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Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1

 
Two of a Kind (1951)          The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)       


Bad For Each Other (1953)         The Glass Wall (1953)

 

In the 40's and 50's the juiciest roles for actresses in Hollywood were often in B-pictures that explored the dark side of life: starring roles as cool, calculating gals who could stick a knife in a man's back and make him like it. Lizabeth Scott, Gloria Grahame, and Evelyn Keyes were some of the best of the period, and are among Noir fans' favorites for their roles in such classics of the genre as Dead Reckoning and The Racket (Scott), The Big Heat and Human Desire (Grahame), 99 River Street and The Prowler (Keyes). Here's your chance to see them at work in some great films straight out of the vault, newly restored and re-mastered, for the first time on DVD. Co-starred with the likes of Edmund O'Brien, Charleton Heston, and Vittorio Gassman these dames shine a like the brightest stars in Hollywood, and each film packs in plenty of the best bad girl behavior.'

Titles

 


 

Overview:

Columbia has reached deep into their vaults to come up with some previously unissued gems. But here's an important travel advisory: Just because a movie is in black & white doesn't make it noir. Let me repeat that: Just because a movie is in black & white doesn't make it noir. Nor does a movie qualify for noir status just because it's black & white and made in the fifties or late forties, nor even if it has one of those femme fatale actresses we conjure up when we think of the genre (or "style" or "sub-genre" or whatever). Without attempting a definition of "noir", I think we can all agree on what it is not: it is not: tidy endings or pleasant romances. And it is not a public service announcement in melodramatic form.

Perhaps I have set the bar high for a "noir" certificate. I confess I have never fully embraced the idea of noir as style rather than as genre. If we consider only generally accepted noir elements, then most of the eight movies here have some of them, but then so does On the Waterfront. My impression is that the only movie across both sets that qualifies in style and execution is Night Editor. To consider one of these movies in more detail, The Killer That Stalked New York has many noirish elements, but it has a very different agenda from the usual noir film. It means to inform the public about a potential killer that could attack at any moment. It also tells us how to combat it. What noir movie does that! The character that is most like what we ordinarily think of as a femme fatale is entirely unaware of her weapon. That makes for irony, but not, in my opinion, a noir character. Moreover, there is no anti-hero, no protagonist of any kind to consider one way or another, let alone both at once, which is the usual characteristic of noir heroes or anti-heroes, In this movie they are merely a collection of agents with parallel goals. I could go on to parse out why I feel each film does or does not qualify as noir (in style or genre) but suffice to say, I feel that, by and large, they don't.

OK. So don't get your hopes for these eight films (including the four on Volume 2). They are not likely to satisfy a craving for undiscovered noir, to say nothing of "classics" in the genre. HOWEVER, these are all good to outstanding dramas, and they have the further benefit of never, to my knowledge, having been released on DVD in Region 1. Source elements are in fine shape. The only disappointment here is the extra features, which are light-to-non-existent. There are only a couple of episodes from television's "All Star Theatre" (one 24-minute episode for each volume), most of the original theatrical trailers, and on Volume 1 a recently recorded seven-minute introductory piece with Terry Moore, who reminisces almost giddily about her years working for Columbia. Unlike many of the Fox Noir packages, there are no commentaries in either volume. Each DVD volume consists of two single-sided, dual layered discs, placed against the inside front and rear covers (no flippages or placement on top of each other – Hallelujah!) And, unless I blinked, the transfers are pretty much without tears or missing frames. Artifact issues, jaggies, and that most persistent of DVD bugbears, edge enhancement, are not at issue here.

 

Posters

Theatrical Releases: 1950 - 1953

DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Sony (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC

 

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution Sony - Region 1 - NTSC
Audio English (original mono)
Subtitles English, English (SDH), None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Sony

Aspect Ratio:
All Original: 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Terry Moore on Two of a Kind
• The Payoff-All Star Theatre Episode

DVD Release Date: February 9th, 20
10
Chapters: 12 X 4

 

Comments:

Bad for Each Other

Directed by Irving Rapper

1953

Written by Horace McCoy

Photographed by Franz Planer (Roman Holiday, The Nun's Story)

Featuring: Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott, Dianne Foster, Mildred Dunnock, Arthur Franz and Ray Collins.

 

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English mono.

Subtitles: English & English SDH

Duration: 72 minutes (1:22:10)

Chapters: 12

Bad for Each Other (which sounds like a sequel to Two of a Kind) is not Charlton Heston's first starring role (he had already appeared in the Oscar winning Greatest Show on Earth and Ruby Gentry.)  Here he plays a doctor and Korean War vet who returns to his rural hometown to find few options save the upscale snares of Lizabeth Scott.

