Warner’s Film Noir Classic Collection V3
Border Incident / His Kind Of Woman / Lady In The Lake / On Dangerous Ground / The Racket
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: Various
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
Audio: DD Monaural
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Package: 6 discs/Slimcases in cardboard box
I recall a couple of years ago while participating in a HTF chat with Warner Brothers and asking a question or two regarding their vast holdings of film noir titles. I was absolutely overjoyed to learn they intended to releases an entire collection centered around the movement which has seen an unquestionable upsurge of interest over the last decade. Here were are, a couple of years later with Volume Three in our midst and another fine collection of titles are about to whet the appetites of the fans of these dark and brooding films. Between films they produced, and the RKO library they now control (not to mention the MGM, Monogram and Allied Artist titles), God only knows there is no other studio that has more quality films noir in their canon than Warner Brothers. Here’s hoping these future announcements never cease.
Chosen for this collection are an interesting group of titles including: Border Incident (1949), His Kind Of Woman (1951), Lady In The Lake (1946), On Dangerous Ground (1952) and The Racket (1951). Clearly, (and similar to previous WB noir collections), much though has been put into the chosen titles which cover a vast amount of noir territory. A Raymond Chandler - Philip Marlowe murder mystery as well as a police procedural are present, as is an illegal alien smuggling scheme and a tormented hard-nosed cop who finds happiness in the unlikeliest of places. And if a film noir sub-category of “goofy noir” were to exist, even it would be represented.
Also included in the collection is a separate disc entitled, Film Noir: Bringing Darkness To Light. All titles (including the noir companion piece) are exclusive to the collection which lists for $49.98. Unlike the upcoming Warner Tough Guys Collection, the Film Noir V3 Collection comes in slim cases which will conserve plenty of room for the upcoming release of V4 (which apparently will be released before the end of the year). If Warner is looking for a little bit of constructive criticism, perhaps taking advantage of the Slimcases and using a double sided insert (with a chapter list visible on one side and perhaps a picture of a poster visible on the other side). However, small quibbles aside, the Slimcases are most welcome additions for these multi-disc boxed sets.
Border Incident (1949)
Anthony Mann helms this conventional MGM drama and is one of those directors instantly thought of when film noir is kicked around. He was responsible for the direction of a number of films often thought of as the movement’s most prolific films such as T-Men (1947), The Great Flamarion (1945), Strange Impersonation (1946), Desperate (1947), Railroaded (1947), Raw Deal (1948) as well as one of this reviewer’s favorite films noir, Side Street (1950) – and that’s not including the many fantastic westerns he directed in the 50’s. The director is aided by cinematographer John Alton, widely considered one of noirs most recognized and talented craftsman. His credits include a “who’s who” of noir films from the early forties to the late 1950’s.
Like so many other noirs, this film starts like a documentary. After a grisly discovery, U.S. Immigration agents team up with their Mexican counterparts in an attempt to stop the flow of illegal Mexican laborers into southern California and round up those responsible for their exploitation and murder. Things don’t go quite as planned however, as Mexican Agent Pablo Rodriguez (played by Ricardo Montalban) goes deep undercover and winds up as a potential victim of the murderous gang.
His Kind Of Woman (1951)
Produced by Howard Hughes, this RKO film was directed by John Farrow. The film, with it’s comedic and quirky infusions, has become a fan favorite – even bordering on cult-like appeal by all accounts. The film is littered with a number of stars from the period including, Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price, Tim Holt, Charles McGraw, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus and Philip Van Zandt.
Dan Milner (played by Robert Mitchum) is a not-so-lucky gambler who’s down on his luck. His luck may have changed for the better however, when he is invited to a posh Mexican resort. The deal? $5000 now and the remaining $45,000 after he shows. Of course the reason for his attendance isn’t revealed until he actually arrives. Needless to say, he’ll have to deal with the ruthless deported Italian crime boss, Nick Ferraro (played by Raymond Burr) who wants to re-enter the United States to get back to assume his business. Things go from dangerous to downright surreal and bizarre when Mark Cardigan (played terrifically by Vincent Price), shows up to offer help to the needy American who suddenly realizes why the lucrative offer may have been too good to be true.
