For Volume VII in Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series, corruption in government from the local level to D.C. are the focus of three noirs from the MGM/UA vaults (two of which are making their home video debuts here). First, a WWI veteran rises to power and eventually pushes himself and his power too far in The Boss. Next, an ambitious district attorney realizes that a labor union murder isn’t as clear-cut as it seems in Chicago Confidential. Finally, a Korean War vet realizes the public relations business he works at is a front for a Cold War conspiracy in The Fearmakers.
The Production: 4/5
The Boss (1956; 4 out of 5)
Returning to his hometown of Hartfield following WWI, Matt Brady (John Payne) is groomed by his older brother Tim (Roy Roberts) to take his place in the family political machine. When Tim suddenly dies of a heart attack shortly after failing to breakup Matt’s marriage to waitress Lorry (Gloria McGhee), Matt assumes the reigns and begins his ruthless climb to the top of his state’s political scene (just short of the Governor’s mansion). However, the Stock Market Crash greatly changes Matt’s fortunes, and it forces him to cut a deal with a small-time gangster that may be the beginning of the end of the Brady machine’s iron fisted reign!
Returning to the film noir genre nearly a decade after I Walk Alone (1947), director Byron Haskin turned in a solid picture with The Boss. Working from a crackling script by Dalton Trumbo (who was blacklisted at the time of this movie’s release – Ben L. Perry got the on-screen credit here – although his credit was restored in 2000), the movie is an unyielding indictment of the political boss that held sway during the first half of the 20th Century; in a case of life imitating art, the character of Matt Brady – and his exploits in the movie – is loosely based on the real life Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. Haskin also has the virtues of distinguished cinematographer Hal Mohr at his disposal here and the movie moves along at brisk yet steady pace; the solid performances of John Payne, William Bishop, Roy Roberts and Gloria McGhee – with support by Doe Avedon, Rhys Williams, Joe Flynn, George Lynn, William Phipps, Bob Morgan and Robin Morse – are a plus too. The Boss is a solid little noir from a director one wouldn’t expect to see in the genre with tantalizing ties to some real life events that makes it worth checking out.
Chicago Confidential (1957; 3.5 out of 5)
When Chicago racketeers – led by Ken Harrison (Douglas Kennedy) – kill a whistleblower accountant for a labor union they’re trying to take over, they attempt to frame the union’s honest boss Arthur Blane (Dick Foran) for murder. State’s attorney Jim Fremont (Brian Keith) – who has his eyes on a run for Governor of Illinois – thinks he has an open and shut case, but Blane’s fiancée Laura (Beverly Garland) convinces him that something’s amiss. Together, they uncover the truth behind the set-up, and it all leads to a climactic shootout at the airstrip to bring this case to a close.
More of a crime exposé that has noir elements, Chicago Confidential follows the well-worn path that has been traveled by several noirs prior to this one. B movie veteran Sidney Salkow delivers a briskly paced thriller – adapted from the novel by Jack Lait & Lee Mortimer by Bernard Gordon (credited here under his blacklist nom de plume “Raymond T. Marcus”) – that touches all its bases in the exposé subsection of the crime and noir genres. While it doesn’t offer up much in terms of new wrinkles to the formula, the film works because of the chemistry between Brian Keith and Beverly Garland (both of whom also make for great protagonists too) as well as the able support of the likes of Dick Foran, Douglas Kennedy, James Langton, Elisha Cook Jr., Gavin Gordon and Beverly Tyler. So, while it sticks to a tried and true formula, Chicago Confidential still delivers on its premise more often than not that its worth a look for curiosity’s sake.
The Fearmakers (1958; 4 out of 5)
After returning from the Korean War following a stint being tortured and brainwashed at a POW camp, veteran Alan Eaton (Dana Andrews) is about to realize his greatest battle awaits him at home. It happens when he returns to the public relations and opinion research firm that he co-owned prior to the war and discovers that Jim McGinnis (Dick Foran) has assumed the reigns following the mysterious accident that took the life of Eaton’s partner. Suspicions further arise when Senator Walder (Roy Gordon) informs Alan that he suspects McGinnis may be using the PR firm to forward Communist causes and wants Alan to help him get to the bottom of it. Eaton agrees but doing so also puts him in the crosshairs of the infiltrators hellbent on undermining the American public’s trust at all costs.
Although not completely a film noir, The Fearmakers infuses elements of noir with the Cold War paranoia of the decade. Director Jacques Tourneur – who had some noir experience with Out of the Past (1947) for RKO and Nightfall (1956) for Columbia Pictures – brings plenty of crackling tension to the proceedings while also adeptly handling the changes to the source material to fit the time period. While not containing Tourneur’s usual stylistic flourishes – like in Cat People (1942) – the film does boast some solid camera work from cinematographer Sam Leavitt; the movie also features a rather prophetic look at the way how pressing issues as well as potential political candidates are marketed and sold to the American public. Also, the film boasts a strong central performance by Dana Andrews, with solid support by Dick Foran, Marilee Earle, Roy Gordon, Veda Ann Borg, Kelly Thordsen and a surprising turn from Mel Tormé – the Velvet Fog himself – as a Coke bottle thick glasses wearing associate of the PR firm. Though it has slipped through the cracks over the years, The Fearmakers is a noir flavored thriller that’s both a product of its time as well as prescient of the attitudes and problems that we are now facing today.
3D Rating: NA
The Boss and The Fearmakers are presented in their original 1:85:1 aspect ratios, while Chicago Confidential is presented in a 1:78:1 aspect ratio (the film was intended for a 1:85:1 aspect ratio); the transfers for both The Boss and The Fearmakers are taken from brand new 2K masters created for this release. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are faithfully represented with minimal cases of scratches, tears, warping or dirt present here on each transfer. Overall, this set is likely the best all three films will look on home video.
All three films’ mono soundtracks are presented on DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and music scores (Albert Glasser for The Boss, Emil Newman for Chicago Confidential and Irving Gertz for The Fearmakers) for each film is faithfully represented and presented with minimal cases of distortion, crackling, popping, hissing and fluttering present on each track. Again, this set is likely the best each film will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by film historian/author Alan K. Rode – Recorded for this release, Rode goes over the production details, connections between this film and a real life political boss whose exploits inspired this film and an interesting observation about a barroom brawl scene and a connection to his own life.
Theatrical Trailer (1:23)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – 99 River Street & Hidden Fear
Bonus KLSC Trailers – He Ran All the Way, Witness to Murder & A Bullet for Joey
Commentary by professor/film scholar Jason A. Ney – Recorded for this release, Ney talks about the film’s background, where it fits in the careers of its cast and crew, the differences between the film and its source material and how it fits into the overall oeuvre of Cold War paranoia films of the 1950’s.
Kino continues to impress with their ongoing Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series, as Volume VII (the first time Kino unearthed noir gems from the MGM/UA archives since the initial volume) provides solid HD transfers of the three films in this set with a pair of informative commentaries on two of the films. Highly recommended.
Amazon.com: Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VII [The Boss / Chicago Confidential / The Fearmakers]: Byron Haskin, Jacques Tourneur, Sidney Salkow, John Payne, Dana Andrews, Brian Keith, Beverly Garland, Elisha Cook Jr., William Bishop, Gloria McGehee, Rhys Williams, Dick Foran, Marilee Earle, Veda Ann Borg: Movies & TV
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