Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II' Is Uneven, But With a Few Bleakly Satisfying Moments
In Human Desire, one of the five films included here, Broderick Crawford is one of those big lugs whose volume control dial has been permanently stuck somewhere between "bluster" and "bellow."
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IIPrice: $59.95
Cast: Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, Gloria Grahame, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, Vince Edwards, Kim Novak
Directors: Fritz Lang, Phil Karlson, Irving Lerner, Jacques Tourneur, Richard Quine
Films: Human Desire, The Brothers Rico, Nightfall, City of Fear, Pushover
Release Date: 2010-07-06
The director Fritz Lang's American output includes moody masterpieces such as Scarlet Street, The House by the River, Clash by Night and The Big Heat. If you haven't yet encountered these movies, all of which helped to define film noir as one of the greatest of all American art forms, you're in for a dark and disturbing treat.
Broderick Crawford is one of those big lugs whose volume control dial has been permanently stuck somewhere between "bluster" and "bellow" -- he's one of the most tiresome actors in Hollywood history. Glenn Ford is fine, but it's hard to believe he would fall for Gloria Grahame, who looks like she's had an anachronistic double dose of Botox -- her tiny little mouth appears permanently frozen -- when he could have had, instead, the incredibly sexy "nice" girl, the daughter of a friend and fellow engineer, who throws herself at him throughout the movie.
Thinking I might have missed something, I turned to a brief on-camera commentary in the DVD's special features section by the actress Emily Mortimer. She was wonderful in the overlooked indie Lovely and Amazing, but what she's doing commenting on a Fritz Lang film is beyond me, and clearly beyond her as well; she seems uncomfortable throughout, and over the course of just a few minutes of un-illuminating analysis uses the phrase "sort of" 21 times by actual count.
City of Fear
Pushover, a crooked-cop drama starring Fred MacMurray, is flat-out tedious, and anyone who's familiar with MacMurray's film performances won't be surprised to learn that he's the titular easy mark. The only film in this collection that really grips from beginning to end is City of Fear, which begins, even before the opening titles, with a gut-shot gangster, his fellow prison escapee (Vince Edwards), and a metal canister filled with stolen heroin. We soon learn, however, what Edwards does not: The "heroin" is actually a deadly radioactive substance.
This tight and frightening little police procedural observes both Edwards as he struggles to open the canister to sell the "heroin" and gradually, in the process, succumbs to radiation poisoning, and the authorities, as they attempt, Geiger counters in hand, to track down Edwards. Fortunately, the demise of Edwards is not portrayed nearly as graphically as it would be in an over-obvious contemporary movie (no oozing pustules or technicolor vomit), but is still pretty effective, as is the image of Edwards' girlfriend, who also is exposed to the radioactivity, mutating from a gorgeous young woman to a sick and sweat-drenched object of pity.
The citywide panic that the authorities keep on worrying about never happens, probably because the film's budget wasn't big enough to portray crowds of terrified citizens escaping a radioactive city, and this tight focus makes the movie seem a little less ambitious than it could have been. Yet it also keeps our attention riveted to Edwards and, along to the way, to the contemporary resonance created by the image of a lone psychopath on the loose with a weapon of mass destruction.
For newcomers to film noir, this collection is clearly not the place to get started, but for those who've experienced the twisted beauties that constitute the best of the genre, this is an uneven compilation with a few bleakly satisfying moments.