New This Week
Australia has long produced high quality Blu-rays of Hollywood films unavailable in the U.S., but those Blu-rays were not playable on U.S. Region 1 players and available only as imports. Earlier this year, Australia’s Imprint label from ViaVision began releasing Hollywood films on region-free Blu-rays that will play on U.S. Region 1 players. While still available only as imports, they are, however, more widely distributed.
They have now released Essential Film Noir: Collection 1 consisting of four films that stretch the boundaries of what we commonly think of as film noir, all with commentary from well-known U.S. film noir experts.
Alan K. Rode handles the commentary on three of them: the classic Detective Story from 1951 as well as the lesser known Framed from 1947 and The Garment Jungle from 1957.
Detective Story was one of William Wyler’s best films. The three-time Oscar winner for Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Ben-Hur, received one of his nine other nominations for this adaptation of Sidney Kingsley’s 1949 Broadway hit. The film was also nominated for Best Actress (Eleanor Parker), Supporting Actress (Lee Grant), and Screenplay (Philip Yordan and Robert Walden), a reworking of the play that starred Ralph Bellamy and Meg Mundy in the roles played on screen by Kirk Douglas and Parker.
William Bendix shares over-the-title billing with Douglas and Parker as Douglas’ fellow detective in the story that takes place in one day in the life of a busy precinct. Lee Grant, in her film debut, reprises her role of the shoplifter from the play.
Douglas’ character is a hard-knuckled by-the-rules cop whose moral certainty is upended when his wife (Parker) is implicated in one of the cases he is investigating. The original storyline involved abortion, but that wouldn’t have been allowed at the time in which the film was made so the story is changed to a potential illegal adoption that ends in the death of the baby. Parker is devastating in this role, perhaps the finest of her career. Douglas and Bendix are riveting and the entire ensemble cast is equally strong, with Grant basically providing the film’s comic relief.
The Paramount film has never looked better.
Framed is a genuine noir. Directed by Richard Wallace (The Fallen Sparrow), the screenplay by Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle) is based on a story by John Patrick (The Hasty Heart). Glenn Ford, who rose to prominence opposite Rita Hayworth in the previous year’s Gilda, once again plays opposite a femme fatale, this time the lesser known, but equally alluring Janis Carter. Lots of twists and turns in this Columbia gem which has never looked better.
The Garment Jungle, also from Columbia, gives us Kerwin Mathews the year before The 7th Voyage of Sinbad ignited his career vs. Lee J. Cobb as his garment industry tycoon father in full On the Waterfront mode. More of a gangster picture than a film noir, it is nevertheless a spellbinding film. Blu-ray extras include a 2007 interview with Robert Loggia whose death scene in the film was one of its highlights.
The fourth film in the set is 1949’s Alias Nick Beal for which they got Eddie Muller, the dean of film noir experts, to do his first commentary in years.
The film, directed by John Farrow (The Big Clock), stars Ray Milland as an emissary of the devil in one of the screen’s best remembered versions of the Faust story – only 1941’s The Devil and Daniel Webster and 1958’s Damn Yankees are better known. Thomas Mitchell, who played Daniel Webster to Walter Huston’s devil in The Devil and Daniel Webster aka All That Money Can Buy, was injured during the making of that film and had to be replaced by Edward Arnold, all of his scenes reshot. He more than makes up for the loss here as the politician who sells his soul to the devil.
Long out of circulation, this release of the Paramount film does it full justice.
William Dieterle, who directed The Devil and Daniel Webster, also directed 1943’s Tennessee Johnson, which has been given a surprise release from Warner Archive.
The Warner Archive release is surprising, not only because Tennessee Johnson has never been released on home video in any format before, but also because it isn’t very good. It plays more like the greatest moments in the life of Andrew Johnson, than a full-bodied biography, which is surprising because it is from the director of such legendary biographies as The Story of Louis Pasteur, The Life of Emile Zola, and Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet. It is topical, though, as it is about the first American president to be impeached. Van Heflin is very good as Lincoln’s successor, especially in the film’s early scenes, but everyone else is pretty much a cardboard figure including Lionel Barrymore as his nemesis, Thaddeus Stevens, played more effectively by Tommy Lee Jones in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It does, however, look stunning on Blu-ray.
Bill & Ted Face the Music, which was referred to as a Criterion release in last week’s review due to a typo, is definitely not a Criterion release. It is a Warner Bros. release, and not one of their better ones. The presentation, as with most Warner films, is excellent, but the film itself is jaw-droppingly awful, so much so that it might make you want to put not only it, but the two previous Bill & Ted DVDs or Blu-rays, through the shredder so you never have to look at them again.
Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York, originally intended as a 2018 release, was finally given a brief U.S. run earlier this year and is now available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
The film was shelved in 2018 because of the Time’s Up movement controversy surrounding decades old Allen allegations in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The film itself is not scandalous at all, and features ingratiating performances by Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, and Selena Gomez as today’s upper-class twenty-somethings drifting through life. If you have any doubts about Fanning’s Tucson born and raised blonde being vapid, wait until you hear her confuse a Cole Porter lyric with something out of Shakespeare. It’s hilarious!
This week’s new releases include the Criterion Blu-ray releases of Moonstruck and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.