DVD: Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II
Of all the genres in cinema film noir offers some of movie’s top classics and helmed by its best directors. While modern day crime thrillers occasionally use the film noir template here is a box set with the original goods. Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II offers five brilliant films from the 1950s, bristling with plot twists, femme fatales and good guys who make bad decisions. The mood depicted in these films provides more than a cool feeling (although it does supply that in boatloads). It’s the complete circle of a story told well and with outstanding production design and cinematography, spot-on dialogue, tough-as-nails acting and superb insightful mise-en-scene. All the films unwind in glorious black and white. The films offered in this box set are Human Desire (Fritz Lang, 1954); The Brothers Rico (Phil Karlson, 1958); City of Fear (Irving Lerner, 1958); Pushover (Richard Quine, 1954); and Nightfall (Jacques Tourneur, 1957). One of the main differences between watching one of these films and watching a contemporary DVD is that these films will actually stay in your memory long after you’ve spun the disc. Golden moments from this collection include Gloria Grahame’s babyvoice adulterous wife in Human Desire or Vince Edwards as an escaped con unknowingly carrying a package of deadly radiation in City of Fear. Edwards crawls through the seedy underground of L.A. infecting people all around him, accompanied by a memorable jazzy score from Jerry Goldsmith. The Brothers Rico has always been a personal favorite; I first remember seeing it on television in the 60s as a kid when I was a big James Darren fan. Richard Conte headlines as the oldest of a trio of brothers who owe allegiance to the mob. Despite adhering to typical 50s movie conventions, Brothers Rico offers some of the earliest movie attempts to portray the Mafia in a realistic mode. These are films that other movies emulate, just as Kim Novak’s hot pick-up lines to Fred MacMurray in Pushover rings original and fresh. Tourneur’s credits include one of noir’s pivotal films Out of the Past, but Nightfall surpasses expectations and is a classic in its own right. The complicated flashback structure reveals the origin of a briefcase of money and the narrative structure allows for multiple points of view as well as sophisticated plot twists. One device that stood out was in the 1954 Pushover, where a subplot has detective Philip Carey keeping surveillance on Novak only to train his binoculars on the bedroom window of her neighbor, Dorothy Malone as a nurse who likes to party. Sure the moment recalls the main thrust of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, also 1954, but it’s taken one step further a few years later with Nightfall and the supporting character of James Gregory, who through most of the film spies on lead Aldo Ray to the level of practically stalking. Only when you’ve got a badge you can stalk for good or evil, depending on the shadows in your soul. Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II comes with trailers and brief commentaries on elements of noir by Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and Emily Mortimer.