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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema IV [Calcutta / An Act of Murder / Six Bridges to Cross]
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents three unique film noir entries from the Universal Studios vault in the four boxed set of their Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema collections. Here's what's inside…
John Farrow directed this on in 1946 for Paramount Pictures. The film follows the exploits of Neale Gordon (Alan Ladd) and Pedro Blake (William Bendix), two men who work as commercial pilots flying loads of cargo from Chunking to Calcutta and back again. One on such trip, upon their arrival in Calcutta, they learn that a mutual friend of theirs, Bill Cunningham (John Whitney), has been murdered in cold blood, Neale feeling that they should try on their own to figure out what happened and why.
As he starts snooping about, Neale comes across some ties that connect Cunningham to a lounge dubbed The Chalgani Club, owned and operated by one Eric Lasser (Lowell Gilmore). Here, Neale connects with the club's exotic chanteuse, Marina Tanov (Jane Duprez), who is more than a little sweet on the pilot. She lets loose that Cunningham got engaged to an American woman named Virginia Moore (Gail Russell) before the murder, which helps Neale close in on the details of the case. He tracks Virginia down and is curious about the extravagant necklace she wears when he meets her, a gift from the dearly departed she confirms. The catch? Neale knows that Cunningham would have never been in the position to pony up the dough for a gift that fancy. When Blake finds an expensive jewel in Cunningham's warehouse, the two men ascertain that Cunningham had to have been involved in a smuggling racket, but how much did Virginia know, and to what level was she involved? Why does this matter? Because Neale is clearly falling in love with her…
Made the same year as The Blue Dahlia, which also starred Ladd and Bendix (the pair also worked together in 1942 on The Glass Key), this is a decent enough noir entry made better than most by way of a really strong cast. Ladd is excellent here, the perfect leading man for a picture like this, and he's got great chemistry with both Bendix and with the lovely Gail Russell. He's tough but not inhumanly so, understandably wanting to set the record straight about his friend's murder. Russell is wonderfully seductive, playing her part to perfection, and Bendix makes a great sidekick. Supprting work from the equally lovely Jane Duprez and from Lowell Gilmore is also solid.
The film is nicely shot and pace well. Production values here are solid even if the movie looks to have been without a massive budget behind it. The score works nicely and the cinematography, if not of the consummate noir ‘super shadowy' style is still plenty evocative and very well done. The script is done well, though it might feel a little on the predictable side to viewers more familiar with film noir tradition and genre clichés. Still, there's a lot to like about this picture, and if it doesn't reinvent the wheel it offers eighty-three-minutes of very solid entertainment (that just so happens to feature a sharp dressed monkey at one point!).
An Act Of Murder:
The second film in the set was directed by Michael Gordon in 1948. An Act Of Murder tells the story of Judge Calvin Cooke (Fredric March), a determined and steely-willed judge who is very much of the ‘by the book' variety, trying in earnest to do good in the small Pennsylvania town where he resides. His world gets rocked when he learns that wife Cathy (Florence Eldridge, who was married to March in real life) has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He is, quite understandably, devastated by this, but he stands by her as best he can, still very much in love with the poor woman. Cathy undergoes different treatments and is prescribed different medication options by the doctors handling her issues, but nothing seems to result in anything even remotely resembling an improvement. Unable to deal with the loss he fears is coming, with Cathy sleeping soundly beside him one night, Calvin attempts suicide by driving their car off of a road. While Calvin survives the ordeal, Cathy passes and when he recuperates, he turns himself in, claiming that he is now an attempted murderer.
Calvin's daughter, Ellie Cooke (Geraldine Brooks), just so happens to be dating David Douglas (Edmond O'Brien), the district attorney assigned to her father's case as his defender. As his case moves forward and the details are examined, it starts to look like the car accident isn't what killed Cathy after all, even if that was, ultimately, what Calvin had hoped to accomplish, killing both himself and simultaneously putting his suffering wife out of her misery. David and Calvin haven't always seen eye to eye, the elder man having presided over some of the young, hot shot lawyer's cases in recent times, and when Calvin insists that he be prosecuted for what he did, things get complicated.