 

Image & Sound

The image often demonstrates very tight grain, with excellent resolution and contrast, with deep blacks where appropriate.  There are moments where the image is flat, soft and dull, but most of the time, tonal range is quite good. Source elements have no distracting scratches or blemishes.  Sharpness is very good and consistent with lensing and lighting. The audio is clear, unremarkable mono.

 

The Killer That Stalked New York

Directed by Earl McEvoy

1950

Written by Milton Lehman & Harry Essex

Photographed by Joseph F. Biroc (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, It's a Wonderful Life)

Featuring: Evelyn Keyes, Charles Korvin, Lola Albright, William Bishop and Dorothy Malone.

 

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English mono.

Subtitles: English & English SDH

Duration: 75 minutes (1:14:43)

Chapters: 12

 

The Killer That Stalked New York is a brilliantly paced thriller about a terrorist attack on the largest city in the western world and the agencies that try to head it off.  We're talking seriously timely here.  Look for Whit Bissell, Jim Backus and Richard Egan in smaller roles.  And listen for the golden tones of a dispassionate Reed Hadley who narrates our story and you'll see why I have such disdain for more contemporary white boys that can't read aloud – and he's not even British.  The unlikely suicide of an important character and the implausible final scene on the hotel ledge keep this movie from major points.  I'm deliberately keeping details of the set-up for the plot secret so they can be discovered fresh.

 

Image & Sound

The source elements are very good with no distracting scratches or blemishes.  Sharpness is only fair, as grain sometimes takes over, but its excellent contrast makes up for it. The audio is clear, unremarkable mono. 

 

 

Two of a Kind

Directed by Henry Levin

1951

Written by James Edward Grant & James Gunn

Photographed by Burnett Guffey (From Here to Eternity, Birdman of Alcatraz, Bonnie and Clyde)

Featuring: Edmond O'Brien, Lizabeth Scott, Terry Moore, Alexander Knox and Griff Barnett.

 

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English mono.

Subtitles: English & English SDH

Duration: 75 minutes (1:14:58)

Chapters: 12

 

Two of a Kind features Lizabeth Scott and the usually sedate Alexander Knox in a plot to bamboozle an elderly couple out of their estate by getting Edmond O'Brien to impersonate their son who disappeared when he was only three. The title refers to O'Brien and Scott, who have one of those typical love/mistrust relationships. Scott knows she's taking a risk when she invites O'Brien to court the lovely, innocent and exceedingly curvaceous Terry Moore to forward their scheme.

 

Image & Sound

The source elements show varying degrees of light to moderate grain, but generally very good with no distracting scratches or blemishes.  Contrast and sharpness is also very good and consistent with expectations for the scene and lighting. The audio is clear, unremarkable mono.

 

The Glass Wall

Directed by Maxwell Shane

1953

Written by Ivan Tors & Maxwell Shane

Photographed by Joseph F. Biroc (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, It's a Wonderful Life)

Featuring: Vittorio Gassman, Gloria Grahame, Ann Robinson & Douglas Spencer.

 

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English mono.

Subtitles: English & English SDH

Duration: 80 minutes (1:19:50)

Chapters: 12

 

The Glass Wall is not a noir, despite its look, but a social message thriller.  Vittorio Gassman plays an immigrant who jumps quarantine, seeking to find refuge in the U.S. on human rights grounds.  Down on her luck Gloria Graham tries to help, as does a stripper (Robin Raymond.)  New York City, photographed in all its embrace and foreign wonder by Joseph Biroc, is not a place you expect to find respite in a storm. Yet Gassman, Biroc and writer/director Shane manage to offer hope in the graces of strangers.  The "Glass Wall" of the title refers to the recently completed United Nations building that Gassman imagines will be his sanctuary.  A worthy film.

 

Image & Sound

The image is inconsistent, with wildly varying contrast, sharpness and grain.  For the most part, the image is quite good, but there are flashes from a few seconds to entire scenes of inferior quality with a slight but noticeable yellowish color cast, as if sourced from intermediate stock.  The audio is in reasonably clear mono that occasional clangs abruptly with effects.

 

Recommendation

By now it should be clear that none of these movies have any claim to "noir" status.  Even the notion of "bad girl" is a bit thin.  All the same, there isn't a single loser in the bunch, and several are quite good and have high rewatchabilty credentials.  Too bad about the lack of Extra Features.  Recommended.

 

Leonard Norwitz

LensViews

January 22, 2010


Sample DVD Menus



 

Two of a Kind (1951)

 

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The Killer That Stalked New York (1953)

 
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Bad For Each Other (1953)

 
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The Glass Wall (1953)

 
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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

 

Distribution Sony - Region 1 - NTSC

 


 


 



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