Lady In The Lake (1946)
There is probably no other person who is more responsible for writing novels or screenplays that were adapted into films noir than Raymond Chandler. Chandler authored a number of novels and was responsible for the legendary private eye character, Philip Marlowe. While Murder, My Sweet may have been the original Marlowe mystery film, there were a number of familiar capable noir staples to play the part including (and probably the most popular of the series), Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946), the breezy performance of Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944) and the later George Montgomery appearance in 1947’s, The Brasher Doubloon.
More contemporary versions would include James Garner in a similar pre-Rockford Files type role in 1969’s Marlowe, Elliott Gould carried the torch in The Long Goodbye (1973) and legendary film noir tough guy, Robert Mitchum would reprise the role a couple of times in the 70’s. Chandler was also responsible for writing a number of other noir screenplays such as The Blue Dahlia (1946), Hitchcock’s, Strangers On A Train (1951) and was credited as a co-writer for the 1944 classic, Double Indemnity.
While many feel that Bogart’s portrayal of the Philip Marlowe character from The Big Sleep is the definitive role, I'm of the opinion Dick Powell is the Marlowe. Powell brings a lighter side to the character who was wittier and much more impulsive than Bogart ever was - and I guarantee, you’ll not find a bigger fan of Bogart on the forum than this reviewer! Unfortunately the Marlowe of our feature film is the reviewer’s least favorite, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the film, it’s merely my own way of disconnecting Montgomery from Marlowe.
Told by way of subjective camera, we see through the eyes of Marlowe, himself – literally. Not only does he star in it but also directs this hardboiled MGM mystery film. The story begins with Marlowe who’s taken on the case to search for the wife of a wealthy publishing magnate who has gone missing. After a number of nail-biting twists and potential frame-ups, Marlowe winds up with a dead gal on his hands. He also finds himself at the wrong end of a gun as he comes close to naming the killer.
On Dangerous Ground (1952)
Perhaps the crown jewel in the collection, this RKO film contains all the “buzzwords” of the genre. Directed by one of the masters, Nicholas Ray and was co-written (by Ray) and A.I. Bezzerides, scored by Bernard Herrmann and the stunningly stark, black and white visuals courtesy of cinematographer, George E. Diskant. While this film contains two of noirs most recycled actors, Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino, it is this film which might very well contain Ryan’s finest performance as he convincingly transforms from brutal and tormented cop to gentle and kind humanitarian. Lupino’s performance is no less convincing as the blind sibling of the man at the center of a wide manhunt.
The story centers around Jim Wilson (played by Robert Ryan), a New York City detective. The dedicated detective has seen it all and brutality has become a tool of the job. After being threatened with a lawsuit stemming from his brutality, Wilson is warned by Captain Brawley (played by Ed Begley Sr.), to change his style and his tactics but the sound advice of the Captain is ignored and he carries on with his vicious ways. The last straw results in an assignment to a small rural town where a young girl was just raped and stabbed to death.
The assignment introduces Wilson to the secluded country home of Mary Malden (played by Ida Lupino) who resides with her emotionally disturbed brother, Danny Malden (played by Sumner Williams). Wilson gets a dose of reality when he meets the victim’s father, Walter Brent (played by Ward Bond), who seems to frighten Wilson by offering painful reminders of the constant burden of hate which consumes him every minute of every day. Mary suddenly becomes torn; stuck in the middle of protecting her sick brother and doing what’s right.
The Racket (1951)
In another RKO film produced by Howard Hughes, this one was directed by John Cromwell. Nick Scanlon (played by Robert Ryan) is a no-nonsense crime boss who isn’t above violence and murder to get what he wants. Unfortunately, his methods are becoming tiresome to those at the top of the organization and they want a more modern leader to replace Scanlon to run the business in a more businessman-like manner.
