For Volume VIII in Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series, a pair of Universal movies and a Paramount movie make their Blu-ray debuts here. There’s a tale of amnesia and mistaken identity in New York City (Street of Chance), a crime caper featuring a notable French thief in England (Enter Arsène Lupin) and a Victorian era tale of marital infidelity and eventual revenge in Victorian-era Egypt (Temptation).
The Production: 3.5/5
Street of Chance (1942; 4 out of 5)
After avoiding a near fatal accident, Frank Thompson (Burgess Meredith) comes to on a city street with a cigarette case and hat with the letters “D.N.” on both and no memory how he got where he’s at. Trying to retrace his steps, he soon finds himself pursued by detective Joe Marucci (Sheldon Leonard), who believes Frank is responsible for a murder. He soon finds help in Ruth Dillon (Claire Trevor), an attractive stranger who takes interest in helping Frank uncover the truth, but that truth may just put his life in danger…
Considered a “proto-noir”, Street of Chance features a few of the plot ingredients that would become synonymous with the genre. Adapting from Cornell Woolrich’s novel The Black Curtain, director Jack Hively and screenwriter Garrett Fort feature some of those ingredients (first person voiceover, wrong man scenario, potential blonde femme fatale, etc.) while also offering up a few twists and turns that are novel (I won’t reveal them, lest I spoil some of the surprises here). Another plus here is the work of cinematographer Theodor Sparkuhl (who already got some experience in this burgeoning genre with Among the Living, with The Glass Key shortly following after this movie’s theatrical release) and Paramount’s longtime chief production designer Hans Dreier, both of whom contribute greatly into helping establish what would become standards in terms of noir atmosphere. However, the main draw here is the solid performances from the cast, featuring Burgess Meredith in a rare leading role, with Claire Trevor, Sheldon Leonard, Louise Platt, Arthur Loft, Freida Inescort, Jerome Cowan, and Adeline de Walt Reynolds all giving solid support. A B-movie that punches well above its status, Street of Chance is a taut little gem that’s worth rediscovering as one of the key steppingstones in the establishment of the film noir genre.
Enter Arsène Lupin (1944; 3.5 out of 5)
On the Orient Express, master thief Arsène Lupin (Charles Korvin) snags a priceless emerald belonging to heiress Anastasia “Stacie” Kanares (Ella Raines), but it’s Stacie who seems to have a hold on Lupin’s heart. On a whim, Lupin – along with friend, confidant and fellow thief Dubose (George Dolenz) – follows her to England, where he’ll have to intervene when it becomes clear that her cousins, the Seagraves (Gale Sondergaard and Miles Mander) have designs on Stacie’s inheritance. However, his bid to save Stacie’s life might also give his longtime nemesis, Inspector Ganimard (J. Carrol Naish), the opportunity to finally catch Lupin and send him to Devil’s Island!
Having been the focus of seven previous films here in America – with John Barrymore (Arsène Lupin, 1932 for MGM) and Melvyn Douglas (Arsène Lupin Returns, 1938 for MGM) having notably incarnated the role – Enter Arsène Lupin would be the last time Maurice Leblanc’s gentleman thief would grace the silver screen in Hollywood. Under the direction of action/adventure pro Ford Beebe, the movie breezes along with great ease without much fault. There’s some solid tension as well as some decent comic relief to the proceedings, courtesy of screenwriter Bertram Millhauser, who already had some practice in this field due to scripting four Sherlock Holmes films for Universal prior to this movie. The film is also buoyed by some strong performances in cast, particularly Charles Korvin – who seems to be channeling a bit of Charles Boyer here – in the titular role (also his film debut), Ella Raines as the vulnerable and beautiful Stacie and a colorful J. Carrol Naish as Ganimard; Gale Sondergaard, Miles Mander, George Dolenz, Leyland Hodgson, Lillian Bronson and Holmes Herbert all give solid support as well. Enter Arsène Lupin is – all in all – a fun and brisk little crime caper that captures the essence of the Leblanc creation; although it’s not quite a noir, it still has enough visual motifs of the genre to give the oft-filmed character a new – albeit brief – look for audiences.
