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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema IX (Lady on a Train / Tangier / Take One False Step)

Kino // Unrated // October 11, 2022
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted November 8, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:


Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents three more unique film noir entries from the Universal Studios vault in the ninth boxed set of their Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema collections. Here's what's inside…


Lady On A Train:


Directed by Charles David and released by Universal Pictures in 1945, Lady On A Train stars the beautiful Deanna Durbin as a young woman named Nikki Collins who travels by train from San Francisco to New York City for the Christmas holidays, along the way, witnesses a murder as she looks up from her book (a murder mystery novel, of course!) and gazes out the window of her train compartment. The killing took place in a building across the street from Manhattan's Grand Central Station, and she saw it happen just as the train was pulling in.


After disembarking from the train, she goes straight to the nearest police station and tells the desk sergeant what she saw, but he dismisses her as a crackpot and won't really have anything to do with her. She then goes out on a whim and gets in touch with the man who wrote the novel she was reading on the way into New York, an author named Wayne Morgan (David Bruce), but he isn't any more interested in helping her than the police were.


Without anyone else interested in helping her figure out just exactly what happened, she decides to solve the crime on her own. After figuring out the name of the man who was murdered, Nikki tries to dig into his background. When visiting his house, just as the will is being read, she's mistaken for his girlfriend, a nightclub singer who is also the main heiress in the will. She decides to run with it and, after meeting the victim's family and servants, starts putting together the pieces of his murder with a bit of help from a begrudging Morgan.


Much more of a comedy than a proper thriller, Lady On A Train is, nevertheless, a very entertaining picture. It moves at a brisk pace and keeps things light and entertaining, throwing in occasional moments of suspense to keep us guessing as to how this will all play out. The location photography is really nice and the film boasts pretty solid production values with a good score and some really strong cinematography. If the plot deals in clichés here and there, it's all in good fun so we don't mind so much.


The main reason to watch the film, however, is Deanna Durbin. She's a lot of fun to watch here as she plays amateur detective. She's a very attractive woman but also has that certain star quality that makes her a joy to watch. Her character is a lot of fun and she has a strong chemistry with co-star David Bruce. Interestingly enough, a short time after this movie was made, in 1949, she's retire from the public live, marry director Charles David and then move to France where she lived quietly until her passing in 2013.


Tangier:


Directed by George Waggner and released in 1946 by Universal Studios, the Casablanca-esque Tangier stars the alluring Maria Montez as a woman named Rita who makes a good living for herself as a nightclub dancer working out of a club in the titular Moroccan city. Rita, however, is much more than just another pretty face and she's in Tangier for a reason: to find the escaped Nazi who was responsible for killing her father and brothers during World War II.


Not so surprisingly, Rita has a lot of male fans, one of whom is Paul Kenyon (Robert Paige), an American newspaper journalist hoping to get his career back on track by cracking a story about diamond smuggling going on in the area. At the same time, a military man named Colonel Artiego (Preston Foster) has a thing for her, as does her dancing partner at the club, Ramon (Kent Taylor), a handsome man who has a fan of his own in the form of comely Dolores (Louise Allbritton).


Of course, Rita's story starts to intertwine with Paul's as the motivations of the various players come to light and Rita comes closer to finding her father and brothers' killer.


Entertaining if not essential, Tangier is a decently paced B-movie made watchable not because of its less than amazing story but because of a solid cast, more specifically, Maria Montez. She's a lot of fun to watch here. She's beautiful and exotic and even a little mysterious and we can easily see why many of the man are drawn to her. The camera loves here and she gets a lot of screen time in the picture. Co-star Robert Paige is considerably less enigmatic. He looks great here but he doesn't bring the same sort of energy or enthusiasm to his part that his much more attention grabbing co-star does. Kent Taylor, Preston Foster and Louise Allbritton are all decent in their supporting roles, and look for none other than Sabu to pop up in the movie a few times as a local named Pepe to deliver some quirky musical numbers.


Waggner directs well enough, keeping things moving at a fairly good clip. The movie never feels all that unique or original but it always looks really good, with strong camerawork and some very fancy costumes on display making this look like a bigger, more expensive production than it probably was.


