Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XII – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Three more Universal-International noirs debut on Blu-ray

For Volume XII of Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series, three more noirs from Universal’s golden age of noir in the 1940’s and 1950’s are making their Blu-ray debut here. First, a Chicago gambler has to stay a step ahead of both police and gangsters in Undertow. Second, a parolee’s second chance may be endangered by a robbery ring in Outside the Wall. Finally, a down on her luck “waitress” and a soon to be executed killer find love in unique circumstances in Hold Back Tomorrow.

Undertow (1949)
Released: 03 Dec 1949
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 71 min
Director: William Castle
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Cast: Scott Brady, John Russell, Dorothy Hart
Writer(s): Arthur T. Horman, Lee Loeb
Plot: A paroled convict is framed for murder and must clear himself before the police catches him.
IMDB rating: 6.6
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 11 Min. (Undertow), 1 Hr. 20 Min. (Outside the Law), 1 Hr. 15 Min. (Hold Back Tomorrow)
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep cases in a cardboard sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 04/04/2023
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Undertow (1949; 3.5 out of 5)

Freshly discharged from military service, small time Chicago gambler Tony Reagan (Scott Brady) decides to cash in his chips and trade the high rolling lifestyle for a quaint mountain lodge business outside of Reno. However, his plans are thrown off course when Tony’s former boss – a Chicago crime kingpin – is murdered and police suspect him of the murder. Now on the run from both the authorities and the killer, Tony finds help from a schoolteacher (Peggy Dow) and an old detective friend to flush out the killer, but their investigation reveals a double cross that hits too close to home…

With Undertow, director William Castle – better known for his campy horror films made at Columbia Pictures in the 1950’s and 1960’s – continued his dive into Universal Noir following his first sojourn, Johnny Stool Pigeon (released the same year as this one). Once again showing his deftness in the genre, Castle fashions a quickly paced film that doesn’t lag and maintains attention and focus on the story during its brief running time. Universal Noir stalwarts Irving Glassberg (cinematographer), Bernard Herzbrun (art director) and Russell Gausman (set decorator) also bring their experience to the proceedings and bring the grit and polish noirs from the studio are known for. Finally, Castle gets some solid performances from his cast, including Scott Brady, Bruce Bennett, Peggy Dow, John Russell, Dorothy Hart and Rock Hudson in just his second film appearance. A B-movie by nature, Undertow still manages to elicit solid suspense and thrills thanks to the workman like quality of its direction and performances.

Outside the Wall (1950; 3.5 out of 5)

Paroled midway through a 30-year sentence for second degree murder, Larry Nelson (Richard Basehart) is determined to stay on the straight and narrow but is having difficulty finding a steady job. His luck changes when he finds work at a sanitarium in the Pennsylvania countryside and meets nurse Charlotte Maynard (Marilyn Maxwell), who quickly catches his eye. However, he soon finds himself in the proverbial hornet’s nest when he learns that the sanitorium is a front for a robbery ring. Now, Larry’s in danger of seeing his second chance slip away – due to his infatuation with the gold-digging Charlotte that soon leads him to become a clay pigeon for the ring – but fellow co-worker Ann Taylor (Dorothy Hart) is determined to make sure Larry is pulled free from the ring’s clutches.

Writer/director Crane Wilbur made a handful of noirs in his career, but Outside the Wall represents one of two that he made for Universal-International (The Story of Molly X being the other). Working from a story by Henry Edward Helseth, Wilbur fashions a story similar to the noir The Sleeping City – released the same year as this movie – about a place of healing being a front for a crime ring; the twist here is that our hero is an ex-convict rather than an undercover cop. Again, the contributions of Irving Glassberg, Bernard Herzbrun and Russell Gausman are key to the visual style here synonymous with the studio’s noir entries. More importantly, Wilbur maintains a steady pace and gets solid performances from the excellent cast here, particularly Richard Basehart, Marilyn Maxwell, Dorothy Hart, Lloyd Gough, John Hoyt, Harry Morgan, Signe Hasso and Joseph Pevney, who would embark on his directorial career following this movie with Shakedown (also released the same year as this movie). Another decently made noir, Outside the Wall gets plenty of mileage from its “behind the headlines” story with sturdy direction and an excellent cast to bring the story to life.

