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

Three more 1950's Universal-International noirs debut on Blu-ray 4 Stars

Kino has unearthed three more noirs from the Universal vaults for Volume XIV of their Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema Blu-ray series. First, an undercover cop infiltrates a continental narcotics ring to avenge her father’s death in Undercover Girl. Next, a doctor turns on a gangster and makes off with his woman and the loot in One Way Street. Finally, an alcoholic reporter’s chance at a comeback could lead him into danger in Appointment with a Shadow. All three films are making their Blu-ray debuts here.

One Way Street (1950)
Released: 01 Apr 1950
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 79 min
Director: Hugo Fregonese
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Cast: James Mason, Märta Torén, Dan Duryea
Writer(s): Lawrence Kimble
Plot: After stealing a gangster's money and his girlfriend, a doctor heads for a small village in Mexico.
IMDB rating: 6.5
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. 23 Min. (Undercover Girl), 1 Hr. 18 Min. (One Way Street), 1 Hr. 12 Min. (Appointment with a Shadow)
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep cases in a cardboard sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 05/30/2023
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Undercover Girl (1950; 3 out of 5)

A witness to the illicit activities of a national narcotics ring is knifed to death in Los Angeles; in New York City, the ring’s head is killed in a double-cross. These two different crimes are connected and NYPD cop Christine Miller (Alexis Smith) – whose father headed the ring, much to her surprise – joins her LAPD counterpart Lt. Michael Trent (Scott Brady) in the investigation. Going undercover as a drug buyer named “Sal Willis”, Christine manages to infiltrate the ring, but is also exposed to the growing threat of double crosses like blackmail, gunfights and murder. Can she bust the narcotics ring, or will she fall to the same fate her father did?

For the follow up to his directorial debut Shakedown, Joseph Pevney turned to the world of undercover cops in Undercover Girl. Pevney again shows solid direction, but this time he doesn’t have strong enough material to work with here script wise; a potentially intriguing look at women in the police force instead takes a back seat to a rather rudimentary crime saga about busting a transcontinental narcotics ring. He does, however, have the talents of cinematographer Carl Guthrie, the production design team of Bernard Herzbrun and Russell Gausman and editor Russell Schoengarth – the latter three regular U-I contributors – at his disposal; he also has a solid cast, including Alexis Smith in the titular role and Scott Brady, Royal Dano, Connie Gilchrist and Regis Toomey standing out. Again, however, the script is not as sturdy as Shakedown, meaning that some moments in the plot come out flat rather than suspenseful. So, while it suffers from the “sophomore slump” that most filmmakers go through, Undercover Girl is still a moderately entertaining noir that would help Joseph Pevney achieve greater success from learning of the shortcomings here; in short, the movie is an intriguing idea marred by an uneven script.

One Way Street (1950; 3.5 out of 5)

“Waste no moment, nor a single breath, in fearful flight from Death/For no matter the tears that may be wept, the appointment will be kept…” – Song of a Fatalist

Dr. Frank Matson (James Mason) has managed to pull off the unthinkable: he’s stolen $200,000 from Los Angeles mobster Johnny Wheeler (Dan Duryea) and has taken Johnny’s girlfriend Laura Thorsen (Marta Toren) along with him. After a couple of close calls, Frank and Laura escape to a small Mexican village to hide out. But as the townspeople taken them in, Frank and Laura’s attempt to live a quiet life is ended when word reaches them that Johnny knows where they are and is looking for revenge. With the knowledge, Frank decides to head back to L.A. to face Johnny, but fate has other plans for the trio…

Having already cut his teeth in noir in his native Argentina with Hardly a Criminal (1949), One Way Street represented the American directorial debut of Hugo Fregonese. Lawrence Kimble’s script is one of the most basic and simple – yet not simplistic – affirmations of fatalism in the noir genre ever filmed, from the opening double cross right up to the surprise ending. Fregonese’s direction is spot on, and he gets solid performances from both James Mason (taking the lead here when Jeff Chandler dropped out) and Dan Duryea, both of whom – well versed in the noir genre prior to this movie – are well matched as adversaries. The duo also has great support from the likes of Marta Toren, William Conrad, King Donovan, Basil Ruysdael and Rodolfo Acosta with uncredited appearances by Jack Elam, James Best and Rock Hudson. One Way Street furnished Hugo Fregonese with one of his better Hollywood movies as a director and gave both Mason and Duryea one of their more underrated roles in the noir genre.

