Columbia Film Noir Classics II, 5 DVDs (2010)

by | Jul 2, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Columbia Film Noir Classics II, 5 DVD set (2010)

1- Human Desire
2- Pushover
3- The Brothers Rico
4- Nightfall
5- City Of Fear
Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame (1); Fred MacMurray, Kim Novak (2); Richard Conte, Dianne Foster (3); Aldo Ray, Brian Keith, Anne Bancroft (4); Vince Edwards, John Archer (5)
Directors: Fritz Lang (1); Richard Quine (2); Phil Karlson (3); Jacques Tourneur (4); Irving Lerner (5)
Studio: Columbia 31964  [Release Date: 7/6/10]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 B&W
Audio: DTS mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras 1: Original Trailer, “Terror And Desire with Emily Mortimer”
Extras 2: Original Trailer
Extras 3: Original Trailer, “Martin Scorsese on The Brothers Rico”
Extras 4: Original Trailer
Extras 5: Original Trailer, ” Pulp Paranoia with Christopher Nolan”
Lengths: Human Desire = 1 hr. 31 mins.; Pushover = 1 hr. 28 mins.; The Brother Rico = 1 hr. 32 mins.; Nightfall = 1 hr. 19mins.; City Of Fear = 1 hr. 15mins.
Rating: *****

Film noir is usually marketed to modern audiences by discussing its stereotypical themes and visual style. Femme fatales, hard-nosed detectives, sumptuous shadows and dark urban landscapes are the common coin of the descriptive blurbs on the back of film noir DVD boxes. What these descriptions neglect to mention is that throughout the fifties many classic noir films were shot quickly and cheaply by directors and crews who often were trained in television. There are no dramatic shadows or ambitious directing in these B-films, which look more like episodes of Perry Mason than anything else. Visual limitations don’t prevent these films from being great, as shown in Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II, a solid box set of five lesser-known noir films.

The best picture in the set, The Brothers Rico, is described by Martin Scorsese in his brief commentary as one of these films with a flat television aesthetic. But, as Scorsese also suggests, the simplicity of the visual style only enhances the power of the story. In the film, Eddie Rico, played by Richard Conte, is a former mob accountant who left the family to start a legitimate business in Florida. When his brothers, who remained with the mafia, get into trouble, Eddie is asked by his former boss to find one of them. The way the pictures unravels from there is darker and more disturbing than many higher-budget noirs of the same period. The Brothers Rico is a movie that is easy to underestimate, and is a must-watch.

Another one of the b-films in the set, Nightfall, is directed by famed horror and noir director Jacques Tourneur. Fans of Tourneur’s intense, dark visual style in movies like I Walked With A Zombie or Out Of The Past will be somewhat disappointed by the flat look of the film, but if they can get past that they will enjoy a great picture. Aldo Ray plays a young man on a hunting trip with a friend who stops to help two stranded travelers who turn out to be criminals on the run. After his friend is killed, he hides their loot and escapes, only to find himself constantly looking over his shoulder as he moves from town to town knowing he is being followed. Brian Keith delivers another great performance as one of the two criminals, and a young Anne Bancroft is superb as Ray’s love interest.

Human Desire, directed by Fritz Lang, is one of the two pictures in the set with a slightly higher budget. Based on the Emile Zola novel La Bete Humaine, it tells the story of a railroad engineer (Glen Ford) who returns from Korea and briefly flirts with a woman (Gloria Grahame) on a train. He later discovers the women is his boss’s wife, and finds out they have a dangerous secret. It is exciting to see the Ford and Grahame, the two stars of Lang’s noir masterwork The Big Heat reunited, but the film is bogged down by major problems. The script is poorly paced and the dialogue sounds unnatural, and Broderick Crawford as Ford’s boss delivers one of the weaker performances of his great career. Some of Lang’s directing is notable, especially the segments of the film which take place on a train, where Lang’s fascination with machinery creates amazing segments. The picture on the whole is disappointing, and those looking for a better telling of the tale should see Jean Renoir’s 1938 film La Bete Humaine, from the same novel.

The second best picture in the set, Pushover, is a low-budget noir that transcends its limitations and even manages to be somewhat visually interesting. Fred MacMurray plays a detective ordered to watch the girlfriend of a bank robber to see if he contacts her. MacMurray gives an excellent performance as a money-obsessed man who falls for the woman, played by Kim Novak in her first credited role, when he realizes he could get the cash and the girl. MacMurray’s fellow cops soon realize something is wrong, and the film achieves tremendous suspense as he tries to cover up every move he makes.

Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II is a solid purchase, perhaps even better than the first set. Other than the commentary by Scorsese and original trailers for all of the films, the special features are largely forgettable, but this doesn’t take away from the quality of the box set. Many of these B-pictures, because of their cheaper look and smaller stars, could be forgotten forever if studios didn’t put out sets like these. Let’s hope there are many more to come. [It also adds interest that these restorations are so sharp, clean and well-done, without any serious artifacts…Ed.]

– Ethan Krow

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