Hold Back Tomorrow (1955; 3.5 out of 5)

With the gallows awaiting him in the morning, convicted killer Joe Cardos (John Agar) spends much of his night lashing out at everyone and no one. However, his mood changes when he is given his last request: a woman to keep him company (despite the fact that he was sent to death row for killing 3 women with his bare hands). Dora (Cleo Moore) – the down on her luck “waitress” police find just hours after she failed at permanently drowning her sorrows – is at first put off by Joe, but as the hours tick by, love and respect grows between the two and the prospect of death suddenly doesn’t seem so grim for Joe.

Primarily a character actor during his time in America in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Czech actor Hugo Haas also wrote, produced and directed movies as well, of which Hold Back Tomorrow may just be one of his better efforts behind the camera. Although he usually took the lead in his own films, Haas this time gives John Agar – co-starring with Haas’ usual leading lady Cleo Moore – a chance to shine in the lead part as lady killer Cardos; Agar also shows some solid chemistry with Moore, who had previously appeared with Agar in an earlier Haas picture, Bait (1954). Like with many of Haas’ movies during the decade, this one features a blonde bombshell femme fatale; unlike previous Haas pictures, this one subverts the subtype of one who leads the man astray, instead this one softens the hard edges of the condemned man here. Most of all, this noir is rather remarkable for its rather nihilistic tone, right up to the refusal to provide a straightforward ending at Joe’s execution, leaving his fate up in the air. Though not known for subtlety, Hold Back Tomorrow is one of the better directorial efforts of the Czech auteur, whose works were box office favorites with audiences despite critical detractors of the era; watch and find out why both Haas and Cleo Moore have garnered cult status in the years following the end of their careers.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

For this Blu-ray release, Undertow and Outside the Wall are presented in their original 1:37:1 aspect ratios, while Hold Back Tomorrow is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio; all three films in this set have brand new 2K masters created for this release. Film grain, gray scale and fine details appear to be faithfully represented with only minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present throughout each transfer. Overall, this release is likely the best each of the three movies will ever look on home video and represents an improvement over Undertow‘s previous TCM DVD release.

Audio: 5/5

All three films’ original mono soundtracks are presented on DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this release. Dialogue, sound mixes and music scores – a score comprised of stock music composed by Edgar Fairchild, Miklós Rózsa, Hans J. Salter, Walter Scharf, Frank Skinner and Leith Stevens for Undertow, stock music composed by Lloyd Akridge, Daniele Amfitheatrof, Jack Brooks, Fairchild, Salter, Skinner and Stevens for Outside the Wall and Sidney Cutner for Hold Back Tomorrow – are all presented faithfully with only minor cases of distortion, crackling, popping and hissing present. Overall, this release is likely the best each movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 3/5


Commentary with film scholar Jason A. Ney and Tim Tierney, son of actor Scott Brady – Recorded for this release, Ney covers the production details of the movie while Tierney goes over details of his father’s life and career. There’s also audio excerpts of an interview with actress Peggy Dow from 2009.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Outside the Law, Singapore & Let’s Kill Uncle

Outside the Wall

Commentary by film historian Alan K. Rode – Recorded for this release, Rode brings his usual insight into this movie, covering details on the film’s production as well as the careers of its cast and crew.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Behind the High Wall, Night Has a Thousand Eyes & Fixed Bayonets

Hold Back Tomorrow

Theatrical Trailer (2:20)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Shield for Murder, The Raging Tide & Touch of Evil

Overall: 4/5

Kino continues its terrific run of entries in the Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series, with solid HD transfers on all three films in the set and informative commentary tracks on Undertow and Outside the Wall. Highly recommended and worth upgrading from the previous TCM DVD for fans of Undertow.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

Post Disclaimer

Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.

Share this post:

Most Popular
Available for Amazon Prime