More of a drama with noir leanings than a ‘pure' film noir, this picture mixes up plenty of court room proceedings with plenty of scenes of medical discussion and even a bit of romance. It's an interesting film, and very well made, even if it might not necessarily scratch the itch of those wanting something a little more traditional for their noir viewing. A big part of what makes this work as well as it does is the understandable, and very natural, chemistry that March and Eldridge are able to bring to their characters. When they hurt, we feel it, they're excellent here and we have no problem buying either one of them in what must have been some particularly tough roles to act it. Geraldine Brooks does a fine job as the daughter and Edmond O'Brien is very good here as the upstart, really shining in a few of the scenes where he and March get down to some impressive scenes of verbal sparring.
This isn't an ultra-stylish film but it is certainly more than competent in terms of the visuals that it does offer up. We get a nice, effective score that might occasionally feel a bit too melodramatic for its own good but which heightens tension nicely when called for. It's interesting to see a movie take on the issue of mercy killings in 1948, considering that it is still very much a hot button issue in most countries, but An Act Of Murder approaches its subject with intelligence and compassion. All of this certainly makes this film one worth seeking out.
Six Bridges To Cross:
The last film in the set is also the most recent of the three in the collection. Directed by Joseph Pevney and released in 1955, Six Bridges To Cross is based on an actual case documented in a story by Joseph F. Dinneen entitled They Stole $25,000,000 And Got Away with It. And that title gives you a pretty good idea of what's in store with Pevneys' film.
Jerry Florea (Tony Curtis in the adult years of the film and Sal Mineo when Jerry is portrayed in his younger days) grew up in Boston as a bit of a tough. In his younger days, he was shot by a cop named Edward Gallagher (George Nader) but shortly after this happens, there's a weird twist: the two men become fast friends. Their friendship proves helpful for both of them. Jerry gets off without being charged and in return starts feeding Ed information that turns him into a top cop and earns him an easy climb up the ladder to promotion. Ed is married to the lovely Ellen (Julie Adams) and, as the months turn into years, he tries to get Jerry on the straight and narrow, but to no avail. As Ed climbs the ranks of the police department, Jerry's life of crime becomes increasingly bold and, well, problematic for his cop friend.
Ed starts to lose faith in Jerry, figuring that the guy will never make good, all while Jerry is trying to figure out how exactly he and a few cohorts can pull off the greatest crime of his career and make off with a few million in cash by knocking over Brinks, where he winds up getting a job.
Shot on location in Boston, this one is very well done. It makes great use of the locations offered by the city and is very handsomely shot by cinematographer William H. Daniels, who fully exploits the 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio employed for the picture. The score is solid and production values are nice across the board here. The scene depicting the actual heist itself, where the culprits' faces are all obscured by masks, is handled particularly nicely and proves to be quite nice, and also quite stylish.
As to the performances, Curtis is great as the hood trying to make it. He's likeable, even if we know he's on the wrong side of things, and very charismatic here. You can't help but root for the guy even if you know that you shouldn't. Sal Mineo, here in his film debut, also does fine work as the younger version of Jerry, bearing enough of a likeness to Curtis to make his casting seem reasonable enough. Curtis and Nader have pretty good chemistry too, their initial friendship seems real enough that, once it starts to fall apart, we get wrapped up in the drama of it all. Julie Adams is as solid here as she is in everything else, beautiful and dependable, but she isn't given as much to do in the picture as the focus is definitely on the bond between the two male leads.
Is this one a film noir? There are elements here, to be sure, but it feels like more of a heist movie mixed in with elements of a more typical crime picture to this writer. But hey, a good movie is a good movie and this is a good movie, an entertaining and very well-made film populated with interested characters and highlighted by some moments of very strong tension.
The first two movies in the Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema IV are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.37.1 and placed on a 25GB disc, with the third framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and also on a 25GB disc. All three films are in black and white. Calcutta shows a fair bit of print, admittedly minor, print damage here and there and uneven contrast throughout the presentation, likely a result of the elements that were available for the film. Still, this is a more than watchable and very film-like presentation that definitely benefits from the format. An Act Of Murder looks quite good but, towards the end of the movie, shows some pretty noticeable vertical scratches the persist during the courtroom scene for a few minutes. Otherwise, it looks pretty clean, some scratches and specks here and there but nothing else as distracting. Again, like the first movie it looks very filmic and has decent depth and detail despite some heavy grain at times. Six Bridges To Cross looks the best of the bunch, the elements were obviously in better shape as there's very little print damage here and the contrast is more consistent. There's good depth, texture and detail throughout and no problems with compression, noise reduction or any other digital quirks.
