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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema X (Flesh and Fury / The Square Jungle / World in My Corner)
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents three more unique film noir entries from the Universal Studios vault in the tenth boxed set of their Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema collections. Here's what's inside…
Flesh And Fury:
Director Joseph Pevney, with a story from William Alland and Bernard Gordon, was behind this 1952 Universal production which headlines Tony Curtis as Paul Callan. Paul makes a living for himself as a prize fighter, but there's something unique about him in that he's deaf. Regardless, Paul is really good at what he does and his star is certainly on the rise. He trains with ‘Pop' Richardson (Wallace Ford).
One of Paul's biggest fans is the lovely Sonia Bartow (Jan Sterling), a woman who is always in the audience whenever she can be. She decides she likes what she sees in Paul and that if she gets in with him now, on the ground floor, she'll be able to climb the ladder with him. In short, she's a gold digger, but she's no fool. As Paul's bouts bring in bigger and bigger payouts, Sonia's there for it, until a magazine writer named Ann Hollis (Mona Freeman), whose father was deaf and who is far more sympathetic to Paul's condition than Sonia ever was or ever will be.
When Paul is given the chance to have his hearing partially restored, he jumps at the chance but doesn't tell either woman in his life that he's had it done. As the days creep ever closer to Paul's upcoming fight, his most dangerous yet, he has to figure out who really matters to him and why.
Flesh And Fury tells a mediocre story but makes it watchable thanks to some smart casting choices. Curtis is quite strong in the lead and it's easy to see how he'd go on to bigger and better things as his career, like the character he plays in this very movie, started to take off. He's reasonably believable in and out of the ring and likeable in the role as well. Jan Sterling, gorgeous as she is, steals a few scenes as Sonia. We know she's bad news and that she doesn't have Paul's best interests in mind at all. No surprises there. Mona Freeman as kindly Ann does a nice job in her role as well, you can't help but hope Paul will wind up with her after all he goes through. Wallace Ford is a lot of fun as Paul's trainer.
The direction is fine, for the most part, even if some of the fight scenes aren't as tense as maybe they should have been. The cinematography is otherwise quite polished, the movie always looks good. The picture is paced decently. Those expecting a hardboiled noir won't find it with this one, but the movie is worth watching regardless.
The Square Jungle:
A good film to double feature with the first picture, for obvious reasons, Jerry Hopper's 1955 Universal production, The Square Jungle, from story by George Zuckerman, stars Tony Curtis as Eddie Quaid. Eddie works as a grocery store clerk in San Francisco and comes from the wrong side of the tracks. When he realizes his alcoholic father (Jim Backus) may not have much to offer him in life and that Julie Walsh (Pat Crowley), his girlfriend, might just up and leave him as he doesn't have any real career prospects. As such, he decides to get into the ring to try and make it as a professional boxer.
Eddie's friends with a cop named Jim McBride (Paul Kelly) who puts up the money to help Eddie get his starts, while a hard-drinking ex-con named Bernie Brown (Ernest Borgnine) soon gets him the training that he needs to get in the ring without getting immediately clobbered. Julie leaves him but as the months turn into years and Eddie starts proving that he has what it takes, he soon finds himself heading towards a title match. Around that time, Julie makes her way back into his life, but will she be able to win him back in time or will be run off with buxom blonde Lorraine Evans (Leigh Snowden)>
Similar in tone and structure to Rocky, though obviously predating it by a few decades, The Square Jungle doesn't provide a whole lot of surprises but, like the first movie, it's entertaining enough. The fight scenes are fairly well-shot in this picture and the movie has some tension that keeps us interested in where everything is going and how Eddie's story will shake out. Decent production values mean the score is good and the cinematography is pretty strong.
The cast is very good in the movie. Curtis plays the headstrong and determined Eddie really well, he just works in the part and he gives it everything he's got. Paul Kelly is good as the friend who believes in him while a scene stealing Ernest Borgnine proves the perfect choice for a surly, drunken pugilist, proving to be the best part of the movie. Pat Crowley looks great in her role but is a little flat here, she and Curtis don't have as much chemistry as they really needed to convince us that their love is legitimate, while the equally lovely Leigh Snowden does fine in her supporting part. It's also amusing to see Jim Backus, best known for voicing Mr. Magoo and Gilligan's Island, show up in the movie. It's also worth pointing out that none other than Joe Louis shows up in the movie as himself, which gives it some historical significance.
