For the ninth entry in Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series, three more Universal noirs are brought up from the vaults. First, Deanna Durbin finds herself in a New York City whodunit with comic overtones in Lady on a Train. Second, Maria Montez gets caught up in post-WWII intrigue in the North African city of Tangier. Finally, William Powell has to stay one step ahead of the cops and killers in San Francisco in Take One False Step. All three films are making their Blu-ray debut here.
The Production: 3.5/5
Lady on a Train (1945; 3.5 out of 5)
Arriving in New York City from San Francisco to spend the Christmas holiday with her aunt, Nicki Collins (Deanna Durbin) witnesses the murder of a shipping magnate while her train makes a brief stop en route to Grand Central Station. When the police decline to act – thinking Nicki may have had a nightmare – she seeks out the help of mystery novelist Wayne Morgan (David Bruce) to identify the dead man and his murderer. This leads to Nicki coming across the Waring family – who, as it turns out, to be related to the dead man – and the realization that any one member of the family could be responsible for speeding up their potential inheritance; there’s one small problem: the family seems to have mistaken Nicki as a potential heiress, which puts her in danger from the real killer!
Deanna Durbin is best known today for the many “girl next door” roles in musical comedies that helped save Universal Pictures from bankruptcy in the 1930’s, but Lady on a Train was one of two ventures into the film noir genre in an attempt to break that image. Based on a story by Leslie Charteris (the novelist responsible for the creation of Simon Templar alias “The Saint“), the film follows the traditional noir elements while also injecting elements of comedy and musical into the proceedings as well; in a clear nod to her roots, Durbin sings three songs in the film, including the Christmas evergreen “Silent Night” as well as Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”. The movie also boasts the usual solid quality Universal gave their noirs, courtesy of cinematographer Elwood “Woody” Bredell, production designer John B. Goodman and set decorator Russell Gausman, film editor Ted J. Kent, sound director Bernard B. Brown (who earned the film’s lone Oscar nomination here) and composer Miklós Rózsa; as a bonus, Edmund Beloin and Robert O’Brien’s script is clearly having fun sending up some the elements of noir as well as Durbin’s good girl image. Not only is Durbin given one of her best roles here, but she also has able and solid support from the likes of Ralph Bellamy, David Bruce, Edward Everett Horton, Dan Duryea, Allen Jenkins, George Coulouris, Elizabeth Patterson and Patricia Morison. With the blend of noir, comedy and musical, Lady on a Train not only has a little fun with the genre, but also gave its leading lady a chance to show that she was more than just Universal’s answer to Judy Garland.
Tangier (1946; 3.5 out of 5)
In the Moroccan city of Tangier, the lives of the down-and-out mix and rub shoulders with the fortunate ones and every secret can be known for a price. That’s certainly the case for former war correspondent Paul Kenyon (Robert Paige), who’s in the city looking for a scoop on the whereabouts of a Nazi war criminal posing as the military governor of the region. He also tries to win the heart of cafe dancer Rita (Maria Montez), who’s looking for a man named Balazar, who was responsible for the deaths of her father and brother during the war. As their paths converge, a torrent of murder, stolen diamonds, torture and even love will soon come to light as both Paul and Rita find out that they’ve been after the same man all along…
While Maria Montez was Universal’s “Queen of Technicolor”, Tangier marked her first appearance in a film noir in an attempt to break free of the exotic adventure roles that made her famous. Originally conceived as another Technicolor vehicle for both Montez and Jon Hall called Flame of Stamboul, the movie has some pale echoes of Casablanca minus the war and nationalist angle due to the end of WWII; here, the script by M.M. Musselman and Monte Collins (adapting from the story by Alice D. G. Miller, which was intended for the Flame of Stamboul project) focuses on the search for a stolen diamond as well as a war criminal responsible for past deaths – the latter aspect notably featured in films of the era like Cornered (1945) and Orson Welles’ The Stranger (released the same year as this movie). Under the direction of George Waggner – his second effort in the genre following Sealed Lips (1942) – the movie moves along at a steady clip and even has a few moments of brevity amidst the intrigue and tension; take Sabu’s singular takes on several songs like “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”! In addition to decent performances from the cast – including Montez, Sabu, Robert Paige and supporting players Preston Foster, Kent Taylor, Louise Allbritton, J. Edward Bromberg, Reginald Denny and Charles Judels – the film also has solid production values from the likes of cinematographer Woody Bredell, film editor Edward Curtiss, production designer John B. Goodman, set decorator Russell Gausman, legendary makeup man Jack Pierce and costume designer Travis Banton. While it’s not amongst the most notable films in her time at Universal, Tangier is still a notable one for Maria Montez, who made a valiant effort to break free of typecasting here in a modern role while also bringing her exotic allure and personality to the film noir genre; it’s just a shame she didn’t make more movies in this genre.
