DVD Review HTF REVIEW: They Live By Night/Side Street: Film Noir Classic Collection Double Featu

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer

    Feb 20, 2001
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    Livonia, MI USA
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    Kenneth McAlinden
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    They Live By Night/Side Street: Film Noir Classic Collection Double Feature
    They Live by Night (1948)/Side Street (1950)

    Studio: Warner Brothers

    Year: 1948-1950

    Rated: Unrated

    Film Length: Various

    Aspect Ratio: 4:3

    Subtitles: English SDH, French (Feature films only)

    Release Date: July 31, 2007

    The Films

    They Live by Night (1948 – RKO - 95 minutes)

    Directed By: Nicholas Ray

    Starring: Cathy O'Donnell, Farley Granger, Howard Da Silva, Jay C. Flippen, Helen Craig, Will Wright

    Farley Granger plays teenaged escaped con "Bowie" Bowers. He is on the run with fellow escapees "Chicamaw" (Da Silva) and "T-Dub" (Flippen). Evading pursuit, they hole up at the home of Mobley (Wright), Chicamaw's father. Chicamaw and T-Dub enlist Bowie to help them rob a Texas bank, and Bowie goes along willingly in hopes of raising enough money to finance an appeal of his earlier sentence on the grounds that he was a juvenile offender. While planning the bank job, Bowie meets and falls for Mobley's daughter, "Keechie". Keechie is similarly attracted to Bowie, but is disappointed that he remains mixed up with her brother and his accomplices. When the bank robbery comes off successfully, but a subsequent traffic accident results in Chicamaw shooting a police officer and Bowie leaving behind incriminating evidence, Keechie joins Bowie on the run across the southern United States where their dreams of living like "normal people" are continually thwarted by the threat of capture by the authorities and the pull of their past criminal associations.

    Nicholas Ray's directorial debut has the deep shadowed look and crime-soaked milieu associated with vintage film-noir. It is, however, unique in the genre since at its heart, it is an intensely romantic story about star-crossed teenage lovers.

    Granger and O'Donnell, both on loan to RKO from Samuel Goldwyn even though they had never worked together previously at their home studio, have a wonderful chemistry as the naive lovers. They hit exactly the right dramatic notes to make audience members care for them even as they make one bad decision after another leading inexorably towards tragedy.

    The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, most of them playing characters that are more worldly, but not necessarily much smarter than the doomed lovers. Da Silva and Flippen strike the right balance between seductive and scary as they play the devils on Granger's shoulder pushing him towards crime. Helen Craig strikes a suitably conflicted tone as an associate of the criminals who goes to great lengths to secure the release of her husband from prison, but seems to recognize that she is selling a piece of her soul in the process. She makes a character that could have been easy to hate due to her exploitation of Bowie and Keechie into an interesting, and even tragic, figure.

    Bowie and Keechie's aspirations towards the "straight" world are unattainable due to their inability to fully understand how it works. Most of the rest of the characters in the film represent failed or inadequate real or surrogate parental figures. Ray would return to themes of alienation, teen angst, failure of parental/authority figures, and doomed lovers repeatedly throughout his career, but rather than a first tentative step, "They Live By Night" feels like a definitive statement.

    Side Street (1950 – MGM - 83 minutes)

    Directed By: Anthony Mann

    Starring: Farley Granger, Cathy O'Donnell, James Craig, Paul Kelly, Jean Hagen, Paul Harvey, Edmon Ryan, Adele Jergens

    Less than a year after the US release of "They Live By Night", Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell were re-teamed in the MGM production "Side Street". Granger and O'Donnell play Joe and Ellen Norson, a struggling pair of newlyweds with a baby on the way. Having lost his business, Joe has taken a low-paying part-time job as a mail carrier while he and Ellen have moved in with his in-laws. In a moment of weakness, Joe breaks open the file cabinet of Victor Backett, a lawyer on his mail route, and steals a folder in which he expects to find $200. In fact, it contains $30,000. Initially elated, Joe is ultimately overcome with shame, and attempts to return the money. As it was tied to a murder-extortion crime he arranged for a wealthy client, Victor denies that any money was stolen from his office, but sends George, an ex-con hired goon, after Joe (Craig) to get the money and make sure that he does not incriminate them. Things get even worse for Joe when he learns that the bartender he asked to store the package with the money has absconded with it, and that the police have identified him as a suspect in multiple murders.

    Anthony Mann's "Side Street" is a fairly straightforward noir story of a little man being devoured by the big city who pays several times over for a moment of moral weakness. It sets itself apart from the pack via high production values, assured direction from Mann, and impressive location photography on the streets of New York by MGM veteran Joseph Ruttenberg (the standard "filmed in Hollywood USA" MGM end title card never seemed less accurate). Mann and Ruttenberg use a lot of low angles, frequently making the six-foot-plus Granger appear dwarfed in the frame by the Manhattan skyscrapers or, at key times, the film's heavies.