World In My Corner:
Jesse Hibbs' 1956 film, World In My Corner, made for Universal Pictures, stars Audie Murphy, an actor best known for his roles in many western films of his day, as Tommy Shea. Tommy's a tough guy who lives in Jersey City and hopes to make it big as a boxer. When he gets laid off from his job, he takes that as a sign that it's time to go all in on his fledgling fight career and while he may not have the experience of some of the guys he'll go up against, he's got spirit and a natural talent.
Before too long, Tommy is good enough to get some attention, first from a wealthy man named Robert T. Mallison (Jeff Morrow) who is really into the sport, and then older, experienced manager named Dave Bernstein (John McIntire). Mallison's pretty daughter, Dorothy (Barbara Rush), can't help but catch Tommy's eye. As his star starts to rise, Tommy is tempted to move his dealings over to Harry Cram (Howard St. John), a crooked fight promotor with ties to criminals.
A little more pedestrian and predictable than the first two movies, this one is okay. Not great, not terrible, just okay. There are few twists here and it all plays out pretty much exactly as you'd expect that it would, and that obviously takes away from the movie's entertainment factor. That said, on a technical level it's pretty well made. The fight scenes are shot with an eye for excitement and they are reasonably tense. The camerawork is quite good and the score is fine, if not all that remarkable.
The most interesting aspect of the movie is seeing Audie Murphy playing something other than a cowboy. He handles himself well as a tough kid from New Jersey and he's genuinely solid as the lead. He handles himself well in the boxing scenes and the dramatic scenes alike, and he proves to be an interesting but worthy choice for the part. He and Barbara Rush have good chemistry together and they make a pretty cool couple. Morror, McIntire and St. John are also fun to watch and good in their roles.
All three movies in the Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema X are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, the first framed at 1.37.1 , the second at 1.78.1 and the third at 1.85.1, and placed on a 25GB disc and All three films are in black and white and look quite good. 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. The third film is noticeably grainier than the other two, but otherwise is on par, visually. 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.
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. There aren't any major issues to note here, they all sound fine, if a bit limited in range by the original elements.
Extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows:
Flesh And Fury:
The main extra on this disc is an audio commentary track from film historian Daniel Kremer, who starts off with some groan-worthy puns before then getting right into where Curtis' career was during this point in time. He talks about the love theme and how it went on to spawn a torch song called 'I Don't Want To Cry,' the film's lack of style but interesting flourishes and camera movements, plenty of details on the different cast and crew members that worked on the picture, the progressive aspects of the movie, how the film was originally called Hear No Evil, how the film compares to other boxing dramas, details on the writers of the picture, the use of superimposed numbers during the fight scenes and why that choice was made and lots more.
This disc also includes trailers for The Midnight Story, Some Like It Hot and Female On The Beach but no trailer for the feature itself.
The Square Jungle:
Film historian Eddy Von Mueller offers up a commentary on this disc that gives a quick overview of the American tradition of the 'fight picture' that this movie is definitely a part of. He talks about how the issue of class is central to the film, details the filmographies of pretty much everyone who worked on the picture, how the boxing ring is an ideal arena for playing out any conflict, the details of the father/son relationship in the movie, how the movie compares to other boxing pictures made around the same time period, Joe Louis' appearance in the movie and other pertinent details of the movie's history.
This disc also includes trailers for Naked Alibi, The Web and The Vikings but no trailer for the feature itself.
World In My Corner:
Eddy Von Mueller offers up a commentary on this disc as well, going over the unique aspects of the opening credits, the affect that television had on America in the fifties and how it increased the size of the audience for boxing which movies like this capitalized on. He also goes over the popularity of the fight film, thoughts on the performances in the movie, biographical details the different cast and crew members, how the boxing movie specifically established the narrative of fight films in general, when and where professional boxers were used in the movie and details on their careers, how so many of the people in the movie worked on To Hell And Back and the use of pathos in the film along with quite a bit more.
This disc also includes trailers for the feature, To Hell And Back and Ride A Crooked Trail.
Kino's Blu-ray release of Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema X is going to appeal to fans of fight films and boxing movies more than anything else, but each of the three movies are interesting enough that they're worth watching. The audio and video quality is quite good across the board and the commentary tracks add some value as well as some historical background information and analysis on each picture. Recommended.rn
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.