Take One False Step (1949; 3.5 out of 5)
While in San Francisco on a business trip, married college professor Andrew Gentling (William Powell) comes across former girlfriend Catherine Sykes (Shelley Winters) in a bar and the two later meet – reluctantly on Andrew’s part – for a late-night drink and midnight drive. When Catherine turns up missing and is feared dead, Andrew is convinced by close friend Martha Wier (Marsha Hunt) to go on the run to clear his name, despite his insistence on going to the police to do that. However, doing so puts him in greater danger on the streets of San Francisco, where the trail – and attempt to stay a step ahead of the cops – may lead him to a killer that’s hiding in plain sight…
Chester Erskine may be best known today for directing the first entry in Universal’s Ma and Pa Kettle comedy franchise The Egg and I (1947), but Take One False Step proved he could be adept in the film noir genre as well. Following a cheeky opening credits sequence – a notable diversion in the genre – the film wastes no time in setting up the premise (based off of the novel Night Call by David and Irwin Shaw, with Irwin co-adapting with Erskine here on the script) and executing it with solid precision. The film also boasts some solid location camerawork by Franz Planer as well as contributions by Universal stalwarts Russell Schoengarth (editor) and Bernard Herzbrun (production designer) in creating the noir atmosphere. William Powell does a fine job as the married man who finds himself in over his head and also has solid support from the likes of Shelley Winters, Marsha Hunt, James Gleason, Felix Bressart (in his final film), Sheldon Leonard, Jess Barker and uncredited appearances by Marjorie Bennett, Minerva Urecal and Tony Curtis (the latter in one of his earliest film appearances). A decent noir mystery, Take One False Step gave its debonair leading man a solid role in the twilight years of his career while also giving two of its cast members another step towards later stardom.
3D Rating: NA
All three films are presented in their original 1:37:1 aspect ratios for this release, with Lady on a Train and Tangier having brand new 2K masters here while Take One False Step the recipient of a brand new 4K master. All three films exhibit faithful representations of film grain, gray scale and fine details with only minor cases of scratches, nicks, tears or reel change markers present. Overall, all three films have likely gotten their best presentation on home video with this release.
All three films’ mono soundtracks are presented on DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this release. Dialogue, sound mixes and music scores (Miklos Rozsa for Lady on a Train, Milton Rosen (credited as musical director) for Tangier and Walter Scharf for Take One False Step) are all faithfully presented with minimal cases of flutter, clicking, hissing, popping, distortion or crackling present here. Again, all three films have likely gotten their best audio presentation on home video here.
Special Features: 3/5
Lady on a Train
Theatrical Trailer (2:16)
Commentary by film critic Felicia Feaster – Recorded for this release, Feaster shares some background on the film and its cast and crew – as well as some background on the 1936-1946 Art Deco Universal logo! – as well as breaking down the movie’s themes.
Theatrical Trailer (1:51)
Take One False Step
Commentary by film historian Eddy Von Mueller – Recorded for this release, Von Mueller talks about the background on the film’s production, the cast and crew and how the culture of the era shaped the movie.
Kino continues its great run in the Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series with this volume, featuring solid HD transfers and informative commentary tracks on two of the titles here (Lady on a Train got the short end of the stick in this department). Highly recommended and worth upgrading from previous home video releases of each of the titles here.
Amazon.com: Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema IX [Lady on a Train / Tangier / Take One False Step]: William Powell, Maria Montez, Deanna Durbin, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Ralph Bellamy, David Bruce, George Waggner, Chester Erskine, Charles David: Movies & TV
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