All three films in the set get the DTS-HD Mono treatment, in their native English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. All three feature properly balanced levels and clear dialogue but again, Calcutta is occasionally rougher sounding than the other two, with some pops and occasional hiss in a few spots.
Extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows:
Film Critic Nick Pinkerton offers an audio commentary that starts off by talking about how the movie was shot in 1945 but not released until 1947 and how there were significant events in the world that took place between these two years, and how they had an effect on the picture. He talks about some of the locations where the film is purported to take place and offers some history about each of them with an emphasis on their role in WWII, offers up plenty of information about the key cast members that appear in the picture as well as details on director Farrow and his crew, makes some interesting comparisons to Only Angels Have Wings, the use of long shots in the picture, the importance of a few key lines and the effectiveness of their delivery (no spoilers!), the clutter preferred by the art director employed on the picture, the ongoing debate about the classification of ‘film noir' and how it affects the work of different directors in different cycles, the state of Paramount Studios during the time that this picture was shot, how the film was received when it hit theaters and lots more. No dead air here, Pinkerton packs his talk with a lot of interesting information and delivers it quickly and with a nice, listenable style.
A theatrical trailer for the feature, bonus trailers for Whispering Smith and Boy On A Dolphin, menus and chapter selection are also provided.
An Act Of Murder:
The second movie in the set features an audio commentary from Film Historian Samm Deighan. She starts her talk by discussing Ernst Lothar's source novel and his life, as well as why he had to leave his native Germany when the Nazi's took over and how many of his stories were turned into films around this time. She compares the film to a few other pictures that deal with some of the same issues, talks quite a bit about the cast and crew members' respective history, the details of the two screenwriters who adapter Lothar's material for the silver screen, things that the movie suggests about morality and America through its execution and dialogue, the effect of the Hollywood blacklist on Michael Gordon's career and the different genres that he tended to work in, the subtle air of gloom that permeates this film (and so many other film noir pictures) as it deals with social justice, the way that the justice system is manipulated in the picture and plenty more. Deighan has done a lot of research for this track, and that comes through in her commentary, which proves to be quite interesting throughout.
There's no trailer for the feature here but we do get bonus trailers for Death Takes A Holiday and Shield For Murder as well as menus and chapter selection are also provided.
Six Bridges To Cross:
Samm Deighan also provides the commentary for this third film, beginning with some details on the actual robber took place in Boston in 1950 that inspired the film and a book that detailed the case written by Joseph F. Dinneen. We get some background on Dinneen's career, screenwriter Sydney Boehm's career inside and outside of the film noir genre, lots of information about the main cast members and many of the bit part players as well, how early in the genre deals with those outside the justice system from the outer edges of society but how later entries tend to bring in people from society in lead parts, the film's connection to different ‘prison break' films, how Curtis' character arc evolves through the duration of the movie, the expert execution of the robbery scene itself, whether or not this picture qualifies as heist film, the duality of Jerry's character and more. Again, it's a well-researched and thorough track that offers a nice mix of information, trivia and insight/critical analysis.
The disc also includes an archival TV promo from 1955 featuring Tony Curtis that runs seven-minutes in length. It's an amusing piece where Curtis invites an interviewer (who is never seen or heard) into his home, talking first about leaving a note about his suit for his wife Janet, an award he's won, films he's made that he particularly enjoyed, doing song and dance numbers and then details of Six Bridges To Cross and his thoughts on the film.
And once again, no trailer for the feature but bonus trailers for Taras Bulba and The Female Animal alongside menus and chapter selection options.
Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema IV offers up three solid films in equally solid shape. Lots of entertainment value to be had here, and while some could certainly argue that two of the three films aren't noir pictures in the traditional sense, there's enough crossover elements in those pictures that these should appeal to fans of the genre. The commentary tracks add some value to the set as well. 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.