    Granger and O'Donnell once again make a compelling on-screen couple, but their relationship is less central to the plot than it was in "They Live By Night". The biggest weakness of the film has to do with the conception of Granger's character. No matter how obscure the side streets on which he has lived have been, it is hard to believe that a native New Yorker would behave like the naive rube the screenplay paints Joe to be.

    Setting that curious misstep aside, the film is otherwise a well-cast and technically assured thriller with more than the standard noir helping of action scenes. Mann's penchant for sudden brutal violence is in full effect, and there is a climactic car chase that ranks with the best I have ever seen filmed on New York streets.

    The Video

    Both films are presented in black and white transfers framed at a 4:3 ratio appropriate for their original theatrical exhibitions.

    The transfer of "They Live By Night" is sharp with natural film grain, sporadic light element damage, and deep contrast with excellent shadow detail. Edge enhancement and compression artifacts are minor to non-existent.

    "Side Street" is slightly less detailed than "They Live by Night", but has less visible element damage and lighter, possibly somewhat filtered, grain patterns. Contrast is well rendered, and digital video artifacts are few and far between.

    The Audio

    Both films are presented with English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio tracks.

    "They Live By Night" begins ominously with very noticeable distortion during the opening title music. Thankfully, the sound improves significantly after that, although there are a few more instances where music track audio distortion intrudes throughout the film. Other than that, the soundtrack is rendered with light hiss and noise consistent with a clean, dynamically limited optical audio track.

    "Side Street" has light hiss and crackle audible throughout, but is generally a fine rendering of a mono track of its vintage.

    The Extras

    All of the extras are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 audio with video content encoded at a 4:3 aspect ratio.

    "They Live By Night" comes with a feature-length audio commentary from Farley Granger and Film Noir scholar Eddie Muller. Granger seems like a kind and gracious man who genuinely enjoyed the experience of working on the film, but he is generally reticent on all but a few topics despite the efforts of Muller to repeatedly engage him with questions. Most of Muller's questions are answered with brief "yes", "no", or "I don't remember" answers with little embellishment from Granger. Fortunately, Muller has done his homework, and works a number of interesting facts about the film, its creative participants, its production, and its unusually protracted post-production path to movie screens due to turmoil at RKO into the often frustratingly one-sided conversation.

    Additionally, "They Live by Night: The Twisted Road" is a six minute and nine second brief but informative featurette with film clips, behind the scenes photographs, and talking-head interview segments with critic/historian Molly Haskell, film noir scholar James Ursini, film noir scholar Alain Silver, critic/DVD Savant Glenn Erickson, director Oliver Stone, and filmmaker Christopher Coppola.

    "Side Street" includes a feature length audio commentary from film critic and scholar Richard Schickel. Schickel's comments are almost uniformly positive about what he considers to be a very good underrated film. After a strong fact-filled opening, his comments increasingly veer off into genre notes not necessarily specific to the film at hand, but he rebounds nicely with more substantial screen-specific discussion when the film gets to the climactic car chase.

    Also included is "Side Street: Where Temptation Lurks", which runs an efficient if too-brief five minutes and 49 seconds. On-screen commentators include AFI Catalog Executive Editor Patricia King Hanson, filmmaker Christopher Coppola, Schickel, and filmmaker Oliver Stone. Hanson scores points for explaining the significance of the film's title more tersely and eloquently than Schickel in his audio commentary, but loses points when she makes the far-too broad statement that every character in the film has a good side and a bad side.

    Finally, the theatrical trailer for "Side Street" runs two minutes and 25 seconds.


    The movies are included on a single dual-layered DVD-9. The main menu asks the viewer to first choose a film, and each film subsequently has its own "Play Movie" "Special Features", and Languages" menu page. There are no chapter menus for either title, although there are chapter stops accessible via a DVD remote. The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray style case with artwork derived from original theatrical posters for both films used as the basis for the cover graphics. The disc is also available with four other "Film Noir Double Features" in the "Film Noir Classics Collection Volume 4".


    Warner Bros. Home Video presents us with two very different pairings of Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell representing significant early major studio efforts from Nicholas Ray and Anthony Mann. Fans of either director should be pleased with the excellent video transfers, decent to very good audio presentations, and modest but informative extras.

  2. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

    Aug 2, 2001
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    I can't wait to get my hands on these. I met Farley Granger in Chicago two weeks ago, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of his films outside of the two Hitchock's.

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