Film Noir Classics Collection, Vol. 2 (5 Discs) (R) product details page

Film Noir Classics Collection, Vol. 2 (5 Discs) (R)

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You can cut the melodrama with a knife in this compelling but occasionally overblown drama directed by Fritz Lang and based on the play by Clifford Odets. Supported with the usual fine direction by Lang, Clash by Night is also the beneficiary of a remarkable performance by star Barbara Stanwyck, who delivers her biting, caustic dialogue with perfection. "What do you want, Joe, my life's history," she snaps miserably. "Here it is in four words: big ideas, small results." Alternating between bitterness and tenderness, Stanwyck delivers a character who could have been a disaster in the hands of a lesser actress. Paul Douglas, looking, sounding, and acting a lot like Lon Chaney Jr., provides a solid characterization of the simpleton who falls for Stanwyck, and Robert Ryan infuses his lecherous Earl with the requisite nasty disposition. Lang may have had trouble handling Marilyn Monroe, but the blonde bombshell is a pleasant, lighthearted addition in a supporting role. The script by Alfred Hayes is excellent, and feeds Stanwyck and Ryan with plenty of ripe dialogue, while building the story up to the inevitable "clash" foretold in the title. As a footnote in the politically incorrect department, Ryan does an atrocious Chinese impression. Patrick Legare, All Movie Guide

Originally titled The Target, RKO's noir programmer The Narrow Margin (1952) was a hard-boiled masterpiece of gangland-flavored tough-guy dialogue and of economy in setting and pace. The plot contrivances, shootings, taut pace, and a major narrative twist in the third act helped it become an instant audience favorite and earn enough critical clout for an Oscar nomination as Best Original Screenplay. Practically a primer on how to produce a B-movie, it began its life as the lower half of a double bill with Tembo (1952), a laughable African safari adventure from star-director-producer Howard Hill, promoted as the "World's Greatest Archer." The son of famed cartoonist Max Fleischer (the creator of Popeye and Betty Boop), director Richard Fleischer reached the high water mark of his low budget career with The Narrow Margin. Having already won a Short Subject Oscar in 1948, the former newsreel editor's career took off on the popularity and reputation of the film, and he was soon directing glossy A-list projects like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), although he never completely gave up his affinity for crime melodrama. Critical respect for The Narrow Margin grew over the years until, at around the same time as a big-budget 1990 remake, a new print of the original was screened on the revival circuit. Without a bit of irony, The Narrow Margin was once again shown as half of a double bill, this time with the lurid classic Detour (1946), to which The Narrow Margin was often favorably compared (both films featured scripts co-written by Martin Goldsmith). With apologies to Howard Hill, most aficionados of lower-tier Hollywood noir consider The Narrow Margin one of the greatest B-movies ever made. Karl Williams, All Movie Guide

L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen once said of actor Lawrence Tierney, "A lot of them actor guys, like the guy that played Dillinger, Lawrence Tierney, started to think they was Dillinger. I guess when actors are given a certain part to portray, and they portray it year in and year out, they begin to play it somewhat for real." This may be the reason Tierney is so convincing as a scumball crook in Born to Kill. He spent much of his life in and out of jail. As Sam Wild, Tierney is at his most menacing, ready to tear into anybody for any reason, and in Born to Kill he leaves a sizable body count. Helen Trent (Claire Trevor) is a bad girl, but has some conscience, which makes her actually look down upon Sam, even though she's in love with him. Elisha Cook Jr. is great here playing a low-rent crook and pal of Sam's, who also has something in the way of a conscience. But Sam is pure violence incarnate, with absolutely no control over his murderous tendencies. This is one mean B-movie with some great action and a gripping ending. Adam Bregman, All Movie Guide

Max Nosseck's Dillinger (1945) was made on a shoestring budget, far lower than the money allocated for John Milius' 1973 remake, yet it still retains a high reputation, mostly thanks to its noir-ish elements and the intensity of Lawrence Tierney's performance in the title role. Tierney is a dominating presence in this movie and pretty well carries the film, overcoming some obvious gaps in the budget and holes in the script; his eyes have a scary look, and his sheer attractiveness makes him a scary, savage presence. The rest of the movie works mostly because of its threadbare nature; if the director hadn't been hemmed in by a low budget, he might well have tried to elaborate scenes that work all the better because they're made of quick cuts and have minimal (or no) dialogue. Coupled with a frantic pacing -- the picture covers Dillinger's whole criminal career in 70 minutes -- the result is a kind of hybrid film noir, a gangster movie that only works because of its need for a doom-laden visual shorthand, and to keep the story moving, lest anyone realize how cheaply it was being made. Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

Edward Dmytryk's classic noir on anti-Semitism in the military was adapted from a Richard Brooks novel, -The Brick Foxhole, whose actual subject was homophobia in the army, which RKO found too hot to handle at the time. Like many noirs, it's steeped in the malaise of returning GIs, still recovering from the trauma of war and trying to adapt to a changed world. Dmytryk evokes a miasma of angst with the noir vocabulary of looming shadows, oblique angles, and low-key lighting. Robert Young's professorial detective leads the investigation, which takes on a collective quality as Robert Mitchum's sergeant becomes involved, the film counterpointing their quiet sanity against the disorientation of the mustered-out soldiers and the raging paranoia of the murderer. Robert Ryan is most impressive as the latter, a matrix of festering resentments of which his anti-Semitism is only one. The residue of the original story remains in a slightly off-kilter scene, apparently detached from the narrative, in which a GI (George Cooper) discusses his alienation with a sympathetic stranger (Sam Levene). The first film to address the subject of anti-Semitism, it remains effective despite moments of preachiness. Test screenings of the film for Jewish audiences revealed their well-grounded concern that the association of such blatant pathology, as the murderer's with anti-Semitism, would allow viewers to ignore the far more commonplace and insidious forms of that prejudice. Due to the film's content, in October 1947, producer Adrian Scott and director Dmytryk were called to testify before HUAC and became the first two members of the famed Hollywood Ten, a group of producers, directors, and writers, including Ring Lardner Jr. and Dalton Trumbo, all of whom initially refused to testify against their colleagues, and were sentenced to prison terms. In return for an early release in 1950, Dmytryk identified former colleagues as Communists, and in 1951, named Scott, his friend, and the producer of his three best films, as a member of the Communist party. Scott never produced another film, while Dmytryk resumed his career, never to repeat the quality of his earlier work. Michael Costello, All Movie Guide

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