Temptation (1946; 3.5 out of 5)
In turn of the 20th Century Cairo, wealthy archaeologist Nigel Armine (George Brent) appears happily married to his new bride Ruby (Merle Oberon). However, Nigel doesn’t know about Ruby’s past, which include several failed marriages and extramarital affairs; that past soon surfaces when she takes up with Mahmoud Baroudi (Charles Korvin), an impoverished yet slick opportunist she meets at an archaeological dig upon moving to Egypt. The two lovers soon devise a plot to rid Ruby of her naive spouse, but it backfires and sets the stage for the schemers to get their just desserts…
The fourth (and last to date) film adaptation of Robert Smythe Hichens’ novel Bella Donna, Temptation livens up its source material with a few noir elements mixed in. Director Irving Pichel wrings out every last drop of atmosphere from the proceedings and has the talents of cinematographer Lucien Ballard, composer Daniele Amfitheatrof and production designer Bernard Herzbrun to bring the film’s Victorian era settings to life. Also, Robert Theoren’s script does add in a few noir elements (blackmail, voiceover narration, etc.) to the proceedings, helping to make the story have more of an air of mystery than the melodrama it was usually filmed as in the past. While the film itself doesn’t offer much more in terms of new wrinkles to the formula, it does boast some solid performances from the cast, particularly Merle Oberon, Charles Korvin, George Brent and Paul Lukas, with Arnold Moss, Lenore Ulric, Aubrey Mather, Ludwig Stössel, André Charlot and Suzanne Cloutier providing able support. In short, Temptation combines the old-fashioned melodramatic aspects of its source material with the bold and stark style of noir to give it a fresh look that makes it worth a second glance.
3D Rating: NA
All three films are presented in their original 1:37:1 aspect ratios, taken from brand new 2K masters created from the fine grain prints of each film for this release. All three films exhibit faithful presentation of film grain, fine details and gray scale, with mostly minor instances of scratches, dirt, tears and other cases of print damage (there more cases of this on Street of Chance, but nothing that makes it unwatchable); also, Temptation has the original International Pictures logo attached to the beginning of the film (this was before the company merged with Universal to create Universal-International Pictures). This release likely represents the best all three movies will ever look on home video.
All three films’ original mono soundtracks are presented on DTS-HS Master Audio tracks for this release. Each track on each film exhibits a faithful presentation of dialogue tracks, sound mixes and music scores (David Buttolph for Street of Chance, Milton Rosen for Enter Arsène Lupin and Daniele Amfitheatrof for Temptation) with minimal cases of distortion, hissing, popping, flutter or crackling present here. This release is likely the best all three movies will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Street of Chance
Commentary by author/film scholar Jason A. Ney – Recorded for this release, Ney goes over the production details, comparisons between the film and its source material and where it fits not only in the film noir genre, but also the careers of its cast and crew.
Enter Arsène Lupin
Commentary by film historian Anthony Slide – Recorded for this release, Slide gives background on the film, its cast and crew and the character of Arsène Lupin and the author behind the series.
Theatrical Trailer (1:43)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Web & Alias Nick Beal
Commentary by film historian Kelly Robinson – Recorded for this release, Robinson talks about the film’s source material and how this version differs from all previous film adaptations in addition to the film’s production history and cast and crew.
Kino continues to knock it out of the park with this latest entry in the Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series, with solid HD transfers of each of the three films in this set, with informative commentary tracks shining a light on each one as special features. Very highly recommended.
Amazon.com: Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VIII [Street of Chance / Enter Arsene Lupin / Temptation]: Jack Hively, Ford Beebe, Irving Pichel, Merle Oberon, Ella Raines, Claire Trevor, Burgess Meredith, Charles Korvin, George Brent, Gale Sondergaard: Movies & TV
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