Take On False Step:


The third film in the set and the best of the movies in this collection is 1949's Take On False Step, directed by Chester Erskine for Universal Pictures. The film stars William Powell as Andrew Gentling, a university professor who heads to California for business, hoping to secure the funding he needs in order to open a new school.


When Andrew was in the military he used to hang out at a bar and, once he's in town, he heads there for a drink where he runs into a woman named Catherine Sykes (Shelley Winters) who he knew back in those earlier days. Andrew is happily married to a woman named Helen (Dorothy Hart) and Catherine is married herself, but none of this stops her from letting him know in no uncertain terms that she wants to start something up with him. He resists but she eventually talks him into meeting her at a party. When he arrives, he doesn't know anyone except for Catharine and an old friend of his named Martha Wier (Marsha Hunt). When Catharine has too much to drink and tries to get Andrew to go home with him, he wisely removes himself from the scene.


The next day when Andrew reads the daily paper, he learns that Catharine has vanished without a trace and that the police assume she's been killed. When he wants to go to the cops, Martha talks him out of it (he would instantly be a suspect, after all) and the two wind up trying to figure out the details of Catharine's disappearance on their own. Things get complicated from there.


A well-made, Hitchcockian ‘wrong man' styled thriller, Take On False Step may not feel like the most original film noir picture you're ever likely to sit down and watch, but it hits all the right notes at all the right moments and offers up a satisfying mix of drama and suspense. The production values are quite good and the camerawork appropriately shadowy, and the score highlights the action and uncertainty inherent in the story in very effective ways. Chester Erskine keeps things moving at a nice clip, the film never feels dull and it unravels its mystery at a solid pace.

The acting in the film is strong. William Powell has the leading man charisma he needs to pull this role off, we like him and he's interesting. He has great, albeit very different, chemistry with both Winters, very good in her role, and Hunt, also delivering a fine performance. Each of the main performers suits their characters well and delivers solid, believable acting in the film. Also look for a small role from a young, uncredited Tony Curtis in the film.


The Video:


All three movies in the Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema IX are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.37.1 and placed on a 25GB disc and All three films are in black and white and taken from new 2k and 4k masters. There is some, admittedly very minor, print damage here and there, just small white specks that pop up occasionally that a lot won't notice if they aren't looking for them, but all three movies are offered up in very film-like presentations that definitely benefits from the format. There's good depth, texture and detail throughout and no problems with compression, noise reduction or any other digital quirks. Contrast varies a bit from film to film and scene to scene but overall it's pretty strong. These look really good, overall, and fans should be quite happy with how these transfers have turned out.


The Audio:


All three films in the set get the DTS-HD 2.0 Mono treatment, in their native English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. All three feature properly balanced levels and clear dialogue.


The Extras:


Extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows:


Lady On A Train:


The only extra on this disc is a trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for The Woman In The Window and It Started With Eve.


Tangier:


Aside from a trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for Night Has A Thousand Eyes and Cobra Woman, this disc also includes a commentary track from film critic Felicia Feaster. She breaks down the different character motivations, compares the movie to The Year Of Living Dangerously, discusses the different performances central to the movie, explores the pomp and circumstance of the film, talks up the different costumes on display and gives plenty of biographical information on the cast and crew involved with the production. She also goes over the history of Tangier itself, the cinematography and how the use of shadow in the film can represent the moral darkness of certain scenes, Universal's position in the film industry at the time and quite a bit more.


Take On False Step:


This disc includes a commentary track from film historian Eddy Von Mueller where he starts off by talking about how much everything, even the little things, matter when you're making a movie. From there, he goes on to point out interesting examples of what registers with the audience, what makes the title sequence stand out, the film's place in the film noir cannon and what sets it apart, biographical details on the cast and crew members, the importance of this film to Shelly Winters' early career, thoughts on the different characters in the movie, how and where the film compares to Psycho in its structure, the concept of the 'femme fatale,' thoughts on the film's production values and plenty more. The disc also includes bonus trailers for Cry Of The City, He Ran All The Way and The Raging Tide.

Overall:


Kino's Blu-ray release of Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema IX offers up another trio of less none entries in the noir cannon in very strong presentations and with a few interesting commentary tracks serving to explore two of the movies' backgrounds and production histories. The three films themselves vary in quality a bit but each one is worth seeing and this set comes 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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