Appointment with a Shadow (1957; 3.5 out of 5)

Once a notable newspaper reporter, Paul Baxter (George Nader) – now washed up, awash in liquor and living with his best friend Lt. Spencer (Brian Keith) – finds an opportunity for a comeback courtesy of Spencer’s sister Penny (Joanna Moore). There’s only one condition: he must be sober for 24 hours and alert in order to catch the arrest of fugitive criminal Dutch Hayden at a local restaurant and get the big scoop. When Hayden is shot dead, Paul discovers that’s not the case, since he spotted the real Hayden in the midst of the commotion as part of a set-up. Both Penny and Lt. Spencer are doubtful – thinking Paul broke his pledge to stay sober – but when Paul gets ensnared in the set-up, they’ll have to save him before he becomes the headline!

Richard Carlson is better known today as the leading man – but not the titular character – in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), but Appointment with a Shadow represents one of the handful of times he stepped behind the camera as a director. Based upon a story by Judson Philips (credited under the pen name “Hugh Pentecost”), the story began life at Paramount in 1950 as If I Should Die with a script by Herbert Dalmas; it would take six years – and Universal acquiring the rights to the story and a new script by Alec Coppel and Norman Jolley – before the noir finally made it to production. However, the wait proved to be worth it, as Carlson and cinematographer William E. Snyder take advantage of the CinemaScope framing to open up the story while making feel confining at the same time. It’s also notable for giving usual B-picture leading man George Nader – taking over from Jeffrey Hunter when hepatitis ended his work on the movie after just one day of production – one of his best roles from his Hollywood days (he would later find greater success on TV) as the alcoholic Paul; he’s also ably supported by Brian Keith, Joanna Moore, Virginia Field and Frank de Kova. Economically directed and paced by Carlson, Appointment with a Shadow is a decently done noir that mixed the destructive force of alcoholism from The Lost Weekend with a murder mystery thriller mentality, wrapped up in a neat little noir package.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

Undercover Girl and One Way Street are presented in their original 1:37:1 aspect ratios while Appointment with a Shadow is presented in its original 2:35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio; only Appointment has a brand new HD transfer created for this release, taken from a 2K scan of a 35mm fine grain print. All three films exhibit solid presentations of film grain, gray scale and fine details with minimal cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on each transfer. Overall, this release is likely the best all three films will ever look on home video.

Audio: 5/5

The original mono soundtracks for all three films are presented on 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this release. Each track exhibits strength and clarity in terms of dialogue, sound mix and music scores (a score compiled of stock music by Daniele Amfitheatrof, Hans J. Salter, Paul Sawtell, Walter Scharf and Dimitri Tiomkin for Undercover Girl, Frank Skinner for One Way Street and an uncredited combo of Salter and Henry Vars for Appointment with a Shadow) with only minor cases of distortion, clicking, crackling, popping, hissing or flutter present. Overall, this release is likely the best all three films will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Undercover Girl

Commentary by writer/film historian Julie Kirgo – Recorded for this release, Kirgo goes over some of the details – production and plot thematic wise – of this obscure noir.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Midnight StoryFemale on the BeachThe Turning Point

One Way Street

Commentary by author/film historian Lee Gambin and costume historian Elissa Rose – The second of the newly recorded commentaries has Gambin and Rose discussing the film’s production history, themes and the costumes.

Theatrical Trailer (2:12)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Step Down to Terror Lady on a Train

Appointment with a Shadow

Commentary by film historian David Del Valle and filmmaker David DeCoteau – The last of the newly recorded commentary tracks has Del Valle and DeCoteau going over the story’s journey to the big screen as well as evaluating the career of George Nader.

Theatrical Trailer (1:57)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Female Animal The Unguarded Moment

Overall: 4/5

Once again, Kino continues to do a great job in bringing out largely forgotten noirs to Blu-ray with Volume 14 of their Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series. As usual, solid HD transfers and informative commentary tracks are the norm and this release is no exception. Very highly recommended.

Amazon.com: Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIV [Blu-ray]: Joseph Pevney, Hugo Fregonese, Richard Carlson, James Mason, Scott Brady: Movies & TV

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Flashgear

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Thank you Mychal for another thoroughly informative review! Most of the KL 'Dark Side of Cinema' sets are very nicely priced these days as well, and I now have most of them, including volume XV.
 

Robin9

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Thanks for the review. I haven't yet bought this box-set but I will in the next few weeks. (Contrary to what the doomsayers enjoy predicting, there's so much good stuff coming out on disc that I have to pace myself financially)
 
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