Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bye George

Ghost reviewer in the sky
The fellow in the picture is George Hatch. I know him as a reviewer for DVD Verdict, probably one of the best they've had. George recently passed away and the DVD community is all the poorer for it. While at DVD Verdict he contributed some of the best, most insitghful reviews I've ever read. His specialty was Film Noir, and I have some wonderful Noir discs in my collection thanks to his reviews. I can't really do him justice, so I refer you to the links to Dan Mancini's blog and DVD Verdict for the full scope of the man.
Farewell, George. I'm sure you're up there spinning the discs. Damn, we're gonna miss you.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

One Noir For The Road

What?  Free beer?
Y'know, if you're a lover of classic film like I am, you have a bit of an advantage over the more current-release-minded folks out there. Sure you waited patiently for that Special Edition of The Adventures of Robin Hood to finally get a release or plunked down some serious do-re-mi for that Val Lewton Horror set but, pound for pound, between major studio series releases and good ol' Public Domain, if you know what to look for you will find riches beyond your wildest dreams at a low price (not to mention occasionally finding that Forgotten Classic you've heard of but never seen).
That said, if you like film noir, duplitious dames, wise-cracking heroes and all, you've recently had an embarrassment of riches. With WB releasing in one but two Noir box sets (with a third in the way), other studios have been bellying up to the bar with their offerings - None more thoroughly than Fox. I say "thoroughly" because about half the films in the Fox Noir line are borderline noir at best.

And this is a bad thing? Uh-uh. Where else are you gonna find the breadth of drama at the prices they're charging (MSRP $15 but you can easily find them for $10)? And every one of them includes a commentary, most of which are done by Eddie Muller (author of film noir books, president of the Film Noir Society and a damn fine raconteur) These films may not all be noir but most of 'em are still damn good dramas, a lot of which are new to DVD. Here's a few recent examples I picked up for a song:

Laura - One of the two seminal noirs (the other being Double Indemnity - which is due out on DVD soon), Otto Preminger directing noir staple Dana Andrews, cracking wise and getting obsessed over Gene Tierney while Vincent Price makes with the charm and Clifton Webb drinks while tossing barbs hither and yon. This was the one that launched the Fox Noir line, so they give it a little more oomph in the extras department - two commentaries, one by composer David Raskin and Film professor Jeanine Basinger and another by film historian/author Rudy Behlmer, a deleted scene, two A&E Biographies on Gene Tierney and Vincent Price and the theatrical trailer. A fine way to launch a series and, as the rest of the series, a real entertainment bargain.

Fallen Angel - Dana Andrews again, this time with the likes of Alice Faye and Linda Darnell. Darnell's a tough waitress whom everyone with a fly on their pants is trying to get to know. Andrews is a small-time grifter who falls under her spell and develops a cockeyed plan to marry the younger of two rich spinsters (that would be Ms. Faye) so's he can con her out of the dough and run off with Darnell. This one's jam-packed with great character actors (Percy Kilbride, Charles Bickford, Bruce Cabot, Anne Revere and the Great John Carradine) plus Eddie Muller and Dana Andrews's daughter Susan doing the commentary chores.

Nightmare Alley - You heard me talk about this before. All about Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power), a carny who wants something more. He has an affair with the carnival psychic (Joan Blondell) in order to learn the code she uses in order to move up in society as Mystic to The Rich And Famous - until he meets his match in a duplicitous psychiatrist (Helen Walker). A gripping ride down into the depths of noir with Stan ending up lower than he began. This one features commentary by film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver.

Somewhere In The Night - This was the first film Joseph Mankiewicz helmed. A John Hodiak starrer, he plays a returning war vet stricken with amnesia with nothing but a "Dear John" letter in his wallet and another from a guy named Larry Cravat. On his journey he meets a lot of folks (Harry Morgan, Sheldon Leonard, Whit Bissel, Fritz Kortner) who want to stop him from finding out about Mr. Cravat, and a few (Nancy Guild, Lloyd Nolan, Richard Conte) who want to help him. Eddie Muller goes solo with the commentary duties here. This one's a personal favorite, being a classic example of the "amnesia" noir.

I Wake Up Screaming - Okay, laugh at the title, but this is noir, straight-up. Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is a promoter who finds Vicky (Carole Landis), a hash-house waitress and decides to do a Henry Higgins on her for a lark. Too bad she gets bumped off, with all the evidence pointing to Frankie. Good thing he's got Vicky's sister (Betty Grable) on his side. He'll need all the help he can get because if he ain't careful, he's gonna be up the river, courtesy of a police detective (Laird Cregar) who's determined to pin it on him. The plot has more twists than a pretzel and the dialogue absolutely crackles. Add a deleted scene, an alternate opening, stills and Eddie Muller's commentary and this one is a great night at the movies

House of Strangers - This is one of the "barely noirs" I mentioned earlier, but boy is it fun. Noir with an Arthur Miller twist, Edward G. Robinson stars as Gino Monetti, the patriarch of an Italian banking family who is so concerned with business, he doesn't see the resentment and anger under his own house. Three of his sons, who work at the bank, hate his tyrannical rule while his fourth son (Richard Conte in, IMO, his best role), is a slick lawyer, wants nothing but to settle down with a nice Italian girl (Debra Paget) - until Susan Hayward waltzes into his life, that is. This is like taking one part Joseph And His Bretheren, one part King Lear, add a drop of noir (in the wonderfully-written scenes between Conte and Hayward), shake, and watch. Joseph Mankiewicz is in the director's chair again (some of the dialogue sounds like a warm up for All About Eve) with Robinson and Conte at the height of their talent. This time the commentary is by author/film hisorian Frasier Hirsch - a bit dry and spotty, but informative nevertheless. To paraphrase Nick Monetti, it's a great drama - period!

Those are just a half-dozen from a DVD series that looks like it's gonna go for at least 25 titles. If you like noir, or just a good ol' drama, you can't go wrong with these.