troubled lead. She doesn't have all that much chemistry with her husband, so the scenes that she shares with an otherwise talented enough Robert Preston don't carry as much impact as they should, but she and McNally are excellent together, as are she and Barrett, the later very well cast as the pushy, domineering older of the two siblings. Overall, the acting is quite strong here, and it anchors the picture well enough.
The Las Vegas setting works in the picture's favor and the cinematography in the film is excellent, shadowy and atmospheric in the way you'd expect from a film noir. The score isn't anything to write home about but it isn't bad either. As to the story itself, it moves at a pretty good clip and it's intelligently written, taking on the perils of gambling addiction rather well and serving as a bit of a cautionary tale in its way. It is a bit predictable in spots and, at times, genuinely depressing, but overall this works well.
The third and final film in the set, also from 1949, was directed by Joseph M. Newman. The story follows is set in Los Angeles and where a group led by Mrs. Donner (Marjorie Rambeau) have a nice little operation going wherein they talk unwed mothers into handing over their babies under the false pretense of giving them a good home. In reality, they're selling the little tykes to families that don't want to go through formal adoption channels for whatever reason.A lovely young woman arrives in town, her name is Paula Considine (Gale Storm) and she's looking for her missing sister, Mary, who wrote her a vague letter letting her know she'd had a baby. She heads to the police station to ask them for help and stumbles across Mark Sitko (Dennis O'Keefe), a newspaperman who takes an instant shine to the pretty, young woman. She tells him of her plight and he's keen to help her, even if he doesn't necessarily think there's all that much there. As they start skulking about, they're followed by Kerric (Raymond Burr), a PI hired to find Paula by her own father, hoping to find Mary himself. What neither Paula or Mark realize, is that Kerric is in cahoots with Mrs. Donner...
More of a mystery by way of a police procedural with healthy doses of melodrama than a textbook noir, this is, nevertheless, an entertaining picture made all the better by a pretty solid trio of leads. Gale Storm plays the naïve out of towner quite well, a true beauty of the silver screen who does fine work here. That said, it's O'Keefe and especially Burr that really steal the show here. Both of them are in fine form, playing off of one another at times, and anchoring the picture with strong acting.
Production values are pretty good here for a movie that was presumably made on a modest budget. The cinematography is quite nice and the sets and locations used throughout look quite nice. The score works well and helps enhance the drama and tension and overall, if this isn't as intense or brooding as you might expect, it still takes some interesting twists and turns in to some occasionally very dark places, making it well worth a watch for fans of the genre.
Each movie in the Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema III is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.37.1 and placed on a 25GB disc. The Sleeping City shows mild to moderate print damage in its first twenty-minutes or so but looks considerably cleaner after that, showing good detail and depth. The Lady Gambles is, in general, the nicest looking of the three, it's a fair bit cleaner and in very nice shape. Abandoned looks a bit softer than the other three films but is also in nice shape, not showing much damage. All three films show good black levels and nice grey scaling. Contrast looks fine and there are no issues with any compression artifact problems or edge enhancement problems.
All three films in the set get the DTS-HD Mono treatment, in their native English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The Sleeping City suffers from a bit of reverb or echo at times, it's minor but it's there. Otherwise it sounds fine. The other movies sound pretty decent, and all three feature properly balanced levels and clear dialogue.
Extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows:
The Sleeping City:
Film historian Imogen Sara Smith offers an audio commentary that does a nice job of putting things into context. She talks about how the movie has a semi-documentary, the film's hospital setting and the concept of greed and bitterness infiltrating something set up only to do good. She covers the prologue delivered by Conte himself, how the mayor of New York City took issue with the film and insisted on the prologue being added, the quality of the camera work and the important of the New York City locations used in the production, the way that the murder scenes are handled, the acerbic dialogue featured in some of the film's key scenes, the film's connections to Naked City, details of the cast and crew involved in the production and lots more.
A theatrical trailer, a bonus trailer for Cry Of The City, menus and chapter selection are also provided.
The Lady Gambles:
The second movie in the set features an audio commentary from Kat Ellinger. In this track, Ellinger discusses Stanwyck's star power and how her character dominates the picture, how the film borrows from other genres like the social problem film and the women's film areas while still remaining a noir, how Stanwyck plays 'somewhat against type' in the film, the use of flashbacks in the film to serve as a confessional, the chemistry Stanwyck shares with McNally but not so much with Preston, the atmosphere of corruption that permeates aspects of the story being told, the way that the picture portrays abuse, how she feels that the film feels quite personal in many ways, the Las Vegas setting and more.
There's no trailer for the feature here but we do get bonus trailers for Witness To Murder, The Great Man's Lady and Kiss The Blood Off My Hands as well as menus and chapter selection are also provided.
Samm Deighan provides the commentary for this third film. Here Deighan shares information on how classifying this picture as a film noir is complicated given how much melodrama is in the picture, how the movie borrows from 'the woman's picture' and its unconventional approach to the central crime that pushes along the narrative. She also talks about the background details of the different cast and crew members that worked on the picture, the abandonment of Hollywood studio morality in this film and in film noir in general, how the film is a 'message film' or an 'issue film' in a lot of ways, Raymond Burr's importance to the film and to noir as a whole and more.
And once again, no trailer for the feature but bonus trailers for Thunder On The Hill, The Price Of Fear and Naked Alibi alongside menus and chapter selection options.
Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema III presents three solid noir pictures in pretty good shape. The first film is the best of the bunch but the other two pictures are definitely worthwhile. The presentations aren't always immaculate but they definitely offer a proper high definition experience, and the three commentary tracks add some value. 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.