Enter Captain McQuigg (played by Robert Mitchum). The young Captain has a squeaky clean reputation and tenacious appetite for locking up those who break the law. The Captain’s help comes in the way of a scorned lover, a nightclub torch singer, Irene Hayes (played by Lizabeth Scott), who, after learning Nick Scanlon's brother dumped her, decides to testify against the mob, putting herself clearly in jeopardy. Only after the ball starts rolling does it become clear how many of those in charge are caught up in “the racket”.
Border Incident – 3.5/5 Video:
All of these films are presented in their original aspect ratios of 1.33:1 and all show very nicely. Aside from a few blemishes and marks, I have very little to complain about.
Border Incident is definitely one of the stronger entries in the collection. The image is velvety smooth with a limited amount of fine film grain. Image definition is excellent and the transfer sports very few marks or blemishes. Blacks are exceptionally dark and the vast grayscale is impressive. His Kind Of Woman also looks very good. Very few marks and blemishes are present and the level of image detail is terrific - albeit some artifacting is apparent. A couple of major scratches are noticeable toward the end of the film, however. Grayscale is very good and the film shows very little grit or grain.
Lady In The Lake looks very good although there is more grain than I anticipated – very heavy in spots, particularly during the opening reel or two. Mosquito noise is also visible but not pervasive. The marks and pops seem to ease up as the film progresses. Blacks here are a standout here offering up an impressive grayscale. On Dangerous Ground looks excellent, although was shot in a mostly dark environment. The RKO film has a slightly coarser look to it although marks and blemishes appear to be minimal. Image definition is satisfactory. The Racket is another very solid entry. Minimal grain was visible and image detail was very good. Black levels were very good affording a vast grayscale. Marks and blemishes were noticeable but were minimal.
Video: 4/5 - Overall
All of these tracks are presented with a DD monaural encoded soundtrack. These are all fairly basic and in line with what we would expect from the period, all limitations aside.
Border Incident is a fine monaural offering boasting impressive dynamics highlighting the frequent motorcycle and chase scenes. Very little hiss was noticeable and pops or crackle were non-existent. Dialogue was always bold and intelligible. His Kind Of Woman with it’s many gunshots and action sequences does a good job at showing off the film’s dynamics. Very little noticeable hiss, while dialogue was always clean and intelligible. Lady In The Lake is also a solid entry with a slight amount of hint that persists and only occasional pops or cracks audible as the film progresses. Dialogue was slightly hollow but one would think that the subjective camera and how the film was shot may be partly responsible here.
On Dangerous Ground sounds very good with only a slight hint of hiss. Herrmann’s memorable brass score stands out with ease never sounding compressed or strained. The Racket shows very little hiss and is mostly clean. No pops or crackle to speak of and the few gunshots and explosions sound more dynamic than one might expect for a monaural track. Dialogue was always bold and intelligible.
Audio: 3.5/5 - Overall
His Kind Of Woman
Lady In The Lake
On Dangerous Ground
Special Features: 4/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
Admittedly, this reviewer isn’t quite as excited with Volume 3 compared to previous releases, but that may also have to do with the fact that I am very familiar with all of these titles, so the “hidden gem” so to speak is non-existent. That’s not to say however, that this group is an unworthy assortment of noir titles. All of these titles are quintessential film noir and worthy of the oft used – and sometimes misused term. With noir stalwarts such as Robert Mitchum, Howard Da Silva, Lizabeth Scott, Charles McGraw, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino and Robert Montgomery present, fans of film noir should get their personal fave fix as almost everyone associated and instantly recognizable with the noir movement shows up for an appearance.
While this set is not quite decked out like the Tough Guys set in terms of special features, they do come with individual commentaries and the Bringing Light to Darkness disc is a worthy inclusion. Most importantly however, all of the presentations are excellent. Fans who enjoy their cinema on the dark side, will be genuinely rewarded on July 18th. Bring on Volume 4.
Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)
Release Date: July 18th, 2006