Three more film noirs from the Universal-International era are brought out on Blu-ray for the first time as part of Volume 6 of Kino’s ongoing Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series. Two tales of crime and deception from San Francisco are included here (Johnny Stool Pigeon & The Raging Tide) while one takes us to post-WWII Asia for romance, deception and amnesia (Singapore).
The Production: 3.5/5
Singapore (1947; 4 out of 5)
Returning the Singapore following the end of World War II, Matt Gordon (Fred MacMurray) has a couple of bits of unfinished business to settle. First, there’s the matter of the smuggled pearls that he wants to retrieve under the nose of Deputy Commissioner Hewitt (Richard Haydn) and his former criminal associates (Thomas Gomez & George Lloyd). The second – which happens by chance – is reconnecting with his pre-war fiancée Linda Grahame (Ava Gardner), who’s suffering from amnesia and now married to a rich plantation owner over the last five years. Matt now has to find a way to help Linda remember her past and get the pearls without either getting caught red handed or ending up dead.
Singapore might have a few echoes of Michael Curtiz’s immortal Casablanca (1942) buried within it, but the movie is pretty solid in its own right. Director John Brahm – already adept at handling shadowy stories for 20th Century Fox prior to this movie – handles the titular exotic locale (recreated on the Universal backlot) with a degree of style and flair while also delivering a brisk pace to the whole affair. Despite not being able to actually shoot in Singapore, the film does boast some solid production values – credit must go to cinematographer Maury Gertsman, production designers Bernard Herzbrun & Gabriel Scognamillo and composer Daniele Amfitheatrof – which contribute to the terrific atmosphere established here. Best of all, Ava Gardner and Fred MacMurray are a convincing couple who are ably supported by the likes of Richard Haydn, Roland Culver, Thomas Gomez, George Lloyd, Spring Byington and Porter Hall (the latter two give comic relief to the noir); Seton I. Miller and Robert Thoeren’s script is pretty solid too. All in all, Singapore is an overlooked yet wonderfully done film noir with exotic adventure touches to it that’s worth discovering (or rediscovering); Universal-International would remake the film a decade later as the Errol Flynn vehicle Istanbul (1957).
Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949; 3.5 out of 5)
San Francisco based Treasury agent George Morton (Howard Duff) is looking for a way to break a multi-national narcotics ring by infiltrating it from the inside. He soon finds one in Alcatraz convict Johnny Evans (Dan Duryea) – whom George once busted – and the two strike an uneasy bargain in which Johnny becomes George’s informant. Together, they soon find themselves in Canada and then hot on the trail to a dude ranch in Arizona, where – along with Terry (Shelley Winters), whom both Johnny and George take a shine to – the duo’s personal tensions take a back seat to uncovering the smugglers’ dealings, which will take a bit of ingenuity and a bit of deception to shut down.
William Castle is better known today for a series of cult horror movies with gimmicks and for producing Rosemary’s Baby (1968), but Johnny Stool Pigeon – the first of five movies he would make for Universal-International over a three-year period – proves that he could be adept in B-level noir as well. Following on a wake of several films inspired by the success of Anthony Mann’s T-Men (1947), Castle makes efficient use of the plot angle of government agents going undercover to break up a drug ring; the only difference here is that the film doesn’t really adhere to the semi-documentary style too closely. Another plus is the atmospheric camerawork of Maury Gertsman – one of Universal’s chief cinematographers from the mid 1940’s to the mid 1950’s – who helps to bring a degree of authenticity to the proceedings; this was one of several noirs shot in San Francisco during this era, while the Arizona and Mexico locales of Tucson and Nogales – respectively – are also memorably shot on location as well. The only downside is the familiarity of the proceedings, but the three leads and supporting players John McIntire, Leif Erickson, and a young Tony Curtis as a silent but deadly assassin help to make the affair a breeze rather than a slog. In short, Johnny Stool Pigeon is a decent little noir that delivers the goods and would also be a steppingstone for its director (and young supporting player and leading lady) to reach greater heights in their respective careers.
The Raging Tide (1951; 3.5 out of 5)
After killing off a rival, San Francisco gangster Bruno Felkin (Richard Conte) tries to throw cops off his trail by reporting the crime to set up an alibi. However, Homicide Lt. Kelsey (Stephen McNally) catches wise to the plot and Bruno has to stow away on a fishing boat helmed by Hamil Linder (Charles Bickford). Linder welcomes the stowaway and Bruno eventually recruits Linder’s brattish son Carl (Alex Nicol) to do his bidding offshore, but complications ensue when Carl falls for Connie (Shelley Winters), who just happens to be Bruno’s girl. This stokes the fires of jealously in Bruno, but a raging storm at sea – as well as the kindness of Hamil, which has started to warm the fugitive’s stone-cold soul – may just extinguish that for good!
Although not one of the studio’s better-known efforts in the noir genre, The Raging Tide is still a nicely done film brought by Universal in their noir heyday in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Under the helm of director George Sherman, this adaptation of Ernest K. Gann’s novel Fiddler’s Green (which the author adapted for the screen) is steered smoothly through any choppy waters the plot goes through. The contributions of longtime Universal composer Frank Skinner and cinematographer Russell Metty shouldn’t be overlooked here either, as both contribute to the overall solid production values on the film. Although the overall plot isn’t too special here, the film does boast some solid turns from the likes of Richard Conte, Shelley Winters, Stephen McNally, Charles Bickford, John McIntire and Minerva Urecal; only Alex Nicol seems to be a bit long in the tooth – though not bad – in his part. Despite treading some familiar territory here, The Raging Tide does offer up enough of a unique identity to make it worth seeking out as a decent and effective noir.
3D Rating: NA
All three films are presented in their original 1:37:1 aspect ratios, taken from brand new 2K masters created for this release. All three films exhibit strong and faithful representations of gray scale and fine details with minimum cases of scratches, tears, vertical lines or dirt present. This release likely represents the best all three films will ever look on home video.
All three films’ mono soundtracks are presented on DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this release. All three tracks demonstrate strong, clear and faithful presentation of sound mix, dialogue and music scores (Daniele Amfitheatrof for Singapore, Milton Schwarzwald for Johnny Stool Pigeon and Frank Skinner for The Raging Tide) with minimal to no cases of crackling, distortion, popping, fluttering or hissing present here. Again, this release is likely the best these three movies will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Commentary by film historians Kat Ellinger & Lee Gambin – Recorded for this release, Ellinger and Gambin have a lively discussion on the film’s production history, its merits and how it fits in the larger career of director John Brahm.
Theatrical Trailer (0:43)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – Murder, He Says & The Lodger
Johnny Stool Pigeon
Commentary by professor/film scholar Jason A. Ney – Newly recorded for this release, Ney dives deep into the film, dissecting the production history (including which scenes were shot on location as well as on the Universal backlot), the significance of key scenes and where the film fits in the larger picture of the careers of its cast and crew.
The Raging Tide
Commentary by film historian David Del Valle and producer Miles Hunter – The last of the new commentary tracks recorded for this release as Del Valle and Hunter have a lively discussion on the film as well as a few insights into the cast and crew of the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (2:15)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – Cry of the City & The Sleeping City
Kino continues its impressive run of the Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series of releases here, with solid HD transfers of all three films in Volume VI as well as insightful commentary tracks on all three movies. Very highly recommended.
Amazon.com: Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VI [Singapore/Johnny Stool Pigeon/The Raging Tide]: John Brahm, William Castle, George Sherman, Fred MacMurray, Ava Gardner, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Richard Conte, Howard Duff, Tony Curtis, Stephen McNally, Roland Culver, Leif Erickson, Charles Bickford: Movies & TV
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